Finding time to build up a word count is a widespread need in the writing community. That’s why so many articles offer advice on balancing life and writing (including the ones we’ve published on this site). But even if you manage to squeeze writing into your days, you may worry that you’re being unproductive. Your ideas trickle out, so you only type a few sentences, or social media distracts you. That’s happened to all of us, including me.
In high school, my creative writing teacher assigned an activity where each of us students had to go to a different section of the building and record everything we observed. But we weren’t supposed to blandly list people’s movements and conversations. The goal was to describe scenes how we thought a novelist would—and that one small shift in perspective yielded powerful results.
Back in 2012, I started writing my first fantasy/sci-fi novel. I chatted about the characters with my friends, enjoyed coming up with scads of different plot lines, and experimented with all kinds of tropes and techniques. But despite the effort I went to, my manuscript stayed in a constant state of flux. Beta readers, though quick to offer support and encouragement, couldn’t tell me why. Not until year five did I begin to see the truth.
On the surface, writing seems easy. You plop into a chair, uncap a pen or power on your computer, and rack up a word count. Right? If you’re a hobbyist, that description is generally accurate. But, if writing is your profession, any burst of creativity also brings an explosion of related tasks. Tackling all these responsibilities can daunt even the most determined writer. But you can keep stress at bay by pacing yourself and developing a healthy amount of productivity in three crucial areas.
Like most of us, you probably dream of circumstances that allow you to write for several hours a day without making any sacrifices or experiencing any interruptions. But the reality is that what works today might not work tomorrow, and what would never work in a hundred years might be your only option today. When life tosses your schedule out the window, you don’t have to fling your writing out with it.
Everyone questions their worth at one point or another—but especially those of us in creative industries, such as writing, because we face so much rejection. Whenever we prepare to share a story with others, we’re tempted to judge ourselves by how it might be received. Is it good enough? Are we good enough? Will readers like it? What will they think of us? Is it clever and original? Are we talented? Will a publisher accept it? Do we belong?
I’ve long believed that authors can benefit from the methods educators employ in the classroom. Applying them to short pieces or rough inspiration may open up reservoirs that would otherwise go untapped. And daily mental aerobics train your mind to approach topics from a variety of angles.
“The first draft of a novel is supposed to be terrible.” We’ve all heard that charming advice, and it’s usually true. But why do many first drafts fail? Because writers lose steam halfway through. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve abandoned after hitting a rough patch somewhere between the midpoint and the final act. Only a handful of my novels have ever reached “the end,” and the most structurally sound one came from a short story.
I’m selfish. I like to cling to this lie: if I give too much of myself to others, I won’t have enough time or energy for more important tasks. Though I could become toxically obsessed with lending a hand, how many of us actually struggle with that? Maybe one in ten.
When you nestle into a corner of your house or favorite coffee shop with your laptop, you probably think of writing as a solitary activity. After all, no one can finish a first draft for you (unless it’s a coauthored project), so the task isn’t a communal experience. Or is it?