At the beginning of May 2021, I maxed out my schedule. That may sound stressful, but it was actually a happy occasion. I began a new job I felt good about. The sad part? I lost writing time. Thankfully, I prepared for the shift in my routine months beforehand. If I could only work on projects during the evenings and Saturdays, I knew I’d slip into a pattern of releasing books three or more years apart—especially considering the complexity and monstrous size of my epic fantasy novels. I didn’t want to make readers (or myself!) wait that long.
The enemy of writing is time. It limits productivity and advancement. For many writers, a conflict exists between the hours they spend (or wish they could spend) on their latest story ideas and the other responsibilities in their lives. But what if all of life could be devoted to writing? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t.
Ideas make the storytelling world go round. Everything writers do is based on developing, outlining, and enshrining ideas in prose. But, for people like me, coming up with good ideas can be hard—partly because of a misconception about a story idea’s purpose.
Every story you consume informs your instincts about plot structure, prose, and characters, and when problems crop up in any one of those areas, an alarm sounds at the back of your mind. Unfortunately, no matter how savvy you are at detecting issues, the solutions won’t be as obvious. The disconnect between your ability to identify and straighten out problems is nerve-wracking because you don’t want to write an entire novel without realizing a huge flaw is undermining everything. You need to learn how to interpret your intuition’s signals through three approaches.
Writer’s block comes in a wide variety of shapes, and it can last anywhere from a few hours to months or even years. No one has all the solutions, but that isn’t an excuse to stop searching. Certain mindsets and circumstances tend to trigger writer’s block—and making a concerted effort to counter those negative patterns can reawaken inspiration.
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.