Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Things I've Learned From Being a Lousy Full Time Writer

Some of you will know that I was made redundant at the end of May, and that I'm going back to university in October. This has left me with a big time gap, and rather than try to get another job, I decided that I wanted to spend the time writing. Writing full time is one of my pipe dreams, and I was looking forward to devoting some time to honing my craft and (hopefully) making a little money.

I was all fired up and excited about getting to spend more time writing, and yet the amount of writing I'm doing doesn't seem to be much greater than it was when I had a full time job. I've achieved some things I'm very proud of, but I'm disappointed that I haven't managed more. I have learned some stuff though, and I thought I'd put down a few of the things I've picked up. (Mainly to remind myself, actually.) Here they are, in no particular order. (I'd like to point out that some of these are not original. I have plagiarised from things I've read, but in a roundabout fashion rather than a quoting word for word. Sorry I can't remember who half of them are.)

Why does anyone do this?

1. Set Targets

I thought about setting myself targets - get a book finished, write 10 short stories, write at least 5000 words a week, that kind of thing. I then didn't set targets. Mistake. My biggest achievement thus far is finishing my first novel, which I managed by setting myself the target of finishing it in June. If I had set more goals, I would have managed more before then.

2. Turn Off Twitter

I can waste hours on social networking, and MSN, and texting, and petting this kitten. In fact, I very rarely achieve anything in a reasonable length of time if I don't turn it all off and make myself ignore all those distractions.

3. Have a Plan

Still learning this one - I'm reading Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It's about making your writing life easier by planning and editing in a controlled fashion. In the last two days I've written 6000 words - basically more than I've managed since last November - because I'm working to a plan of how the story is going to go. I wouldn't say it's actually easy, but it's certainly much easier than anything else I've written for a while.

4. Find Encouraging Friends

Finishing my first novel has been an epic battle. I've been writing for years and yet until last month, I'd never finished a novel. I'm convinced the key to my success is a good friend of mine who poked me every Thursday, week after week, and said "finish your novel." If I ever get it published, I'm dedicating it to him. People who make you write when you don't want to and tell you that you're awesome when you're convinced you suck are a Godsend.

5. Chill Out

Almost as much as under-thinking stuff, I tend to over-think things. I get so wound up in a scene that I will swear at it for hours and not put words down. They just stick in my head and won't go to my fingers. Stop for a bit. Make some tea. Go for a walk. When I've untied all the knots in my head it's much easier to go back and finish something.

6. Get On With It

I don't care that it's hard. Just finish the damn thing, will you? It won't write itself if you sit and complain. Sometimes I just have to sit and slog through something. I hate every word and every minute, but the writing gets done. And it's not usually all that bad, either.

7. Choose Your Battles

Initially I found that I had so many ideas that I couldn't focus on one to write it. I had loads I could think of, but I wasn't achieving anything. Now I have a board on my wall. It has notes on all the things I want to do. I put one or two in the WIP column and try and forget about the rest.

8. Always Carry a Pen

The number of times I've been struck by inspiration at the gym and not been able to write it down and then I've forgotten it. Damn, that's frustrating. Now I have a pad and a pen. I make notes everywhere. They're very useful.

9. Read About Writing

Not more than you write, obviously, but reading about editing and how to structure my time and how to improve my output is already making me a much more effective writer. I've got a long way to go before I'm turning a profit, but I can see the standard of my work has gone up, even in a few months.

10. Try Anything Once

Ah, it always comes down to this. My little mantra for life serves me so well on so many levels... As much I hate the idea of properly writing a plan, or writing in 25 minute stints and taking a break, I've found they really help. I thought being a writer was this fantastic, whimsical thing where I get to do what I like, and it's not. It's bloody hard work. And I'm still not working nearly as hard as I need/want to be. But everything I try makes me a better writer. And it's not all completely unenjoyable. As in everything in life, there are bits I enjoy, and bits I don't. I bet I've barely even started. I've made positive steps though, and when I go back into full time work in October, I know that these things I've learned now will help to output more and better quality writing than I was before. :)

Gosh, this is a long post. Well done if you made it this far. Have a small, slightly green looking monkey. I'm sure he's very friendly. :)


Very valuable advice Elenya and so so true. Still trying to finish my second novel, but am guilty of massive prevarication.

Thanky you. :) I'm glad this stuff is useful to someone else as well as me!

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