When I started out on my writing journey, the one thing I didn’t do was connect with other writers. I read loads of “how-to” books and studied my craft, but I never engaged with those who’d been there/done that to get some tips and advice. I wish I had. Every writer approaches things differently but I always find something that resonates with me on every blog post I read from a writer.
Last year, a writing contact on Twitter very kindly asked if I would write a blog post for his blog about my typical writing day and some hints and tips for anyone starting out. I was very happy to oblige and also flattered that I’d been asked. Things like that make me feel like a ‘real’ writer. The post never appeared and it struck me that it was a shame to have written an advice post that was going out of date and languishing. So I’ve posted it here…
The first thing to say about my typical writing day is that there’s no such thing as a typical writing day for me. Some writers talk about routines, about writing every day, about not stopping until they’ve achieved so-many-thousand words. It doesn’t work like that for me. I write when I can, as much or as little as I can. Sadly, it’s usually little.
My dream is to be able to write full-time but, for now, writing doesn’t pay the mortgage so I have a day job which has to take priority. I am, however, very fortunate with the flexibility my job provides. Nearly four years ago, I stopped commuting and became a home-based Human Resources tutor. The workload built quickly and I was soon working 12-16 hour days and travelling on weekends to run workshops. Writing was a huge struggle. I’ve managed to reduce it to about a 6-hour day over the past year and the workshops no longer run so I get my weekends free.
On weekdays, I try to stop working by 2pm so I can write. For the past couple of years, I’ve been studying a Masters in Creative Writing through Open University so my writing time could be study time instead but I finished this in October and am thrilled to say I now have an MA!
I tend to be fairly disciplined when it comes to writing. I don’t set myself a word count for the day but I do tend to just get on with it. About five years ago, I enrolled in NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) which is an international ‘project’ to get a 50k novel written in the month of November. The idea is to just write and not try to edit as you go. I used that approach to finish my second novel and start my third one (the timing wasn’t right for me with my works-in-progress to start on a fresh book like they advocate) and it was the best thing I ever did. I’d faffed about with my debut novel, Searching for Steven, editing and re-editing every time I sat down to write. NaNo got me into a rhythm of just getting on with it and editing after I’d written a full manuscript. I’ve written all my subsequent books using this approach.
Some days, I have my procrastinating head on. Who doesn’t? And if that’s how it’s going to be, so be it. There’s no point in forcing the writing if it isn’t coming. Most of the time, though, I can just sit down and write. I won’t always have the best words in the right order, but the story keeps building and you’d be amazed how quickly you can get to 10k words, then 25k, then 50k…
I like to keep a track in my diary of how many words I write each day and then total the week for no other reason than the feeling of satisfaction if I’ve had an epic week. I had a couple of weeks last year where I wrote nearly 17k words each week. Very satisfying! This is balanced by weeks where I don’t write at all.
The start of a book is usually my nemesis. When I wrote Searching for Steven, I swear that there were forty or so different starts. And I mean massively different starts. It became a standing joke that I had no idea where the story should really begin. Beginnings have troubled me ever since although not to the same extent.
Beyond that, I often find the first 10k words come slowly and I think this is because I’m finding my way with the characters and the story. Somewhere between 10k and 15k words the story takes flight and comes together much more quickly.
When I’m not writing, I’m always thinking about my stories and characters. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter i.e. I have a story in mind, I know where it’s going to end, I know who the main characters are, and I then let their story unfold naturally. It surprised me that this is my preferred style because, in ‘normal’ life, I’m very organised and quite a planner. I did try to plan my second novel, Getting Over Gary. It didn’t work. Gary didn’t want to do what I’d planned for him to do and neither did the other characters! Never again. I create a basic profile for my main characters, I plan a character arc for the protagonist(s) and then I let them take me where they want, which can sometimes be in quite surprising directions. For example, in The Secret to Happiness, I had a character who was going to be a ‘baddie’ and she didn’t want to be. She ended up becoming a really lovely character but that meant someone else needed to be the ‘baddie’; someone I hadn’t expected to be so devious!
What’s my advice to anyone thinking of writing or struggling with their writing?
- If you want to write, write. You may not be great at it but you’ll never know unless you try
- If you’re thinking “I’d love to write a book but I don’t have time”, then stop right there. I didn’t have time but I made time. I stopped watching the soaps on TV, I stopped lounging around, I wrote whilst commuting to work (I will point out that this was on the train; not whilst driving!) and I developed ideas whilst in the shower. Very, very few writers ever had the luxury of time when they were starting out, but they had a dream and they made it happen
- Don’t feel you have to write every day. But do think about it each day. I often develop dialogue and plot twists while in the shower, out shopping, or when driving
- Learn how to write. Being good at writing in day to day life v writing a book are two very different skills. There’s a lot to learn but there are some amazing self-help books, courses, and qualifications out there to help. I spent ten years learning my craft whilst writing my debut. To be fair, I had a lot of years where I didn’t write anything as I married, had a baby, opened and closed a business and changed job several times during that time, but I never lost sight of that goal and never stopped learning
- Take the NaNoWriMo approach of just getting on with it (learn more here). You can edit it later. You might ditch a lot of it later. But if you don’t get the words down in the first place, you’ll have nothing to edit
- Don’t write because you want to make a fortune. Most writers don’t. Most still have a day job. Some only make enough for a cheap night out once a month. Write because you have stories to tell and you couldn’t imagine not sharing them
- Keep a list of ideas. It could be a book title, a plot point, a piece of dialogue or a quirky character. It may not be a fully-formed novel just yet but it could become it one day
I hope you enjoyed my little insight into the world of writing and that it might have inspired you to crack on with that idea that’s been buzzing at the back of your brain if you’re new to this.
All the best