I have to credit Todd Stone for inspiration on this discussion. Stone is the author of The Novelist Boot Camp, a how-to book geared to help writers not only develop ideas but in laying out a schedule and a process for writing and editing the manuscript. I took a session of his in Chicago back in 2007. I’ve used his methods for editing and have kept in mind one thing he said about the amount of material to be written at any one time. He urged people to set a goal. He didn’t care what that goal was, just that it be set. Struggling writers may want to set themselves a goal of only a page per day. Even a paragraph. Most of us smiled at this because most of the attendees were writing more than a page each time. He said, though to keep in mind the goal. Writing. We can always adjust the goal at a later time.
Each writer is different. You’ll find writers dedicated to writing 5000 words every day. One I know writes every morning for two hours from 5-7. One completes outlines that are almost 200 pages long. Another sets time in the afternoon to write, ordering family not to distract her.
You have to find what works for you. You have control. You know your daily schedule. You know the times that are available to write. Set a schedule, make a goal and strive to achieve it. Stone then told everyone something else important: congratulate yourself if you do achieve it. If you finish that paragraph, then celebrate. Feel good that you accomplished something.
I’d like to take this a bit deeper and relate it even more to the quote. Let’s say you have that schedule, you are set to write, you’ve got that zen writer thing going and you’re in the zone. The drink is nearby, the phone is off and you’ve disabled the email and the Internet. And you’re off…
You will reach a point where you realize that you’re taking more time to put down words. The ideas aren’t flowing as quickly or smoothly as before. You finally finish the scene/chapter and you look back and determine it wasn’t your best. In fact, the whole things was pretty blech! Now what?
My suggestion is to fix it later. Don’t go back and tinker with it because you’ve reached your limit for productivity for that allotted time period. Analyze the material to see where it could be improved, then let it sit. Allow the information to settle itself in your mind. I do this constantly, most times before I even begin a new scene. For instance, at the time I’m writing this post, I’m stuck on the next chapter in the next Mallory Petersen story. I know what the chapter is about. I even know how it will end. I have some of the pieces strewn here and there in my mind but the problem I’m having is: it just isn’t settling down in order. Nothing is urging me to begin the chapter. I haven’t found the spark to continue.
I definitely don’t want to force it. Please, don’t force it. Even if you have a schedule to write, if it ain’t there, it ain’t there. You can’t force the words to come. Well, you can, but you’ll know soon enough the scene is crap. But you’ve scheduled this particular time period to write. What now? A simple answer is: write something else. It doesn’t have to be quality material or even something that you intend to publish. Find a writing prompt. Compose a letter to your sister. Jot down ideas for future stories. List all the countries you can think of. Complete your grocery list. Something. Anything. Don’t let that time go to waste and don’t think writing nonsense is wasteful.
Instead of continuing with my mystery story, I’m writing future blogs. I’m thinking about future stories. I’m not just not writing. I’m putting something down on paper. What I’m waiting for is what always occurs. The spark. It’ll come. Many times an idea will hit when I’m about to fall asleep. Then the problem is remembering it upon awakening.
Did you reach your goal today? If so, that’s great. If you’ve reached that moment when you know nothing is going right and nothing will go right for awhile, then stop. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over not finishing that kick butt action scene. The time just wasn’t right.
It will be and when it is, you’ll know it.