Many people have said it before me: writing is definitely a mix of inspiration and perspiration. More of the latter, but there is a balance that must be struck.
Before I got my MFA, I set a schedule for myself, writing 1500-2000 words 6 days a week, taking 2 hours after work each night to do it, and a few hours each weekend day. It didn’t always happen, but that constant dedication definitely produced a lot of words and gave me a good habit of discipline. When I was editing, I changed that to a certain number of chapters or number of words edited, or simply a certain amount of time put in to editing.
There was so much more time to write when I was in school. In many ways, I produced less work. I was constantly preparing something for submission, and I had several different projects going. It was an extremely positive experience, but now that I’m recovering my old habits, I’m learning that some of them don’t work for me any more. Some things that are still important:
– Be obsessed with your project. You’re going to spend years with it; it must be something that can hold your attention. I like to sit on novel ideas for at least a couple years before committing myself to writing the whole novel. If an idea is still memorable and interesting to me after 2-3 years, it is an idea that I can stick with for the long haul.
– If at all possible, put at least 500 words a day into a rough draft. It doesn’t matter if they’re good. It doesn’t matter if I keep them, although I usually do at least until the rough draft is done. Interacting with the work as many days in a row as possible keeps it fresh in my mind, and keeps my mind working out the problems with it in the background. It also keeps my excitement with it high. 500 words is not very many–with Write Or Die it takes me about 11 minutes to write 500 words–but it’s enough to make me put myself back in the world of my novel again.
– Write more if possible, though. 500 words is not very many.
– If I run into a snag of any sort, or just don’t feel like writing, I write about my problems longhand, in a blank book. I try to ask myself what the problem is, what is fueling the reluctance. Am I tired of the project as a whole? If so, why? Is there something specific that doesn’t feel right? Can I write myself into a different way of looking at it. As of last night, I hadn’t worked on my current project in at least a week, but as soon as I sat down with my blank book and wrote about what was troubling me with it, I realized I wasn’t tired of the project as a whole, but felt like the main character was too cynical to do the things I wanted him to do in the denouement. I wrote about it until I found a more cynical reason that he would do those things, a reason which made sense to me. Then I had no trouble writing the bit of the book that came next.
But there’s a major habit I’m thinking about changing: I don’t like writing at night as much as I used to. I used to exercise first thing in the morning, because I wanted to get it done immediately, and then I went to work and put in a 9 or 10 hour day. I liked the lack of inhibitions that a glass of wine and the tiredness of a long day brought me. I needed that more than I needed the energy and motivation I have early in the day.
Now I’ve mostly conquered those inhibitions, and I need the morning energy and optimism. I’m a morning person, and I definitely agree, in principle, that you should do the most important things as early as possible, so they are done. So I’m working on rearranging my schedule to write in the morning, then go to the gym, then go to work around noon. Then I can always put in some more writing time in the evening if I have the energy and motivation, but it won’t be required. I hope it works!