When I tell people I’m a writer, they usually respond with some version of, “I’ve been trying to write a book…” and then this trails off into infinity. But then I ask, “What’s it about?” Because I’m genuinely interested. Because I want to see everyone write what they have inside of them. I love talking about manuscripts and drafts with writers (it’s something I geek out over) and especially with people who don’t yet call themselves writers. So, since I’m often asked this question in person, by direct message, Facebook message, etc. I thought I’d make a list of things I’ve found helpful.
1) Compile what you already have. I’m hard pressed to write in a notebook. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’ve written on napkins, the backs of receipts, post it notes, my hand, baby wipes, and yes, on good days, in a notebook. (I was kidding about the baby wipes.) Here’s what I’m saying: wherever you have written parts of your book, ideas, etc., find it all and type them into a Word document, in any order. Save the Word document as Manuscript. Don’t worry about a title now.
2) Stop thinking “masterpiece,” every time you sit down to write. You don’t need “the muse.” You don’t need for every sentence or line to be perfectly inspired at the moment of its conception. Just write. Just put your pencil/pen on to the paper and move it around to form letters. If you are afraid of writing something bad, you may never write. The way I’ve heard it—
you’ve got to write the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Stop being afraid to write something bad. The best writers do it all the time.
3) Stop editing while writing. You’ve decided to write two pages today. But after the first paragraph, you look up and see spelling errors, grammatical errors, etc. Then you spend 15 minutes correcting that one paragraph. By the time you are done, you may not feel like writing anymore. You may feel discouraged. My suggestion would be to finish writing what you’ve committed to write that day. There will be time for editing later. The important thing is that you follow your train of thought, uninterrupted, and get out what you want to write, first.
4) Read, read, read. This is crucial, especially for beginners. Read other books that are in the same genre as yours. Read books that are like the book you want to write. See what others have done so you can see where you fit in. And stop being afraid of reading other’s work. You have your own personal style and voice. Reading only enriches your own voice and sparks your imagination. I began writing a new manuscript last January and what I did for constant inspiration was to read one collection of poetry a week.
5) Set writing goals. Decide on a reasonable time (based on your schedule, personality, lifestyle, etc.) you’d like to be done with first draft of the book. Decide on a number of pages you’d like to write each week or month. In 2017 I decided I wanted to start working on my second book. I decided I wanted to write 60 poems by August 31. That meant that I’d need to write two poems a week. To keep the momentum going, I knew I needed to read so I set a goal of reading one book of poetry a week. I’d read; get an idea for what I could do, and then I’d write two poems. A lot of them were messy and bad, but when I got into the habit, some of them were good. In the process of writing the new book, my current manuscript MEND was accepted for publication. I had to put the new book on the back burner, but I accomplished over half of my goal.
6) Lastly, find a space that is conducive for you to write. As I type now, Eden, one of my twins, is braiding my hair, pulling it and tugging my head to one side. Seriously. Right now. Vivienne is asking me to replace the batteries in her toy. Unless I’m relentless, I usually don’t write at home. Finding time to write for me means writing at work, on lunch breaks, early morning or when my kids go to bed.
When is the best time and place for you to write?