It’s no secret, my writing suffered during the second UK lockdown. I was writing every day, yet I was barely making any progress with the second draft of my novelette, An Investigation of the Most Sensitive Order. (Hence the extended interlude between blog posts. That and a 50 hour work/writing week.)
Turns out I wasn’t alone, that it’s been a common struggle among writers. Though I’m not one of the pros, it was reassuring to learn there were others in my position. It encouraged me to take a hard look at myself as a writer and to ask, Do you still want to do this?
The answer was a simple mental scream of a ‘yes!’ My heart remained set on becoming a professional writer, even if my head wasn’t.
That decided, I looked at my writing routine, and at my habits, and I pulled out what I was unhappy with. Then I asked myself how I could improve these and I came up with the following rules:
- Write 500 words per day.
- Write with more of an idea (purpose) of what I want to achieve within those words, scene, chapter etc.
- Move the story (action) forward.
- Turn off my internal editor.
- Write to finish a draft that has: an approximate word length; proper shape and structure of a story; and that is something to edit in the next draft. This isn’t a draft to be shown to readers (have the mindset that this is similar to a first draft: only YOU will see this).
- When not writing, try to think more about the story, not about the actual words.
- Style needs to be aimed more at genre fiction than literary.
- Tell Emily about what I did that day (in depth, don’t just say, ‘Yeah, good’ or ‘Not great’. Say WHY).
- Spend extra hours planning story/wider novel, studying.
- Not every sentence has to dazzle.
- Edit. JUST WRITE.
- Worry or get anxious.
- Become grumpy or feel discouraged if your day doesn’t go as planned—FOCUS on how you will correct it tomorrow.
- You write best when you focus on telling the story and not on the words themselves. The writing slows and isn’t as “good” when you focus on the quality of the prose.
- This is a long game, not a short one. You are getting the words down in an approximation of the right order. You will edit them later. Focus on the STORY.
My writing didn’t transform over night. It took a couple of weeks of harnessing this new mindset to cut through the lockdown fog. But, day by day, my writing became a little better. Over the next few months, I made further changes to my writing routine and was able to finish that dreaded second draft, before moving onto the third. Those changes were:
I changed the font. Twice. Once for the second draft, another for the third. Stupidly simple, yet incredibly effective.
I wrote six days a week. I gave myself Saturdays off, to allow my mind to rest and to think about other things. I had to remind myself that not all writing is done at the computer desk. I listened to myself more. On the Saturdays I felt like writing, I did. On those I didn’t, I didn’t beat myself up.
I discarded most of the first draft. I highlighted the parts I wanted to save and discarded the rest. I repeated this for some of the shabbier parts of the second draft when writing the third.
I split the novelette into four parts. This helped make my writing more concise and to order the story better.
I stopped reading directly before a writing session. I’d done this for the past four years, believing it fuelled my writing . For the past four years, I’d also struggled to write in my own voice, without being influenced by those of other authors. As soon as I made this change, I became a lot happier with my own writing. It finally felt like mine.
I started exercising before writing. Be it walking Pip, running or weights, exercising before writing has really helped me to get focused.
I ditched coffee. I LOVE coffee, but I hate the reliance upon it, the caffeine withdrawal and the tiredness it heaps upon you. Decaf is the way to go!
I write at the end of the day. Be it work, exercise or chores, I get everything done for the day before sitting down to write. Knowing I am writing without a time limit has been a great mental boon to my writing.
I protected my writing hours. Working full-time, I aim to commit 2-3 hours to writing per day, which is about half what I’d ideally like to achieve. First, I’d to accept I could only achieve what was humanly possible, without burning myself out. That made the writing hours I had feel more threatened, more precious, and in turn made me more determined to make the most of them.
I stopped caring what other people thought. I’m writing for me and what I hope will be my future career. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
I reminded myself that writing is a choice and to ENJOY it. Writing is only something I have to do because I enjoy it. Take those away, and what’s the point in trying to become an author?
All of these changes helped me to complete my second draft and they’ve made writing my third draft much easier. (I’m currently halfway through.) Each draft still takes me longer to complete than I’d like. Perhaps that’s something I can work on. Perhaps that’s just how I write. Either way, even though I currently have less time to dedicate to writing than I’ve had in the previous four years, I feel like I’ve made solid progress with it. As a result, I feel like I’ve become a mentally-stronger and more competent writer.
We’ve all struggled with the pandemic in some way. Have you found it difficult to write or to work on your creative project? If so, what difficulties did you face and how did you overcome them? Share in the comments to inspire others.