Writers, Don’t Be Afraid to Take Your Time

I’ve been reading blog posts and news stories here and there speaking about the changing nature of publishing. There are so many changes happening so fast it’s sometimes hard to keep track, and honestly it’s foolish to try. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing to stay abreast of what’s going on in the industry—all segments of it—but there’s no need to know it all.

One of the things I’ve seen lately is this push for authors to produce as many books as they can as fast as they can. There was a time not too long ago when, if an author published a novel once a year they were on a rapid schedule. They were producing!

Now there’s talk, because of the “ease” of publishing ebooks, that if you’re not putting out a couple of novels a year, then you’re falling behind.

68815967 a67be183a2 z Writers, Dont Be Afraid to Take Your Time
Photo credit: re_birf (Flickr)

Don’t Forget, Writing is a Process

Revisit the post from Rachelle Gardner about Six Thing to Learn from Hemingway that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Here’s one of the things she gleaned from studying his writing habits.

He wasn’t afraid of the process. He knew that a book or short story had its own timetable, and he didn’t try to force it. If a project needed weeks, months or years in the editing and rewriting phase, that’s what he gave it. Despite the same anxiety for publication that all writers share, he still gave his books the time they needed to develop.

I don’t know much about fines wines, or coffee, or cheeses, but I do know one thing. Some of them need time to age to produce the flavor that makes them desirable. If makers of any of these premium delicacies rush their product through production in order to get it to market, you know as well as I that they would soon have a severe drop in sales because of the corresponding drop in quality.

Writing, I believe, is the same way. Crafting a good story takes time.

Time to let your ideas percolate. Time to flesh out those ideas and turn out an outline and a plot. Time to develop characters and run them through the wringer of life. Time to write the story, then edit it, then revise it, and revise it again, and again.

You get the picture.

I write a lot, and I write as fast as I can. I’ve got novels I could push out into the world, but as a self-published author I think I owe it to those who will read my works to give them the best product I can. If I create something they enjoy and think is of value, they’ll become a fan and be more willing to buy the next work I publish. They’ll be more willing to spread the word.

You know the same won’t be true if I put out a bunch of shoddy work, no matter how great the volume.

Writers, Just Write

There’s an old adage that says “Quality over quantity.” I suppose this applies to writing as well, or does it?

There’s a related adage that says, “Practice makes perfect.”

Well, no, not really, because if you’re practicing incorrectly you’ll never become perfect. But, if you’re practicing with a mind focus toward improvement, using a work ethic that pushes you to create a better end result, then yes, you’re on the way toward possible perfection.

qualityquantity Writers, Just Write

Sometimes we read about overnight successes and wonder why that hasn’t happened to us. An author submits their first novel and it’s accepted right away, or rockets to the top of the sales lists.

What we fail to recognize is how many years it took them to get the book done in the first place. How many books did they write and never submit? How many story ideas ended up in the trash? How many times did they rewrite every single scene in that “overnight success” book?

Write, Write, Write

I submit to you that authors need to simply buckle down and write.

Finished a novel? Write another one. Submitted a novel? Good for you, now get back to writing.

There seems to be a critical mass a writer needs to develop. It’s not true in every single case, but so often you find out that a writer has been slogging away in obscurity for years before they make their first sale. It’s akin to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from his book Outliers. The idea that you need to put in your time to become an expert at something, and then you need to put in even more time to become phenomenal.

Here are some anecdotes that spring to mind.

  • Ray Bradbury once wrote an essay about how he got rejected 500 times before he got his first acceptance.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien created entire languages, cultures, and a world before writing the Lord of the Rings. He produced ream after ream after ream of notes, history, and character development.
  • Isaac Asimov once said that a writer needs about a million words of prose under his belt before he’s ready to be published.
  • I met a young man at a recent writing workshop who’d never written anything before five years ago. Since then, he’s written over 1.4 million words.
  • Robert Silverberg once said that he once wrote about a million words per year.

Now, you can say that most of the examples above are the cream of the crop type author. I would agree. However, the point is these authors produced and kept on producing.

Was everything they wrote worth publishing? Nope. I’m pretty sure each of these authors produced more unpublished works than published. They understood that a writer’s job is to write. Sure, times have changed, and we’re told we need to worry about marketing, and creating a buzz through social networks (an idea that J.A. Konrath might take exception to), but our real job is to write.

The more you write, the better you’ll get. Those millions of words will have a cumulative affect as we work on honing our craft. Every story will be a little better than the ones before. Each chapter more coherent. Each paragraph more pointed. Each sentence tighter.

Have you crafted a million words? What are you waiting for?

Find the Brainstorming Method that Works Best for You

Writers get asked all the time, “Where do get your ideas?”

Sometimes, this is the cry of an aspiring writer who’s suffering a drought in the idea department. They look at another writer, perhaps a friend or acquaintance, or a writer they admire and wonder where all their great ideas come from.

Sound familiar?

bulb 1024x724 Find the Brainstorming Method that Works Best for You

Some Ideas are Made, Some are Discovered

I wrote last week about the need to create space for your ideas to grow. New ideas often die because our lives are so filled with activity our minds don’t have time to stretch.

But what happens when you give yourself the time to ponder and dream and nothing happens? The truth of the matter is you have to work to figure out what method of idea creation works best for you.

Giving your imagination and creativity space to operate is crucial, but it’s not the only ingredient for the formation of ideas that eventually become stories. Sure, you might get a seed that seems like it could go somewhere, but what do you do with it once you’ve got it?

Some ideas come fully formed, but most have to be shaped, molded, and expanded before they’re worth anything of value.

Try Different Methods Until You Find the Perfect Fit

I’m a pretty tech-savvy guy. I try, as much as my budget will allow, to keep up with the latest hardware and software to foster my writing. I’ve learned, however, that using an old-fashioned spiral notebook and pen is the best method of brainstorming for me. Something about the ruled paper makes me want to fill it up, and ideas flow. I jot down plots, outline novels, create characters, and record research notes in a notebook. I eventually reach critical mass and find I’m ready to start transferring all I’ve created into a Scrivener file. This sounds like making more work for myself, but I’ve learned that I’m able to refine my ideas as I type those notes up.

Here’s some more ideas you could try to help your brainstorming sessions.

  • Draw pictures: You don’t have to be an artist, just sketch out something in your head. It could be a rough sketch of a character’s clothing, or perhaps the layout of a room, or a map of some sort.
  • Mindmap: There are free and trial versions of mind mapping software available, or just use paper and pencil. Take a seed idea and map out the connections and possibilities. Keep what works and discard the rest, or save them for later.
  • Outline: Some writers poo-poo outlining, choosing to be pantsers who prefer to let the story flow. Well, be honest, sometimes that doesn’t work. You can write yourself into a corner. If you’ve got a plot going nowhere, consider outlining.
  • Character development: Dream up some characters. They don’t need to be connected to any particular story. Just create some folks and see if their story speaks to you. You may find they’ve lived a life work writing about.
  • Use a voice recorder: Get away from the computer and take a walk, talking through your ideas as you go.

The key here is to try new methods until you find one that fits for you. Perhaps you’ll find using a mix of methods works.

If sitting there staring at a white page on you computer screen isn’t working, try something, anything different.

What brainstorming methods would you add to the list? What works for you? Please share in the comments.

Make Space for Your Ideas

Have you ever had one of those eureka moments? You know how it goes. You’re doing something mundane and a brilliant idea pops into your head.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. Driving in the car during a trip. Taking a shower. Mowing the lawn.

I’m doing something mindless and my mind keeps creating on its own.

1209989 74541964 1024x685 Make Space for Your Ideas

Creativity Can’t be Forced

Don’t get me wrong. Creativity can be nurtured, and needs to be, but that’s not the same thing as forcing it to produce.

Case in point, my latest novel idea is something that just popped into my head a couple of weeks ago. I think the idea is brilliant and has real potential, but I honestly have no idea where the concept came from.

In contrast, I’ve got an entire notebook full of notes on another idea I’ve come up with, but it’s something I pretty much shoehorned together. The more I think about it, the less I like the concept, and the less potential I think the story has for success.

What’s the difference between the two? The good idea came into being after I was forced to spend quite a bit of idle time behind the wheel of the car. There was no planning, no scheduled brainstorming, but this idea sprang to mind almost fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. As I began to analyze how it came to pass, I realized a simple truth.

Writers need to give themselves permission to daydream. [Tweet this.]

Creativity Needs Space

So, how can we give ourselves space to daydream in today’s hectic world? I can’t answer that for you, but I can give you some ideas.

  • Check to see if there’s junk you can clear from your schedule. It’s OK to not have something planned for every hour of every day. Put some margin back into your life.
  • As contradictory as this sounds, build free time into your schedule. Schedule thirty minutes to an hour as often as possible to just sit and ponder. No agendas, just ponder. Consider building free time into your routine.
  • Unplug from everything. Turn off the TV, the radio, the internet, all of it. Distractions kill dreaming.
  • Take a walk or get some exercise. Do some yard work or other manual labor. Do something that doesn’t require critical or creative thinking.

No matter what you do, do something, or rather nothing.

Think of your creativity as a set of lungs. Lungs operate best with plentiful amounts of fresh air available. Lungs can’t function well or long locked up in a small, airtight room.

Your creativity needs space to breathe. You have to choose to quit stifling it and let it breathe deep.

What are your favorite tips for finding time to daydream? Please share in the comments.