Novel Writing 6
We are running several excerpts from this title from the A & C Black Writing Handbooks series, by kind permission of the publisher.
Finding the time to write
Ideally, you’ll set up a regular schedule. For example, you’ll always work on your novel on the bus, or on that bench near your company’s parking lot. Absolute consistency is not, of course, always possible. People and events have a habit of popping up. For this reason, I never advise committing to writing every single day, nor do I agree with those who insist you’re not a writer unless you do. Nonsense. Take the time when it’s available. If polite assertiveness won’t work in some situations, or if emergencies arise, accept this state of affairs and know you’ll grab this moment another time. You’ve got to be assertive with yourself, too. Do your best to use those blocks of time when they’re available. It may take self-discipline not to skip your writing session on a particularly beautiful day when you’d rather use that allotted time to take a walk, or simply look around and enjoy nature. Make a promise to yourself that, whenever possible, you’ll take advantage of the pieces of writing time you’ve carved out for yourself throughout the day.
Consider creating more of these pieces of writing time by converting time. If you’re like most people, watching television consumes many of the hours in your week. Reassign some or all of your television time to writing. I almost never watch television. If I did, my books wouldn’t get written. My books are more important to me by far. People ask me how I’m able to run my literary agency and still write my books and devote time to my family and friends. Dropping television is one of the ways.
Which of your other activities consume time you could convert to writing time? Don’t become a hermit or drop your social and leisure activities altogether, but consider honestly the ways you might devote more of your life to writing.
Even sleeping time should be scrutinized. Be careful not to lengthen your days to the extent that you’re not getting enough sleep – a serious problem among people today – but ask yourself whether you may be getting more sleep than you need. The older we get, the less sleep we require. Are you going to bed and arising at certain times simply out of old habit rather than out of necessity? Do you really have to sleep late on Saturday and Sunday? Of course not. You may want to – but do you need to? What’s more important to you – achieving your writing career goals or sleeping in?
Once, at a writers’ conference, I met a successful and prolific young writer of westerns who told me the secret to his success was having given up watching television and going to the movies. He found himself with hours and hours of time to be actively creative instead of passively entertained. He still made sure he spent time with his wife and young children.
Follow this writer’s example and select those non-writing activities that truly matter to you. Drop the rest. Most important to me is devoting time out of the office to being with my family, socialising with close friends, exercising and reading. When I’m not doing any of these things, chances are I’m writing. The key is to strike a balance borne of a hard-nosed assessment of what matters most to you. Since you’re reading this book, I assume that being a successful novelist is high on your list of the things that matter.
The creative flow
As you’re writing, don’t worry about some point of grammar or spelling you’re unsure about. You’re in creative mode; you can worry about those mechanical issues later. Put a little question mark next to the part you’re unsure about as a reminder to check it later.
Take your time with your writing. More important than writing fast is writing well. If you find yourself on a creative roll, go with it, but be prepared at other times to go slowly, laboriously. This is how most fiction gets written – a few pages a session. I know you’re in a hurry to finish your novel and get it out into the marketplace. But agents and editors will wait. We’ll always gladly wait for a wonderful novel.
What about those times when you sit down for your session and you just don’t want to write? If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to go forward, go back: reread what you’ve written so far. You may find yourself getting back into the spirit. If not, reread your character fact lists. If you still can’t write, force yourself to make some notes about how you’ll translate the next portion of section sheet into text. Try to stay at your desk for your session’s entire allotted time. Chances are you’ll get back into the swing of things before the end, but if you don’t, call it a day and figure things will go better next time. Just make sure you come back.
Sixth and last excerpt from Novel Writing: 16 Steps for Success, Second Edition by Evan Marshall, published by A & C Black at £12.99.
© 2004, 2000 Evan Marshall