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One-Size-Fits-All

Have you ever searched for that one piece of writing advice that will magically make writing easier and your stories better? Have you ever thought that you found it, only to discover that it doesn’t work for your best friend? Or has your friend given you a piece of “magic” writing advice that doesn’t work for you? That is the road of writing advice. Writing advice isn’t one-size-fits-all because the creative process is varied and subjective. Heck, writing advice isn’t even one-size-fits-a-single-career. The writer you are today may not be the writer you were yesterday or the writer you’ll be tomorrow, and the process that worked for you then may not work for you now.

Just six years ago I was living a lifestyle that would not support writing every day. I had more responsibilities and a demanding job with a schedule that had less flexibility. Now I’m self-employed, which means I have more control of my schedule, and it’s easier for me to plan time to write every day, even on busy days.

Just six years ago I wrote in binge spurts, up to 4,000 words in a day. But I only wrote 158 days out of 365. This year I’ve only had a handful of days where I passed 1,000 words.

Just six years ago I wrote short stories, rather than novels. Those binge sessions of writing frequently corresponded to writing a first draft of a short story. A first draft of a chapter usually isn’t longer than 2,000 words for me, which means binge sessions are shorter.

It’s clear the writer I was six years ago is not the same writer I am now, which means the writing advice and processes I followed then may not be effective for me any more. Redefining myself as a writer from 2011 to 2017 has taken some work. Some of it is organic, like discovering that I could write daily with a little motivation and consistency. Some of it is decisive, like focusing on novels rather than short stories. And the rest of it has required experimenting because I’ve had to hunt for new processes and advice that works for this new writer that I’ve become.

Which is where all that disparate, subjective, one-size-will-never-fit-all writing advice comes in. Writing advice isn’t and shouldn’t be thought of as a one-size-fits-all magic solution. Writing advice is an opportunity to try something new and see if it works for you (or if it works for you now). Trial and error is the queen among writers—that’s actually what the drafting and revision process is about. So consuming as much writing advice as you can, trying what sounds interesting, and throwing away what doesn’t work is the way writing advice works best. The only writing advice that is truly one-size-fits-all is to try everything, and then in five years, try it again. Writing is about reinvention and no one is reinvented as often as a writer.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: To Sprint Or…?

My first attempt at National Novel Writing Month began with my hard drive crashing two days into the challenge. Sometimes NaNoWriMo is like that—full of obstacles and challenges and complications. I wasn’t very motivated to write while my computer was sent off for repairs, so when I got it back on November 18th, I had a decision to make: was I done with NaNo or did I try to write 43,000 words in twelve days?

Everyone who signs up for NaNo surely has a moment in which they think they’re crazy. It’s a huge goal to accomplish on a tight deadline, and it takes some serious determination to finish, even in the best circumstances. In 2005 I was not looking at the best circumstances. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel.

I started by changing my expectations. I knew I couldn’t blow through a novel that quickly, so even though it would be a rebellious act in my first NaNo, I decided to work on short stories and not worry about connectivity or using the same characters or even following the same ideas. I was going to write 50,000 words of something and not worry too much about what I was writing, so long as I was writing.

That still left me writing 43,000 words in just twelve days. I wasn’t the steady writer then that I am now, but I was very good at sprinting. The first two days of my attempt to catch up had me writing about 8,000 words. It took me four more days to write another 10,000 words because—as it turns out—sprinting can leave you creatively exhausted. I learned to be motivated by count downs (“just 400 more words to go!”). I honed in on ideas that were easier to write and I clung to inspiration. Ultimately I did it. I wrote 43,000 words in twelve days. I’m proud of that accomplishment—amazed­ by it, honestly—and it’s something I never want to do again.

Even though I could binge write my way to 50K, I discovered it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me to do. The act of churning out so much in a single day left me drained, and it was much harder to preform the next day. In the last year and a half of writing every day I’ve discovered exactly how much I value consistency over high word counts. Knowing that I will write every day without it being a struggle is more important to me than writing 6,000 words in a day.

NaNo is still a sprint—I don’t normally write 50,000 words in a month—but pacing myself for the 1,667 words a day is a lot easier than stumbling to catch up at the end. Even if I get behind (which I have many times in past years), keeping the gap small is a good way to keep the NaNo goal in sight. After my first year, catching up 10,000 words could look like a breeze, but I know better. Sprinting is possible, but pacing myself is healthier.

NaNoWriMo is on my mind this month as I’m preparing for this year’s challenge. Stick with me to check out a series of posts on the writing lessons you can learn by participating in NaNo. If you’re a writer, you should really consider signing up.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: Time

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner! For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge in November to write 50,000 words of a novel. It’s an event that brings together thousands of writers from around the world to practice their craft and talk about writing for a month.

I first participated in NaNo in 2005, and then took a break for several years because I was too busy to write. You know what month is incredibly busy every year? November. You know what excuse is a terrible one for not participating in NaNoWriMo? Being busy! Here’s the deal, writers: you will always be busy. Life will always get in the way of your writing. There will always be a responsibility you think you should be doing instead of writing. You may even feel guilt because you are writing instead of doing something else!

Stop it.

One of the great gifts NaNoWriMo has given me is the perspective that I can make writing a priority. That was a lesson I re-learned every year for the first few years in which I participated. I wasn’t prioritizing my writing life at any other time of the year, but during NaNo, I set aside 30–60 minutes every day to write. (Okay, maybe not every day because there was a year when I wrote 8,000 words one day because I had written 0 words for a whole week.) The only thing standing in my way was myself.

I had responsibilities chomping away at every hour of my day, but with a little extra planning I found the time to write for NaNoWriMo. One of my most productive times to write was on my lunch break. Instead of going out to eat every day, as was my usual routine, I brought lunch at least two days a week and got 30–45 minutes of writing time. I also made use of my weekly writing group (1–2 hours per week). And, sacrifice of sacrifices, I woke up 15 minutes earlier during the month of November. Some days I used that time to make lunch, but other days I got started with writing for the day. Starting my day by writing 15 minutes made me feel ahead all day. Since I was looking for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, I was halfway there!

At the end of the month I was less surprised that I had achieved the 50,000-word goal, and more surprised by how easy it was. I had never before consciously thought about prioritizing writing. I had prioritized projects in order to meet a deadline, but I had never tried to make time to write daily (or semi-daily) for a month. I had thought it would be an impossible task, or that I’d be either exhausted or behind by the end. But when it came down to it, finding the time was much easier than I thought it would be. It took a few years before those lessons really stuck and I stopped being so surprised, but now I never question when I’ll find the time to write, I just find it.

NaNoWriMo is on my mind this month as I’m preparing for this year’s challenge. Stick with me to check out a series of posts on the writing lessons you can learn by participating in NaNo. If you’re a writer, you should really consider signing up.

Why on Earth Would You Write Every Day?

In 2016 I stumbled into my current habit of being an every day writer. It was a goal for a number of years, but one that I could never make stick until I discovered I had written every day for a week and then through sheer stubbornness continued to write every day. (I’m currently on day 585.) I’ve recently seen a number of posts suggesting that you don’t need to write every day, and I’ve given people the same advice when they’re fighting against intense schedules or suffering from chronic or mental illnesses (depression devours your ability to write, I get it), but I’ve benefitted from writing every day, so I want to offer a few reasons you should reconsider if writing every day is right for you.

(1) Build a Writing Habit

The greatest benefit I’ve gotten from writing every day is that I write every day! I never question when my next writing session will be because I know it will be tomorrow. There are days when my schedule is cruel and I don’t find time to write until just before bed, but writing every day is such a habit now that I can’t fall asleep until I’ve written. (True story: I was gone 12 hours, worked an event, got home after 11, got in bed, and even though I was exhausted, I got up when I realized I hadn’t written.)

(2) Build Writing Confidence

Because writing every day is a habit, it’s now easier for me to get words on the page. Just yesterday my writing group watched me struggle to write a blog post. I had brainstormed a few different topics and wrote on each one until the idea petered out. I didn’t finish any of those posts yesterday, but now I have starts for three more posts. I wasn’t afraid to travel down the “wrong” path or to just put words on the page and see what I like later because I was confident that at the end of my writing session I would have something.

(3) Build a Defense Against Writer’s Block

I still come up against blocks, but it’s easier for me to break through the blocks because writing is a habit. The first fifty words of the day are usually the hardest, so I decided that even on a bad day—on the busiest day, the day when I’m feeling super sick and uncreative—I have to write one hundred words. It’s harder to stay blocked when every word I write contributes to achieving a goal. And within one hundred words I’ll usually find an angle (or identify two angles that aren’t working) and suddenly I’ve hit two hundred words, then three hundred, etc. It’s also harder for me to throw in the towel since I’m not only trying to check a box that says I’ve written today, but I’m also trying to check a box for a word count goal.

 

Those are the three ways I’ve benefitted the most from writing every day, but truthfully there are times when you just cannot write every day. My previous job was demanding to the point of being overwhelming and was a contributing factor to why I wasn’t an every day writer until 2016. But it didn’t stop me from having goals and from benefitting from those goals.

If you’re in a situation wherein you absolutely cannot write every day, try to set a weekly goal for yourself, like to write three days a week. You could decide that any day counts, or you might set aside specific days (like a day you go to a writing group). I used to write for 15 minutes on my lunch break—I didn’t do it every day, but on the days I did, I returned to my desk feeling better about life because I had taken the time to be creative before going back to the grind.

Any writing goal you make and stick with gets you closer to building a habit, building your confidence, and building your defenses against writer’s block, so even if you aren’t writing every day, making a commitment to writing any days is a good foundation.