Maybe you’ve been writing a novel or another longer piece of writing for so long that it seems like you’ll never get it done. Maybe you have been itching to write a memoir or a self-help piece which will help the world, but life or your own confidence and time management issues keep getting in the way.
Well, you’re not alone! I know all about the ways our best creative intentions can go astray and I’m here to help! Here are 5 Ps to take into consideration when you set off to finally write the work of your dreams in 2017.
1. PLANNING YOUR PROJECT: Okay, I may be half-German-Brazilian, but I do think planning is really useful if you want to complete a novel or other longer piece of writing. Some people, of course, get terribly bored when they already know the story they’re going to tell in advance, so you do have to take your own temperament into account, but, generally, I’d recommend having a rough map of the structure of your project, with its various chapters and scenes.
This means that you usually won’t waste precious time going off on tangents and you’ll also have a ‘map’ to hang onto, so that when you sit down to write each time, you’ll know exactly what you need to tackle (‘Today, Mitzy takes Snuggles to the vet and gets in a fight with the owner of a cockatoo called Tony.’) This is especially useful if you are prone to procrastination (see below!) as you’ll know which step to take next. A whole novel or longer work can seem daunting to complete, but if taken in small sections like this, all mapped out right before you, you will find yourself soon making progress – and progress you can check off too which adds to your sense of achievement and builds momentum. Yeehaw!
There are plenty of books I’d recommend reading if you’re interested in planning your novel, but the one which I suggest the most often to my clients is Evan Marshall’s Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success. It is a little prescriptive, but it’s great on plotting and so handy if you want to create a narrative arc which will be sturdy enough so that you don’t need to make major structural changes during your editing period.
You can certainly write a novel without such forward planning and some famous novelists work this way – such as Siri Hustvedt who wrote the bestseller, What I Loved, from scratch again and again over six years! When I was lucky enough to meet her, I talked to her about this and she said every two years, Paul Auster would tell her the book wasn’t ready (to which I said, ‘Did you tell him his dinner was in the dog?’) and then she’d go back to her desk … As she concluded, ‘I didn’t say it was fun.’ So if you want to avoid lengthy rewrites or getting lost during the writing process in 2017, plan ahead, peeps!
2. PERFECTIONISM BE GONE!: Elizabeth Gilbert says that perfectionism is fear in high heels – that is, a version of fear which seems fancier than it is – and I totally agree with her. That’s why you need to let go of those inner silver Manolos of creative insecurity if you are going to write your book or longer project in 2017!
I often tell my writing students and clients that if they wait for the perfect line to start writing, they might be waiting a heck of while, if not forever. So just start banging it out, folks (hopefully with your trusty plan in hand!) – remember, you can always go back and polish your work later when you have finished your first draft. As Hemingway said, first drafts are meant to be bullbleep!
3. PROCRASTINATE NO MORE!: If you are anything like me, you’re really, really good at this! You probably have a long list of distractions or excuses why you cannot write your big project in 2017. This also linked to perfectionism and the big ‘You’re not good enough’ message which most of us seem to have stamped on our hearts if you look closely enough.
I deal with procrastination in various ways with my writing coaching clients, but one thing I don’t believe in doing is people pushing themselves to do stuff purely through harsh discipline. Human nature means we often rebel when forced to do stuff, so our creative side will more than likely rear up and say, ‘No way!’ if we try to coerce it to write. I believe our inner creative self is pretty much a little kid and if you shout at kids to play, they’re more likely to cry and think you’re scary than happily get on with finger painting!
So be kind to your little procrastinating literary self, lovelies – super-kind, super-compassionate, super-supportive. Say good things, read good things and even buy good things like nice pens and notebooks or a sweet scented candles because bribery/self-care is a fiercely effective way of getting your creative self to shimmy.
4. MAKE YOUR WRITING A PRIORITY: One thing I often encounter with my clients is that they’ve not really given themselves permission to write and so their creative time can easily get swept away by the demands of work and friends and family as it’s not a priority. People sometimes say to me that they can’t justify taking time out of their week to write because it doesn’t make money, it’s selfish, their work is never going to get published … whatever their story is (and we all have them).
The truth is, the goalposts of success as a writer are continually shifting – from having work published and having made money from it all the way to winning prizes and being a bestseller … If you let it happen, it’s easy to fall prey to ‘charlatan syndrome’ and thus to never feel that your writing deserves to have a place in your life.
And, the thing is, as Monica Wood points out in The Pocket Muse, if your writing is to be a real priority and you’re going to make progress towards completing a major project, it’s necessary to schedule creative time into your week, very much as you would a date or other important appointment – and you must then give yourself permission to stick to this whatever, unless a major emergency occurs. If you want to write a book in 2017, take a good look at where your spare time goes and then work out the places you might squeeze some regular writing time into your diary.
If you’re interested in how to make the most of your time as a writer and how to stayed inspired and productive, even during when life gets crazy, please feel free to grab a free copy of The Hectic Writer’s Handy Workbook where I discuss this stuff in detail.
5. PROTECTING YOUR CREATIVE TIME: But what if you schedule time for writing into your diary (even if it’s ten minutes a day, it’s a good start!), but people still insist on coming over for coffee during that timeslot? Then you need to protect this appointment with your creative life!
Of course, we all encounter genuine emergencies which will cannot get round and sometimes children and pets can be very insistent about snaring our attention! We do need to be flexible as creatives in order to keep going with our work, even if life gets bumpy.
However, a lot of the time, we can be prone to giving away our writing time too easily, rather than setting boundaries. Boundary setting can be difficult for a lot of us as our culture tells women, in particular, that we need to be nice and consider others’ needs before our own. But then we just get cranky and miserable as a major source of joy and something which is important to us has been set aside.
So what if we could gently protect our writing time, telling all those who need to know that we want to be alone for twenty minutes? What if we could even steal that time, if need be, by sneaking into the bathroom or off to a coffee shop where we cannot be disturbed? We all need time alone to top our batteries up and if you come back home having written a bit of your magnus opus, I dare say you will be happier and your joy will be infectious! We’re often much better partners, parents and worker bees when our own needs have been met.
I do hope these 5 Ps have given you some good food for thought so that you can get your book or longer project done in 2017. I shall be running a special programme, the ‘A Book in a Year’ VIP Intensive, for 9 mentees next year and I will be opening booking on January 1st. If you have any questions or are interested in receiving more information, please do drop me a line or complete the top box on my website and I’ll send you a little reminder when registration opens. If you want to introduce yourself and let me know what you’re working on, I always love meeting other writers!
You can also have a look at the video below where I explain why I created the programme (basically to get more writers finishing amazing stuff!) and what will be involved.
Wishing you all a happy festive period and wonderful writing experiences in 2017!