The Secret to Writing

So you wanna be a writer?

Here’s the secret to a fulfilling career:

  • Sit down.
  • Write.

What? That wasn’t enough guidance? OK, then I’ll add this:

  • Make the time to write.

You don’t find the time. If you wait to find the time, you never will. There’s always something more interesting on TV or on Twitter or just one more round of “Angry Birds.”

Make an appointment with yourself.

I’m most productive in the morning, usually around 5 a.m. Maybe you like to get going around midnight. Pick a time that works for you and stick to it.

When I was a kid, the teachers hammered the message, “Write what you know.”

Wrong.

Write what excites you.

If you’re passionate about World War II or the Crusades or novels about women falling in love with grizzly bears (it’s thing, really, check it out on Amazon if you don’t believe me), then that’s what you should write about.

Your passion will take you over the rough spots in the journey from keyboard to page. Your passion will crystallize on the page and grab readers. Write a story that has meaning for you.

Break it down into small bits

You aren’t going to write a novel overnight – well, probably not a good one, anyway. Here’s how to get through the process with your sanity – and your passion intact.

Create an outline. It doesn’t have to be long or thorough, it can be as simple as:

  • Bob kills Sarah
  • Sarah’s sister investigates.
  • Sarah rises from the dead and saves her sister from Bob.
  • The End.

Or you can make it as long and as involved as you want, with character back stories, plot beats and dialogue.

Some people write without an outline. Maybe you’re one of them and maybe you’ll be successful at it. I like to have an idea of where I’m going when I start out. It helps me stay on point. The outline is useful because it helps me when I get stuck or wonder what beats I have to hit next, but it’s never a chunk of cement around my neck. I disregard it when I come up with something better in the moment.

Give yourself a daily writing goal.

I set a minimum of  500 words a day – most days I go well beyond that, sometimes two or three times – but as long as I hit my minimum, I’m good to quit for the day.

Think about it: Five hundred words is about the length of two double-spaced pages. That’s not much, is it? You can surely do that.

With this goal in mind, if you work six days a week, by the end of the first week, you’ll have 12 pages of your first draft.

In a month, you’ll have almost 50 pages.

In four months, you’ll have about 200 pages.

See how quickly that little bit adds up?

Don’t talk about your writing.

Of course you are working on the greatest story ever written that will become a blockbuster series and franchise and even George R.R. Martin will be crying in jealous fury. And you want to share your progress with your friends and family.

Don’t.

It’s like letting the air out of a balloon. The more you talk about the writing, the less interest you have in your writing.

It’s OK to share a sentence or two about your story. Friends and relatives are going to be naturally curious. But keep it brief. “I’m working on a story about a woman who travels to a strange land.” (“The Wizard of Oz.”) “I’m writing the story of a woman learning from the horrors of war.” (“Gone with the Wind.”) “A little boy and his imaginary friend.” (“Calvin & Hobbes,” which technically isn’t a story but a comic strip, but what a comic strip, and have you read any of the trade paperbacks lately?)

Keep it brief. Save your energy and your passion for the page, not for chatter.

Read.

You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. Impossible. Can’t be done. You have to have some knowledge of how stories are put together to understand how to approach your own work. Read to be informed, to be excited, to be moved, to be angered, to fall in love. Read with breadth and depth. Study how other writers have handled and mastered the challenges of their stories.

Don’t wait for a Muse. You are the Muse.

Where do you get your ideas from? You. Your life. By watching those around you. Make up a story about someone sitting across from you on the subway. Eavesdrop on the people in front of you in the line in the supermarket. Imagine the next person you meet is running from the law and the person you meet after that is the law. Just let your imagination roam.

i don’t believe in writer’s block. You sit. You do the work. Figure it out. If a project isn’t working for you, set it aside and work on something else until you feel ready to tackle it again.

Writing is work. It’s good work, it’s rewarding work, but it is work, and that means some days go better than others, but you have to show up. You have to put in the time. Otherwise, it’s a hobby.

Everyone has a story. When will you share yours?