There Is No Writing Without These Five Things

The muse isn’t this into you.

1. There is no writing without reading. Okay, there is, but it tends to be shitty writing. Read, and read widely. Fill up your brain’s compost bin with ideas and let them sit. Turn occasionally. That’s a thing you do with compost, right? I don’t know, I’m not a fucking gardener.

Anyway, soon, you will have idea compost in which you can plant your own stories. Just don’t be surprised if the fruit they grow is strange. Or radioactive.

2. There is no writing without getting your ass in the chair. You have to work at writing. You have to place your sitting bones in a chair, or otherwise prop them in front of the Magical Writing Box, and get to work. Writing will not do itself while you’re watching YouTube clips of Russian dashcams. It doesn’t turn up if you wait around. The muse can be a shitty date that way. You can dress up nice and wait around for it to pick you up, but it never does. You’d be better off taking yourself out, getting a table, ordering something big and alcoholic, and starting on your own. Get the party started and the muse will show up. Or it won’t. Whatever. Fuck that guy. You don’t need him.

3. There is no writing without coffee. Not for me, anyway. Hey, at least it’s an improvement on the cigarettes.

4. There is no writing without fun. If you hate sitting down to your computer or notebook or stack of engrave-able methane tablets, if you hate having to put all the words in the right order, if you hate the time you spend doing it every single time…then you’re not writing. I’m not sure what you’re doing, but it sounds like you’re engaging in some really boring form of torture. And I bet it makes you bucketloads of fun to be around, champ.

You gotta have fun, or what’s the goddamn point? Though if you want to beat yourself up that bad, there’s probably someone on the internet who will pay to watch.

5. There is no writing without investment. And I don’t mean day-trading. If you’ve got no investment in your story, in your characters, then the writing isn’t going to happen. You don’t always have to like it—the above comments on fun speak to the majority of the time, not the entirety of it—but you should want it. You should want to tell that story. You should want to spend time with those characters, even the ones who make your skin crawl.

Fill in the blank with your must-haves, word nerds: There is no writing without_____________.

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Strap In And Grab Your Important Bits: Planning Your Year In Writing

Get in, loser.

All right, we’ve talked about ideas and talked about getting excited. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Except we’re dealing with the imagination, so I suppose we should be getting down to…brass dendrites? Brass gut flora? Something brass, anyway. * We need a plan.**

Here is your plan:

1) Define your goal.

2) Figure out the steps along the way.

3) Fucking do it.

I recognize that some clarification may be in order.

Part of your plan is going to depend on your goal. Want to write a novel in 2014? Figure out how long you think it’ll be. If you’ve got no fucking clue, guess. I usually say 100,000 words. Why? It’s a nice round number. And it translates to roughly 400 pages of a paperback book. A good length for fantasy or horror, which is what I tend to write. I’ve written shorter and longer, but this is my benchmark.

Got a length? Good. Now figure out how long you have. Got a year? Then that means you have to write…273.972 words a day. Better round that up to 274, just so you don’t stop mid-noun. Not much, is it? Even assuming that you’ll only write five days a week, that’s only 385 words a day. You can do that. So you do. There we are: plan set. All you have to do is colour it in a little.

But what if your goal isn’t to write something, but to publish? Well, assuming you have a finished manuscript—you do have a finished manuscript, don’t you? If not, finishing that is the first step, so back the fuck up—then start researching places it could find a home. Agents or publishers for a novel, magazines or anthologies for short fiction. Make a list. Write a letter. Start sending. When it gets rejected from one place, move to the next on the list.*** Repeat.

And what if, like yours truly, your goal for the year involves not writing something entirely new, but editing an existing project? It’s not such a clear cut goal then, but it’s still definable. I will come back to this in a later post–actually, I’ll come back to most of these in later posts–but for now, here’s the bare bones: go through the manuscript with a red pen; make a big list of what needs to change****; make a plan for those changes and figure out how long they will take. Good rule of thumb for editing? Unless you are very experienced at it, it will take three times longer than you think. At least. You think you can have the changes written in a month? Budget three. If you get done early, then, hey, happy handshakes and big bottles of booze all around. But budget more time than you think. Trust me.

Making a plan—especially one that you figured out the timetable for, and not one you got out of a book that claims anyone can write a novel in two weeks or can be published in three—keeps you on track. It breaks down the bigger goal—Write A Novel, Get Published, Edit The Unmerciful Fuck Out Of That Story Until It No Longer Resembles A Half-Digested Dictionary—into smaller ones—write 500 words today, send out a query letter today, figure out the end of the first chapter today. It grounds you in reality. Which, for people who work inside their own heads, is not at all a bad thing.

Some caveats:

1) Goals change. It happens. Sometimes you think you’re working toward one thing, but realize halfway through that you’d be better off working on this other thing. It’s cool. Don’t panic. Just re-evaluate. Sticking with something that’s no longer what you want is a waste of time. Just make sure it’s really a change and not just you giving up. I suggest strategic reevaluations at three, six, and nine months. That way, you have enough time to get in there and have a go, but also ample opportunity to make course corrections if they’re required.

2) Don’t forget the all important Step Three. Fucking do it. Or all this talk is just masturbation—might make you feel good but it sure as hell doesn’t accomplish anything. You can abandon plans, you can change goals, you can fling yourself out of the literary airlock and into the great vacuum of I Don’t Know What I’m Doing….as long as you keep moving. Plans are good, steps are good, but at the end of the day, the only part that matters is strapping into the launch seat and putting the pedal to the floor.

Now go forth and conquer.

*I really do think like this. It’s amazing I get anything done.
**If you’ve ever read A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, you know the importance of a good PLN. If you haven’t, go read it.
***This approach assumes no simultaneous submissions, but if your market allows them, then go for it. Just keep a list so you don’t forget what went where.
****Don’t be upset if it says ‘everything’. Mine does.