Personal space. We all need it. As writers, especially, we need three things:
- A place to work from (dining room table, office, computer desk, coffee shop, diner, library, etc.)
- A way to get the words down on paper (computer, pad and pen, tablet, *Alphasmart, microphone, voice recorder, etc.)
- Time (to concentrate, actually do the work, etc.)
We tell ourselves and those we love that we need this to write. Yet we sit down to do so and…the words don’t come. We get lost in social media, games, or remember a thousand things needing our attention in the house or online. Before we know it, time is up and we’re staring at a blank scene wondering where it all went wrong.
Why? We did everything we were supposed to. “There’s the desk, the computer, the ENTIRE family knows I’ll be writing from 11am to 5pm today, a fact I’ve defended to the point where they almost tiptoe past me.”
I’ll tell you why…
Writing is more than a physical presence. You have to mentally be there…get your head in the game. If you expect to sit down at the desk and words flow free and easy every day…you’re in for a surprise. It’s not enough to have a place, a way, and time. You have to mentally create those things for your writing session.
BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME! It’s okay, my head says the same thing to me, but wait.
Five minutes of prep will save you hours of frustration. You’ll need three things: A pen/pencil, a notebook, and a timer (I use *Online Stopwatch for mine).
You’ve got five minutes, right?
Earlier we recognized a writer needs a “place” to write from, a “way” to write, and “time” to do it in. You also need these things mentally. Let me explain:
(1) A Place to Write From
Before you begin writing, read the last few paragraphs of your previous session.
But I remember everything I write!
Do you remember exactly how you’d built up the tension in the previous scene? What about the time of day of the event? How about whether you’d already mentioned the half brother of the murderer who holds a key part of the mystery you’re writing? Guys, I can’t remember where I left my KEYS, why would I remember the finely layered tension I’d developed or that my heroine is holding a fork in her hand? Sleep, life, and the chaos of summer vacation has swept in to steal my memory and sanity. Do yourself a favor and read the last bit of your scene.
Then…ready? Jot down notes. Think of it as the intro to this week’s episode. My favorite show is Burn Notice. I adore the characters and situations, but I forget important details. Luckily, USA expects that so they begin each arc episode with a “Previously on Burn Notice” segment. It highlights the important parts of the previous storyline and puts me right where I need to be for this episode.
Boom. You now have a place to Write From.
(2) A Way to Write
Before you start your scene, what do you want from it? You’re not just the writer…you’re also the director. Have you ever watched a behind the scenes look at shows or movies? The director walks up to a set of actors and says…okay, that was great. Now we want this scene to really sizzle with tension. You’ll do this and this while he does this and this. The actors nod their heads and then the director steps back over to his chair and yells action. The camera rolls and the actors nail it. Sweet.
So why don’t we do that? There’s this strange misconception among writers that the words should just flow like water. No assistance required. Water flows, fellow writers, because it is given a direction/path in which to do so. Otherwise, it sits there and becomes a puddle, one that can lead to stagnation of the story, the characters, and your motivation.
BUT I’M A PANSTER! I WRITE BY THE SEAT OF MY PANTS.
Then we’ll liken you to an improvisational actor. One of the greatest improv actors of all time is Robin Williams. There is nothing more hilarious than watching him go into a thousand different characters (Check out this part of his interview from Inside the Actor’s Studio, if you don’t know what I mean). He says some of the hardest work he’s ever done involves standing on stage alone with no interaction from the audience. If you give him a question, situation, or prop he can run with it for days, but if it’s just him and a stage, with no one else, he doubts himself. Actors, directors, and other comedians have all said he has the fastest response reaction. His mind jumps miles ahead to set up the perfect joke and situation. Robin has said he needs a stimulus and direction to shoot off into. Why would you, a person who comes up with you story in the mist, off the cuff (extremely talented to be able to do so!) think you need any less? Or that giving yourself a direction makes you less of a panster/improv writer?
I’m not suggesting you outline your book. Instead, jot down the emotion you want from this scene. A few notes on where you want the scene to go. Give yourself a path for the words to flow. Then write. You’re not bound by that direction. If your characters do something unexpected, great! Go with it! Having a starting point will help set you up mentally for the writing session.
(3) Time to Write
I can’t sit down and write for eight hours. There is a BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) mentality that does wonders for motivating many into writing. It’s a great concept, and if it works for you, awesome!
I am physically unable to sit for longer than an hour at a time without severe back and hip pain. It’s an injury that won’t go away, and one I’ve learned to accommodate. My writing has to be done in short bursts with walking and movement in between each session. If you block off a two hour writing window and have written nothing, maybe you have to give yourself a time deadline. How many of you have sat down to write, found something that needed to be researched, and before you knew it had blown your entire writing session?
Maybe you need focus.
I’m referring to Word Wars or speedwriting. You sit down and set a timer (I use online stopwatch) for a certain length of time (let’s say 20 minutes). On your notepad, jot down your current word count. Start your timer and for twenty minutes, you write. No internal editor. No argument. Just focus on the words. If you hit a snag, fill it in with notes <insert more tension here> and keep writing. Once you reach the end of the session, write down your new word count and evaluate whether you’ve met your scene expectations. Now you’re ready to do it again.
There will be those who say they can’t write those <notes> and MUST have the correct word at THAT MOMENT or can’t continue writing. You’re welcome to spend the rest of that writing session figuring it out, then. It’s not like I’m going to sit over your shoulder and tell you how wrong you are. It’s your writing life. You have to do what works for you.
Once that twenty minute session is up, decide how you’ll spend the next twenty minutes. Cleaning up what you’ve written? Five minute prep and then write another twenty? Twenty minutes doing something completely unrelated to writing? Research for twenty? It’s up to you.
For some of you who have been stuck lately, maybe this will help. It’s just one more tool in your writer’s toolbox, after all.
Take five minutes before you begin your writing session to jot down (1) your place in the story and (2) what you want from the next scene. Write down your current word count. Set a twenty minute (3) timer and for that length of time focus only on writing. At the end of the session write down your new word count, evaluate your written words, whether you met your expectations of the scene, and determine where it will go from there. Jot down what (2) you expect from the next scene and continue until the book is finished.
I hope this helps you in your writing journey. Until next session…Keep Writing!
* All links are provided in response to questions in the past.
(1) refers to The Place to Write: Where the last scene left off
(2) refers to A Way to Write: Where the new scene will go
(3) refers to Time to Write: The amount of time you dedicate to fresh words on the book