There may be days when it’s an incredible feat to write more than a few passable lines. Other days, for some inexplicable reason, the words flow out in a steady stream bringing a huge sensation of relief.
For many years I swayed between these two places: The torment and the solace. It took university study for me to break this pattern and find a new way. Which is, in fact, that writing is just a habit. You can develop the habit so well that your writing muscles begin to grow and flex, keeping you well away from the highs and lows of creativity that I once experienced.
All professional writers have developed their good habits and have excellent writing muscles.
The only way to build strong muscles is to workout daily. That doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at your laptop to write the whole of the next chapter. It might mean composing a difficult email to a friend; taking a break from your big project to write a poem; or just having fun drawing a map of your fictitious town, labelling the roads and marking the route your characters take. It means doing something each day to build your plot, your characters, your imaginary world. Or at least to have used words in some expressive way.
If you write a page that is totally deleted the next day – you haven’t wasted your time. Let me repeat that: You haven’t wasted your time. You have simply been sweating it out. If you keep up with the daily chore, in time it becomes less of a chore – because you get stronger. You realise that it’s all necessary – the pretty words, the awesome ideas, the dreadful cliches and the sentence you can’t even understand yourself when you read it back. It’s a process of getting from A to Z.
A being the excited buzz of ‘What if I wrote…’
Z being the manuscript ready to send to a publisher.
Everything in between comes from the habit you create by building those muscles.
I personally thrive on being super organised. First I get my main character studies down on paper. I outline a rough plot with plenty of room for change. I make the necessary maps, create files of useful images and do some basic research about the genre I’ve chosen and the period I’m writing in. Finally I turn to the laptop and start the story. As I work I create a chapter list. When I feel stuck, I go to some of my favourite writers and read something inspirational to get me moving again. If I’m really stuck I get out my roll of wallpaper liner and get down on the floor with big marker pens and start scrawling doodles and new solutions. Somehow that kinesthetic method enables me to climb out of a funk. Some people write letters to or from their characters. Whatever your way of writing (and sometimes you’ll have to graft for a while before you find what works for you) it’s good to have methods that help you out on tough days.
Eventually you’ll get so strong that even a few days off won’t hamper progress. You’ll just slot right into your habit and keep moving closer to the prize.
I’d love to hear how other writers have built their writing strength. Or those still struggling to find the habit. Leave a comment and lets start some discussions…