I’ve written on writing.ie before about how I rarely do any planning in my crime novels. I write scenes out of order and have no real idea of where the story is heading and it’s only at the end that I begin to stir the mix and assemble the jigsaw. I also mentioned my number one tip to those struggling: don’t get it right, get it written. Which is all well and good but, if you are finding it difficult to ‘get it written’ at all, here are a few pointers which might help.
The first step is to realise there are no secrets. There is (as far as I know) no Haynes Manual telling you, step-by-step, the processes you must go through to complete your novel. Sure, there are plenty of books out there offering advice, but advice is all it is. Jamie Oliver or Mary Berry can provide you with a glossy cookbook which, if you follow their instructions, will result in an end product that will approximate to something they might have produced. However, Ian Rankin or J.K. Rowling can’t do the same for writing and neither can I.
If motivation is an issue, then a good idea is to ask yourself how much do you really want to be a writer? It’s easy to focus on what happens after you have written something, such as the thrill of seeing your book in print or watching it rising up the Amazon chart, of receiving fan letters and favourable reviews and (if you are lucky) royalty cheques. However, before you get to that stage there’s a lot of work to do. I disagree with those who say you need to enjoy the process. I’m sure a lot of athletes don’t enjoy the training they have to do, but they do it because they anticipate the results the training will bring. If you enjoy the actual writing, you’re more likely to be able to sit at the computer for hours, true, but if you’ve got the determination then you can do it either way. So, ‘really wanting to be a writer’ is understanding that considerable effort on your part is needed in order to produce a book. The effort is not only the work involved: it is the sacrifice and the opportunity cost. I can’t stress this enough: you’ll need to give things up in order to write.
Here are three things you might want to think about giving up or cutting down on:
- Social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat and general web browsing. Put a web blocker on your browser to prevent time wasting. I use StayFocusd but there are plenty out there. I block all sites except for Wikipedia and Google Maps for large periods of the day. When you are writing you should also put your phone away and on silent to prevent temptation.
- I watch movies and the occasional drama and that’s it. You can’t on the one hand complain you don’t have enough time to write and on the other regularly sit down and watch Top Gear, Bake Off, EastEnders or Channel Four News.
- The bane of every writer’s life: all of a sudden you find you need to tidy your workspace. You need a new pad and some nice marker pens. You’ll just have one more coffee before you begin. A bit of research can also help to put off the moment when you actually have to start writing or perhaps you could flesh out one of your characters with a few bullet-pointed traits. That’ll help, won’t it? No, it won’t. The only thing which will help you write your book is to write the bloody thing!If you are not prepared to give up any of the above to achieve your goal then the only conclusion to draw is that writing is not that important to you.
If you are not prepared to give up any of the above to achieve your goal then the only conclusion to draw is that writing is not that important to you.
So, having cut down on the prevarication, what’s the next step? I find there are two further things that are important. One is routine. However much time you have available, try to introduce some kind of regularity. You can only write three evenings a week? Fine, but those evenings should be mapped out in advance and be sacrosanct. The other thing to focus on is how to reach your goal (i.e. finish your book) and the best way to achieve that is to set yourself targets. If you are disciplined then three evenings might allow you to aim for two thousand words each week. Doesn’t seem much, but you’ll have the first draft of a novel in a year.
There’s one final thing I’d suggest for those struggling with discipline and actually getting the words down is to try the Pomodoro Technique. This won’t work for everyone but, if you’re finding it hard to focus, it can turbo charge your writing. The Pomodoro Technique involves working in short stints of twenty-five minutes at a time (each stint called a pomodoro). During those twenty-five minutes you don’t do anything else but write. No emails, no social media, no phone calls. In other words absolutely no interruptions of any kind. You concentrate one hundred per cent on writing. At the end of the time you have a short break of five minutes where you get up and do something else. Then you return for another pomodoro. It takes a few days or weeks to get used to this way of working, but I’ve found the benefits well worth the effort. What the Pomodoro Technique gives you (when it works) is the knowledge that while you are in front of the computer you are going to get something done.
The final piece of advice is you need to give yourself permission to be a writer. Once you say to yourself ‘I’m a writer!’ it’s liberating because if you can see yourself in the role, you’ll find it easier to not watch TV, to not go out to the pub, to not waste time. You’ll find it easier to sit down and do the work needed. Of course writers do watch TV and go to the pub – but not at the expense of writing. They prioritise their work over nearly everything else in their lives.
In the end it’s your choice, but you do want to be a writer, don’t you? Yes? Well, get to it then!
(c) Mark Sennen
About The Boneyard:
Malcolm Kendwick is charming, handsome – and a suspected serial killer.
When the partially clothed body of a woman is discovered on Dartmoor, all eyes are on one man.
There wasn’t enough evidence to convict Kendwick of his suspected crimes in America, but DI Charlotte Savage is determined to bring him to justice. She’s certain the woman’s murder, so soon after Kendwick’s return to Devon, is no coincidence. But Savage hadn’t anticipated one thing: Kendwick has a perfect alibi.
When more human remains are discovered at an isolated dumping ground, a full-scale murder investigation is launched. Savage realises it’s up to her to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.
She knows Kendwick is hiding something. Is there a limit to how far she’ll go to find out what?
A page-turning, terrifying crime thriller with a gripping twist, perfect for fans of Mark Billingham and Tim Weaver.
Order your copy online here.