Thursday, September 30, 2010

Staying Disciplined

In the past, I've had a lot of trouble with staying focused and being disciplined when it came to writing. I had thought writing was something people do when they’re feeling creative and inspired. New York Times Bestsellers probably wrote every day, but they made a living writing. I wrote when I thought about it, and I loved it when I did. But I'll admit it. It wasn’t something I did on a regular basis. I loved my characters and thought about them a lot, and I thought about new ideas constantly. I'd even start writing out the stories connected to those ideas. Needless to say, I now have about five or more partials for novel-length works. Most of those are around twenty thousand words so far.

My answer to writer's block is I don’t believe in it. Most time when I’m “blocked,” I just need to focus that much more to break through it. For example, last year during National Novel Writing Month, I found myself very behind in my word count, making it very hard to think about trying to finish. I ended up flying through after a few thousand words because I put so much focus into the story that I lived it for a few days (aka I didn't practice being disciplined at the front end, so I had to make up for it at the back end. 30k words in 3 days... I learned my lesson). That doesn’t mean there can’t be actual problems going on when a writer is stuck. I've experienced where I have to stop and think about what's going on, and really figure out where the story needs to go. But then continue on.

Some well-known bestselling authors write their first draft quickly, and then go back and make sense of the manuscript (Nora Roberts, for example). Stephen King in his book, On Writing, suggests three months for this process of writing your book. Harlequin recently had a Book in 3 Month Challenge, which also says that three months is "an average professional speed--two months to write, one month to edit and submit." I now try to stick by the three month goal.

Before completing my first manuscript with the help of National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t understand. Why would I want to hurry through such an important step? During NaNoWriMo, you have to turn off your internal editor and lock her in the closet. If you don’t, you simply won’t be able to write fifty thousand words in one month.

Sometimes writers get bogged down with trying to make everything perfect on the first time through, but if the first draft doesn’t get done, you won’t make it to the second draft. And you can't edit a blank page. Sitting down and writing every day is important. Not only does it give you a finished product, but with the continuous practice of your craft you're honing skills to make your work the best it can be. Discipline when writing, or pursuing anything else they desire in life, is so necessary.

What are your thoughts on writer's block? Do you sit down and write through it? How long do you take to write a novel?


  1. Three months? Ack! I'm no professional, then. What's the time, I wonder, for a "professional" with another full-time job? If I'm really pushing myself I can do one in four...except if I start it during NaNoWriMo, as I did last year. I'm a plotter but I pantsed it during NaNo and cranked out 60,000 words in a month...Then it took six more months to deconstruct it and infuse some sense into it. Heading into NaNo with a outline this year!

  2. Great timing! I'm currently rushing through a novel, then will need to rush through another one (both deadlines I don't want to miss). My very first completed novel (a few million years ago) took forever. Like you, I did it when I felt like it.

    Two years ago, I also discovered NaNo and found I can actually write pretty dang fast. I'm of the dump it all out there then clean it up school ;).

    I think it's very important for writers nowadays to realize a book a year isn't much of an option any more. More and more publishers are looking for folks who can crank out two (or more-shudder) books a year. So I think it's a good habit to start building speed now, before publication ;).

    BUT at the same time I think before that book contract arrives is a great time for authors. Once you get that contract, the odds of you just deciding to write something different because you feel like it are gone ;). That's one of the reasons I took this year to write /edit three VERY different books. Do it now :)

  3. I don't call it writers block, I call it the lazyass dull factor. And the only way through it is with discipline. And turning off the internet connection!

    Three months sounds about right to me. When I'm on and the LDF isn't setting up residence in my head!

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Suzanne, the last two years with Nano, I've done it mostly by the seat of my pants. They turned out well (though at certain points I felt like slamming my head against my desk while writing them), but I'm interested to see how I'd do with an outline this time.

    Marie, oh yeah, I certainly agree with everything you said. I think authors are expected to produce more these days, and really, if they want to remain on the reader's minds, they need to have stuff coming out on a regular basis. I've been trying to stretch myself for the past two years. Since I started doing Nano (I'm going on my 6th time in Nov), I've picked up some speed and begun to realize my process. The first year I wrote a 50k story, so I didn't have more to do than that. The second year, I started the novel during Nano, but I couldn't finish it. As hard as I tried, I couldn't figure that novel out (that book's now the basis for book 2 and 3 of my urban fantasy series, so it was for the best). Third year, I started in Nano and it took me on and off a little under a year to finish it. After that, I decided that I didn't want to go through that again, so in both year four and five, I started the novel during Nano and finished it by the time the ball drops on New Years Eve. It's insane and has required a decent bit of editing for the book I've edited like that, but worth just getting out in a rush, in my opinion. This year, I decided to at least write two books. I've completed one and Nano will be my second one. Next year, maybe just maybe, I'll try for three. lol Guess it depends on where I'm at. I'd love to at least write two a year from now on though.

    Maureen, I agree. Sometimes writing isn't as fun as non-writers might think. It is hard, and it does take work. I wish I had the strength to turn off the internet when I write. LOL Would probably help me to concentrate a little better.