If you are in the northern hemisphere, winter is finally approaching (‘Winter is coming!’, I hear you shout!). What does this mean for us bookworm types? Well, beyond the obvious cup of tea (or coffee, chocolate – whatever your hot beverage of choice may be), blanket, and a good book, there’s a good excuse to actually stay in and get stuck into your writing again. However lax you might have been over summer, here’s your chance to make amends with your creative brain.
The following include ways of getting your brain working again, getting back into the habit of writing, and finding ways to unstick the writer’s block. If you haven’t written in some time, or maybe you want to start working on your writing craft for the first time, I can’t stress hard enough that you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself starting out. Start small and have fun with it. If you expect it all to be BRILLIANT immediately, you will get disheartened and give up before you’ve really given yourself a chance.
When I give advice on writing, I’m not pretending to be any kind of expert. I’m not a published author, but my desire to write has led to discover several good tricks – through random findings on the internet, writing courses, and personal experience. This is also a great opportunity for you to share any tips or tricks on getting stuck back into the creative spirit in the comments below.
The plan is unbelievably simple – write 350 words a day, for a year. Oh, and give yourself the weekends off. Cause everyone needs rest time, right?!
I can speak from experience, this shit works. For years I had put off even attempting to write a novel. I gave all the usual excuses of ‘I don’t have a good idea’, ‘can’t find the time to write’, ‘I need to work on my actual writing craft before I attempt something so large’, and so on, but when I found this plan I thought ‘why not?!’ The goal of 350 words a day is set because it is enough to actually make you feel like you are making progress while also not being too demanding. 350 words can easily be made up and added to your next day’s tally if you happen to be busy (cause hey, that’s life), while also being small enough for you to usually beat that word count to death by the end of the day’s writing. That’s right, smash that writing goal!
I found this so successful that it also got me excited about writing again. Just focusing on getting another 350 words made the idea of writing AN ENTIRE NOVEL much less terrifying. And in the end, I managed to write 35,000 words in 4 months. Not bad going. Trust me, this system works.
With November around the corner (seriously, where has this year gone?!), Nanowrimo is soon to be upon us. If you’ve never heard of Nanowrimo before, please crawl out from under that rock and rejoin the world. Nanowrimo’s aim is for all participating writers to complete 50,000 words towards a novel. Yes, this is a quick and dirty approach to writing, but sometimes that can be a gift. Holding back for fear of not getting it perfect first time round can make for stilted, dry writing. Let it all out with Nanowrimo. As most writers should know, it isn’t what the first draft looks like that matters, but what the manuscript is like after MANY rewrites (and possible breakdowns).
What’s great about Nanowrimo is the sense of community – globally. People all over the world participate in Nanowrimo. There are plenty of forums online, advice posted, and general encouragement sent out. In many regions there are local groups that organize ‘Write Ins’ – among other local events – where writers from that area get together and all write. It’s great to know there are other crazy people out there like you, and they can help keep your spirits up when you feel your resolve waning. There are widgets and web-based apps for tracking and sharing your progress. I also love the Deviant Art word count calendar wallpapers that come out every year as well. A nice way to keep your entire workstation focused on the goal of the month!
Write an opening chapter
Ok, stay with me on this one. I’ve not lost the plot entirely… When I was completely a diploma of Creative Writing at university, one of the assignments we were given was to write an opening chapter of a novel. I wrote an opening chapter of a novel without putting the pressure on myself to actually turn it into anything more than an opening chapter. However, it did force me to think of a story that had a lot of potential sub-plots and character growth. This is especially helpful for people who may be experienced in writing shorter pieces and want to try to give a novel a go but don’t just want to jump in head first.
Write as many opening chapters as you like – but make sure you aren’t thinking about ACTUALLY turning it into a novel while you are writing it. This way, you are more free to think of potential storylines without getting bogged down in too many details. Let your pen run free. Once you’ve written one – or 10 or 500 – if there’s an idea that has stuck with you, that you keep thinking of plot points for and the story continues to excite you, start chapter 2, and so on!
The brain is a muscle. To get it into shape, you need to practice. What’s the answer? Write! Then write some more! A great way to get into a habit of writing is to do writing exercises. These often form around a prompt and then a time of free writing. Where you give yourself a time limit and just go for it! Let the ink flow! There are loads of places to find writing prompts on the internet, from social media (Tumblr is great for this) to websites dedicated to helping writers.
One of my personal favourites is the Writing Excuses podcast, which specializes in genre fiction, but the lessons are generally applicable to all kinds of writing. Writing Excuses is run by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tyler, and Dan Wells. They get together weekly to discuss a particular writing topic, an audiobook pick-of-the-week, and a writing prompt. Why I enjoy this one so much is that there is context to the writing prompt. Writers – you know, other people like you who go through the same problems you do – actually talk about the theory behind a particular problem or style of writing before giving you a related writing prompt.
Whatever place you are in with your writing, just know that there are many like you out there. We all go through the same self-doubt, the same problems with getting stuck or finding the time to write. But now is the perfect time to try to get back on track. One of the best parts of the internet age, I believe, is that it is so easy to find a community of supportive people online. While many writers might be a socially awkward bunch, we thrive behind our keyboards, so chatting to us online is always a good option!
Good luck and keep writing!