in case of (writing) emergency

There are a lot of people out there who give advice about writing – bloggers included. When I was writing my novel last year, I read a lot of posts from other writers and editors about the writing process, and I reckon it did help. Maybe I would’ve figured it all out for myself eventually, but why not save some time and pain, and learn from the experiences of other people? 

I want to write this post not as a means of giving advice to others (because I don’t think there’s a formula that works for everyone, and I’m not necessarily qualified to give this sort of advice), but just as a record of what worked for me. I basically just want to write this as something that I can refer to in the inevitable eventuality of a mid-novel writing crisis. However, I want to have this in the public domain on the off-chance that another struggling writer might come across it in a time of need, and also as a kind of token of appreciation to all those other people who have shared their experiences.

I feel like I could write multiple posts about this, but that would make it less accessible (also, I’m kinda lazy). This will be a challenge for me in keeping it succinct. Let’s see if I can do this in under a thousand words…

Lessons from my first novel-writing attempt:

  • It’s good to have a goal, but don’t get hung up on it.
    My goal was to reach 50,000 words so that my story would qualify as a novel, but I caught myself glancing at the word count at the bottom of the screen so often that it stifled my writing. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I needed to hide that word counter.
  • It’s also good to have (some semblance of) a plan/outline, but it’s not crucial.
    I only had a very vague plan for the novel I wrote last year. Well, ok, I basically just had a concept. I could have sat down and mapped the whole thing out, but I had an idea for the first chapter, and I didn’t want to go through days/weeks of planning before getting started. Besides, I kept having new ideas as the story developed, and not having a defined plan allowed me to incorporate a lot of these ideas.
  • Sometimes you just have to sit down and force yourself to write, even if it’s nonsense or doesn’t flow or doesn’t sound quite right.
    This is something I read on another blog (so sorry I don’t remember which one, and cannot credit it specifically to anyone). What makes this easier is knowing that you’re going to proofread and edit anyway. I used to get so hung up on trying to word everything perfectly the first time, but I learnt to reassure myself that everything can be fixed later – I just needed to get my ideas onto the page first.
  • On a similar note to above, be prepared to delete and/or rewrite lots of things.
    There were times when I’d be trying to rewrite certain parts, and I couldn’t make other things fit around this one sentence or paragraph or whatever. Eventually I realised that, more often than not, it was because the sentence that I was trying to work around was actually what was not working. I wrote plenty of great sentences but they just didn’t fit, so they had to go (I hope there are plenty of good sentences still in there…)
  • Do things other than write all day, even if you just stare blankly out the window for ten minutes (pretty sure I did that many times).
    Obviously you have to eat and sleep and go to the toilet, but I mean doing things in addition to these. On days when I was at home writing all day, I’d always go for a run in the afternoon/evening or do sprints or some sort of exercise. As much as I love to write, I knew I needed breaks, and I knew I couldn’t neglect other areas of my life.
  • Read as much as (or more than) you write.
    This is also from another blog (maybe even the same one that gave me the third point). Reading and writing go hand in hand. I reckon my writing tends to be better when I’m reading good books.
  • Always have a pen and/or your phone within easy reach in case inspiration strikes out of nowhere.
    I have a preference for written notes (sometimes it’s just nice to not look at a screen), so I got into the habit of taking a pen and notepad with me everywhere. I was often writing quick notes at the train station while waiting for my train to work, and I wrote plenty of notes early in the morning or late at night while brushing my teeth.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. There are almost certainly other things that should be on this list, but this is getting a bit long now, so I’m going to leave it at that. I’ll add to it if I think of more noteworthy tips.

8 thoughts on “in case of (writing) emergency

  1. I like that you included the reading advice. So many professional writers claim they cannot read others’ work while they write but I always find it rather odd that someone might not read for months or weeks at a time. I couldn’t do it.

  2. I agree! I’ve published 4 books, with the 5th coming out this year, and I’ve learned so much over that process! Every writer has a routine that helps, but sometimes that routine needs to be shaken up. Writing becomes a habit – an addiction – that should be fed a bit every day; but I read a lot too! And housework fits in there sometimes. Once the manuscript is completed, that’s where the real work begins for a writer, and a lot of people (non-writers) don’t seem to appreciate that fact! We writers would rather be curled up in a comfortable corner with our pen and paper fantasizing, rather than do the nitty-gritty of publishing, writing specs, blurbs, marketing, cover art, & logistics…
    Keep writing! 🙂

    • Thanks for all the advice and encouragement! 🙂 I agree that it does become a bit of an addiction – definitely has a lot of hallmark features of one, anyway.
      I had a hard enough time coming up with a title for the thing! Don’t want to think about how I’d go about tackling all of that nitty gritty stuff you listed (well, not yet, anyway…)

      • Just take one step at a time, learn about it along the way, and you’ll get there!
        We have a saying in Switzerland: “Nägeln mit Köpfe machen” – “Make nails with heads”… i.e. if you’re going to do something, learn to do it right! If you do, it makes the next step all the easier to take. 😉

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