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How do you write consistently?

jovidepine

Dreamer
In my years of trying to actually finish my stories, I've found that inspiration has been too fickle of a resource to depend on. I can do great work if I draw upon it, but it's availability shifts of it's own accord, thus making it quite difficult if one plans to write more than once or twice a semester.

On the other hand, the times I've forced myself to write haven't been the most fruitful either. Setting aside a time to write every day, regardless of it all, of my tiredness and work and other life that gets in the way, produces, more often than not, one or two awful paragraphs, after an intense session of staring at a blank Word document.

Looking into videos and podcasts on writing, I can't say that has been productive either - it seems that when it comes to this topic, most people are either on Bukowski's or Lewis' side. And by that I mean...

"If it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it" - Charles Bukowski
"Writing is just work - there's no secret." - Sinclair Lewis

So I come, caught in between quotes, seeking your advice.
How do you manage to write consistently? :)
 

Karlin

Troubadour
I don't write consistently. Life is too chaotic.
One thing that I find helps, is to go to a coffee shop and spend writing time there. The change in surroundings helps, and knowing that you are there only to write.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
You want to make it a habit. I have one strategy. Promise myself to write at least one sentence everyday---and then do it ;)

Chances are you wont stop at one, but if you do one, you are allowed to stop and walk away feeling like at least you did that. The sentence does not even have to be a keeper. Just has to be a new one in the current work.

Its easy to do, and everyday, you get to feel like you did what you could, and did not fail.
 

Fyri

Inkling
Well, I think it is just that, something in between those too. I disagree with both quotes. XD

When I started, I couldn't get enough of writing. I literally wrote every chance I could. I was in high school and my friend at the time and I traded our notebooks every time we passed each other, reading what had been written last and commenting/editing each other's work. In that way, we fed each other's energy. I also loved my characters and had a basic plot in mind and couldn't stop till it was all done. If that plot had happened to fit in a short story, I probably wouldn't be here today. XD The longer project force me to accidently develop the habit.

Somewhere along the line I found the advice that said if you want to be serious about being successful, you have to treat writing as a job—write everyday no matter how you feel. I loved that advice. It was great...When I was in school (structured setting, lived with parents, not an adult with adult responsibilities). :,)

Still though, I think it is a mixture of work and inspiration. You gotta have a story that you love, but you also gotta have dedication to keep writing it when inspiration takes a vacation. Every artist works differently. I watch Kiki's Delivery Service when I have major writer's block.

Trust that when you find the story or characters you love, writer's block or lack of inspiration won't keep you from it. You will get writer's block, but you will, eventually, fall in love again. I take pride in being consistently inconsistent.

Don't take it too seriously or the magic will die. Don't relax too much about not working or the magic won't return. Mostly, sit down and write what entertains you. If it's not entertaining you anymore, write what does.

When you are starting out (and this doesn't just mean as a writer. This can also mean starting a new project), think nothing of perfection. Have fun. You'll find your stride as long as you keep returning to the art. :)
 

Joe McM

Scribe
I write when I’m drawn to it, at least new material. Otherwise, it would become a chore and not be enjoyable. Editing is another story. That’s pretty regular and lasts until I’m tired. Most recently, I had to push myself a little longer to meet a deadline.
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
I think most writers go through what you're going through. It's not unusual.

I've written things while inspired. I've written things when every word feels like a slog, and what I've found is after I've gotten some distance from the work, most times, I can't tell the difference. And if I can, the inspired stuff isn't always good. Sometimes it's some gosh darn awful. The reverse can be true too. Some stuff that I thought was gosh darn awful turned out to be pretty darn good. So, in general, when you write something, it's never as good as you think it is, and it's never as bad as you think either.

In terms of Inspiration, inspiration is like a bad significant other. It can be like fireworks and pure adrenaline when they show up, but you never know when and if they'll show. You want to find a dependable partner. And for me, that's craft. I read tons of books on writing, specifically story structure. I listened to podcasts on writing. I basically immersed myself in writing as much as I could. And everything I learned, I tried to apply as I wrote.

Learning story structure helped me organize all the thoughts and ideas I had when I started in on a project, so I didn't feel too overwhelmed or lost. Things were organized so I understood where I was going with a story as I brainstormed, and helped me form an outline, so I could get a feel of what the story was going to be before I wrote word one. It gave me a starting point and a road map pointing me in the general direction towards the finish line. So when I'm writing a story, I almost always know where things are headed. If I don't, I stop and I figure it out before I start writing again.

With that said, for me, to write consistently, it was simply deciding I wanted to write, and I found a way to make a habit out of it. I would go to the library, and I wasn't allowed to leave for a set time period. I could do anything I wanted at the library, surf the net, read the newspaper, etc., but regardless, the time would be spent. So... I wrote.

I remember listening to an interview with Neal Gaiman. In it he talked about fans telling him about how they had all these ideas, but they didn't have the time to write them out. Gaiman's response, to paraphrase, was it's OK not to write. Just because you have an idea doesn't mean you're obligated to write it. There's no idea police that comes to get you if you don't write.

This brings me to the point, writing is a choice. We all have priorities in life. If writing doesn't make it to the top of the list, well then, it doesn't make it. I have a long list of things I'd like to do, but most of those things don't make it to the top, so they remain untouched and undone. IMHO, one of the first things to do is be honest with yourself, do you want to write or do you just like the idea of having written? Do you want to write or do you want to watch some TV, play some video games etc. No wrong or right answers here. And for me, most days, writing makes it to the top for an hour or so, and over the long run, stories get finished.

Don't get me wrong here, there are definitely days where I simply make the choice that I want to watch TV instead of write. But I'm conscious of the choice. Sometimes it's because I need a break from writing. Sometimes it's just because. But I know, barring unusual and unusually difficult circumstances, if I'm constantly making choices not to write then I probably don't want to write. Period. And that's on me. It's not writers block. It's not that I don't have time. It's me making the choice that I'd rather do something else than write. And that's OK, if that's what I want.

I keep these things in mind, and like I said, writing makes it to the top of the list of things to do more often than not.

my2cents
 
It very much depends on your goal.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with only writing when you're inspired. The only consequence is that you will either only write short stories, or it will take years to finish a novel. That's completely fine, in the same way that not everyone who plays sports wants to be a professional athlete and they only go to the gym when they feel like it.

However, if you want to write multiple novels on a fairly regular time-frame (like 1 a year or something like that), then you have to write consistently. It simply takes a lot of time and words to write a novel. I've seen a lot of professional, full-time authors talk about this. And they all mention that they have to treat writing like a job where you simply have to show up and write if you want to finish novels. And that's been my personal experience as well.

The trick is to find out what consistently means for you. Some people have saturdays free every week, and they write for all of saturday, just planning in their head the rest of the week. Some people (like schoolteachers) have long summer holidays. They spend their year planning, and write for all of summer. Some people write each day. Or 5 times a week. Or anything else they can think of.

I write 5-7 days a week, for 30 mins to an hour each night. How I manage? Simple, I've cut back on watching TV. I decided that for me, writing is more important than watching tv. 30 mins to an hour means watching 1 show less. It does mean that I watch fewer movies. And that I am not always up to speed with the latest shows. And that I don't really have time to play computer games. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

That's one side of it. I make time. The other is that I have found my process. The important thing to realize is that all writers are different. What works for some is terrible for others. Some write 20k word outlines, while for others it ruins the book. So find your process. The 2 most important parts of my process (which I think can benefit most writers) are that I outline and that I keep track of my progress.

For outlining I don't write 20k word outlines. I make a list of all the chapters in my novel, and I write what happens in 1 or 2 sentences. Just a high level outline. When I get to a specific chapter, I go into a bit more detail about what's going to happen in that chapter. This makes it so that I don't have to keep the high level story structure in my head while writing. I can simply worry about what the next sentence should be.

As for tracking my progress, I keep an excel sheet with my daily word count. I can tell you how many words I wrote on 21st february 2021 if you want. The reason is that this shows where you are and how you're doing. It gives you immediate goals to work towards. Writing a book takes a lot of time. Somewhere between 100 and 200 hours for the first draft I'd say. That's a lot of time to be plodding along (or waiting for inspiration). You're not going to notice the difference between having 60k words and 20k words left. Unless you track it. Just a simple list of I'm at 67.326 words and wrote 413 today is fine.

A great way to find your process is to try something like NaNoWriMo, where you attempt to write a 50k word story in a month. By aiming for and committing to such a number, you often plow ahead where otherwise you would have stopped. And you force yourself to try a few things when you get stuck. It's good practice.
 
I don’t have a huge amount of experience with creative writing, only got into it in the past few years, but as for anything creative, of which I do have experience with, I actually find having breaks from it incredibly useful, maybe it’s because I get hyper-focused for a while and then I experience the inevitable fatigue that comes with that, but having a break from anything that is creative can offer clarity. That in itself is a kind of routine for me. I can also highly recommend lying down in the dark. Ideas will flow.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Fine...I'll watch Kiki's delivery service. There better be cats ;)

I saw someone say once...

"If the story you are writing does not make you want to get up in the middle of the night and keep going, its not the one you should be writing." I think there is some truth to that.


^Response to the quotes in the original post.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Let me preface this by saying that I do this full time. I'm a slow writer, but I'm consistent when I'm healthy. Even with that caveat I still write every day. And Penpilot is absolutely right. The days I wrote while "inspired" and the pages I've made when it was like pulling teeth just to get a hundred or two hundred words are indistinguishable on reread. And the answer as to how is, you just keep your butt in the chair and your hands on the keyboard and you do it. You make a habit of it, every day, until not writing feels wrong. It's about discipline as much as it's about art, and, if you want to make a go at it as an author, it helps to keep in mind that this is a job. At a certain point it moves from hobby to vocation, and you'll find you get visits from the Muse more often. She'll find you, she just wants to find you working.

And I can tell you exactly how much work you'll get done if you rely solely on inspiration. You'll be waiting for the Muse for a long time, indeed.
 

Fyri

Inkling
You make a habit of it, every day, until not writing feels wrong.
That's true. XD When it get busy or have bad mental days and can't/don't write for more than a day, the world is off, missing something. Which then drives to at least brainstorm the next scene so I can be prepared to write it soon.

That could be another thing! Think about your story in different ways when you aren't writing (but don't let these keep you from actually writing).

Recently, I've been STUCK in revising the last bits of my second book. Super slow writing (because of a lot of logistical issues). Years ago I made a playlist that highlights major plot points/character development points in order that they happen in the books. Yesterday, I started listening to the playlist again and it reminded me of the soul of my story. All these different moments that reminded me what I love about my story.

Now I feel revitalized, ready to fix and write so much more. So, while inspiration shouldn't be the only thing that gets you writing, you can also create ways for yourself to remind you why you are doing this.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and decided to lay in bed and think about where I left off what I could do next in the scene I'm currently writing. Then, I've also trained myself to get scared the longer I keep an idea/solution in my head without writing it down, so before long, I'm at least jotting down notes about the idea/solution or directly implementing it in the story proper.

Writing can mean so many things. As long as you are making progress in the development of a story and you don’t get sucked too far into a rabbit hole (sometimes worldbuilding takes over actually writing the story, etc. Pay attention to if you feel like you are procrastinating something and don't be afraid to seek feedback on problems!), you'll finish the book eventually.
She'll find you, she just wants to find you working.
I love this. XD
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
That's true. XD When it get busy or have bad mental days and can't/don't write for more than a day, the world is off, missing something. Which then drives to at least brainstorm the next scene so I can be prepared to write it soon.

That could be another thing! Think about your story in different ways when you aren't writing (but don't let these keep you from actually writing).

Recently, I've been STUCK in revising the last bits of my second book. Super slow writing (because of a lot of logistical issues). Years ago I made a playlist that highlights major plot points/character development points in order that they happen in the books. Yesterday, I started listening to the playlist again and it reminded me of the soul of my story. All these different moments that reminded me what I love about my story.

Now I feel revitalized, ready to fix and write so much more. So, while inspiration shouldn't be the only thing that gets you writing, you can also create ways for yourself to remind you why you are doing this.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and decided to lay in bed and think about where I left off what I could do next in the scene I'm currently writing. Then, I've also trained myself to get scared the longer I keep an idea/solution in my head without writing it down, so before long, I'm at least jotting down notes about the idea/solution or directly implementing it in the story proper.

Writing can mean so many things. As long as you are making progress in the development of a story and you don’t get sucked too far into a rabbit hole (sometimes worldbuilding takes over actually writing the story, etc. Pay attention to if you feel like you are procrastinating something and don't be afraid to seek feedback on problems!), you'll finish the book eventually.

I love this. XD
Right there with you. I live and die by playlists. Every book has its own, plus I have lists for just moods to get even further into the PoV character's headspace. But, I can also write to songs with words and my wife can't, but noise-cancelling headphones are a wonderful thing. :D For anyone who needs just instrumental music with epic fantasy feels, there is a ton of trailer music on YouTube and fantastic things to be found. This is a playlist that I tend to lean on pretty heavily as we get into the more intense moments in our stories and it's done me in good stead. I also made it, so nothing hinky to worry about.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLP2WEUtlmxW3VzfJ3ZTnkQGEPl493aUZq
 

Demesnedenoir

Myth Weaver
Do, or do not, there is no try.

Ahhhh, I feel better getting in a cheesy Star Wars quote.

I never jump to the keyboard inspired. If that's what it took. I would never finish anything. Inspiration and zeal only comes when writing, and almost never in the first half hour. In fact, most of the time it comes after midnight when I know I need to sleep or die the next day, heh heh. My zeal has a cruel sense of humor that keeps me up until 2 am way to often.

Don't get cocky, kid.

Now I feel even better.

Now for an ugly truth... Writing the damned book is only half the war. Maybe less than half depending on your fervor for editing. In my youth, I could write like a steam train and edit like a caboose missing its engine and laying on its side in the swamp. Now, there's some form of balance that allows me to get things done even if not at the pace I'd like.
 

Mad Swede

Auror
How do I write consistently?

I apply my old professional military skills. As an officer I learnt how to read and write orders and reports in any situation. Lying behind rocks when under fire, in the back of APC bouncing across a ploughed field, on a night flight in a C-130, contour flying in helicopter, crouched under a bush in a tropical thunderstorm trying to keep my paper dry. Night or day, I wrote. And I wrote because I had to. I learnt that you can write anywhere at all, at any time, with any amount of noise and commotion around you - but that you must concentrate.

These days I apply that discipline when writing stories. A snazzy laptop, a good chair, a desk and quiet room of my own are a luxury. It helps to set aside a fixed time each day when I sit down to write. But none of these things are essential, I can write without them. All (?) I do is to sit down, boot my PC and start to write. For me, writing is about self-discipline. That was emphasised when I got to the point of having a contractual publishers deadline by when my manuscript had to be in. Then I had to apply the skills I'd learnt in the army.

I'll be honest, learning that self-discipline was hard, very hard, especially given that I am so severly dyslexic. But it can be done - and for me doing so is largely about personal motivation. It's like everything else we do as writers - it's all about practice.
 

Ned Marcus

Maester
I've made writing a habit. Now it feels strange not to write each day, but I don't always systematically write stories from start to finish. Sometimes I outline or re-outline or write pieces of dialogue that come to me. To develop the habit, you need to write a bit every day (or most days) and not care if it's good or not.
 
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