Amazingly Simple Yet Effective Writing Strategies

Today I return from a one-month hiatus from this blog. In the intervening time I’ve discovered some useful writing strategies that I’d like to share. I came upon some of these on my own; others indirectly. All of them come with the following disclaimer: Everybody is different and what works for one person may not work for another. As we like to say in the Linux world, YMMV (your mileage may vary.)

First of all, I’d like to stress that I’ve been writing regularly for the last several years, and that although it’s more work than non-writers realize, I really enjoy it. That brings me to my first piece of advice. If you try writing, and you find you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. If, on the other hand, you want to “become a writer,” the best way to do so is by frequent practice. As cartoonist Len Wein once said, “A writer writes. Period. No matter if someone is buying your work or not.”

In order to write, you must make time to write, no matter how busy you are. That brings up the second suggestion: it’s important to set aside a regular time each day for your writing. I’ve been lucky in that my day job is more flexible than most. My employer allows me to bring my own PC to work, and I write during my lunch break. Even better, I’m able to take my lunch from 1-2 PM, which means I can use the lunch room when it’s practically free of distractions.

A word of caution: You employer may not be so easy going. In particular, if you’re a technology worker, beware- some companies think they own every bit of intellectual property you produce, whether or not it’s related to your actual job. Before hiring on, make sure your contract only applies to writings relevant to the business. If not, get out as soon as possible – or write secretly, under a pen name, and never let those greedy bastards know what you’re up to. When your masterpiece is complete, quit your job, wait a few months to make it seem plausible, and voila! You just wrote your debut novel in record time.

The third strategy was something I happened on accidentally. For that I need to thank my friend Rissa Watkins, who is in the same sci-fi writer’s group (Nexus) as I am, well as an additional group. During June of this year, her other group staged a writing contest, in which a writer could earn points for writing each day, but lost them all on any day on which you failed to produce the minimum number of words. Rissa kindly invited Nexus members to participate as well, and though none of us did, I was intrigued by the concept.

I had already been writing practically every day, in the sense that I was always doing something writing-related, whether it was writing original work, editing, outlining, researching background facts, critiquing fellow group members’ submissions, or writing for this blog. What I lacked was focus. I decided to apply the principle of the contest on my own, and picked 500 as my minimum word count per day. In addition, I “found” some additional writing time by getting up a bit earlier every day. (Please don’t hate me because I’m a morning person!)

Since starting this strategy on July first, I’ve only missed the 500-word figure one time, and on that day it wasn’t by much. Following this “weird tip” (I hate those ads, too, but I couldn’t resist- should I also say that it makes writing schools furious?) has allowed me to produce much more material than ever before. For the initial test I took a 30-day hiatus from Fidelio’s Automata, the steampunk novel I’d been struggling with, to pursue a concept for an adventure novella that had been kicking around inside my head. By the end of the month I’d finished the rough draft of Diana’s Fury, and was enthusiastic to return to working on Fidelio. The best part of this strategy has been that on most days, I’ve been able to finish my 500 words before my workday starts. This leaves my lunch hour to pursue other writing-related activities, such as critiquing, editing, blogging and research.

Now I must give another acknowledgment: if I’m not mistaken, someone in Rissa’s group attributed the contest idea (at least in part) to sci-fi author Cory Doctorow. I googled his name with the phrase “writing tips,” and found this great 2009 article on Locus Online. Among his suggestions was the idea of committing yourself to writing to a particular word count per day, which, as I’ve noted, has worked wonders for me.

It seems this article has gotten a bit too long, as is my usual habit, so I’ll save the rest for my next post. In the meantime, you can check out Doctorow’s article, which I’ll critique and build upon later this week.