If one of your 2019 goals is to start writing (or to start writing more — or to stop procrastinating your writing), you might have dipped your toes into the writing waters to see how they feel, and you may have found them to be colder and rockier than you’d like.
One of those biting realities of writing that I tend to struggle with is how slow the process can be. For some reason, when I sit down in front of that blinking cursor and blank page, the words don’t come as freely as they did in my head, and I find myself backtracking, editing, biting my nails, worrying about the dishes piling in the sink, the dust on the fan blades.
I’ve found the secret to writing faster and having more productive daily sessions is creating good momentum, establishing habits that not only charge you through an hour or two of good writing, but also sustain you on those days when your mind runs blank and you just don’t feel like writing. Here are the four tips that help me write faster, even when I don’t feel like writing at all.
1. Create a Daily Word Goal
I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll probably mention it again because I believe it is the most effective practice for aspiring writers who want to take writing seriously and finish their projects. Establishing a daily word goal works by direction your attention to getting a specific amount of words on the page rather than a certain level of quality usually only attainable through phases of editing. This way, you can focus your efforts on getting the story on the page, no matter how it looks or sounds, by putting down whatever words come to you. Sure, you might end up with some sloppy paragraphs and a bit of bad writing here and there, even some ugly errors, but if the point is to finish, you have to start somewhere, and it might as well be a bad first draft.
For setting a goal, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a thousand words a day and adjust according to your schedule and ability. If you’re motivated by time crunches, block out an hour or so in your day for writing, set a timer, and pump out as many words as you can in that time. But no matter where you land, always set a personal, desperate-times minimum for those days when you’re bone dry and writing is the last thing you want to do in the world. It could be a sentence. It could be one hundred words. Whatever your minimum, you never know where it may take you.
2. Use Brackets
I wish I’d known about this tip when I was writing college papers! Brackets — [ ] — are wonderful little devices that allow you to move on from those sticky places where you aren’t sure what’s happening or you don’t know yet what you want to say. If you’re stuck on a word or sentence, you can enclose it in brackets (with a little note to yourself if you wish) and carry on knowing you can easily search the document for the brackets and return to those parts later.
What I love about brackets is they ease the perfectionist in me by signaling that, yes, something is unfinished, but I’m not going to leave it that way. In the past, when I left a portion of my writing in less than satisfactory condition, I would struggle to mentally move on from that place as I would fret over losing it or forgetting about it altogether and (God forbid!) turning it in that way. But with brackets, I can move forward knowing that the wrong words I’ve used or the terrible, awful dialogue nestled between the brackets won’t remain that way, that I’ve merely put a pin in that portion for the time being and will get back to it when I’m ready.
3. Skip Sections You’re Struggling With
This piggybacks on the bracket idea, but I think every writer needs a reminder that it’s okay to leave holes in your drafts and work on other sections you’re more sure of.
Sometimes, I think I have to write in chronological order to produce a good story, but that often forces me to write scenes I have no business working on because I don’t really know what’s supposed to happen yet. Whenever I hit one of these tougher scenes, my enthusiasm for the story plummets along with my productivity, and writing all of sudden seems very, very hard. Of course, this is bound to happen now and then, but I think a lot of coming-to-a-halt, pulling-teeth writer moments can be prevented by skipping the sections you’re struggling with.
If you find a scene, or series of scenes, is giving you trouble, leave it behind for a few days (in brackets, with a small description of what you think / want to happen), and return when you’re ready to deal with it. You may even find, as I often do, that the scenes you struggle with the most are ones you don’t even need in the first place, and the only struggle was your trying to fit something into the story that doesn’t belong.
4. Stop in a Good Place
You ever have those days when you’ve managed a few good writing sessions in a row and you stop just as the writing gets tough and sticky, but now, the next day, you’re stuck with those leftovers and suddenly have no idea what to write? A good way to prevent this is to stop your writing sessions in a good place. Leave off in the middle of a section that makes you excited to get up and write the next day or end with a few sentences about where the next scene is headed. That way, when you settle in to write the next day, you won’t be drawing a blank about what to write or how to start the next section, but will be able to continue where you left off without skipping a beat. Maintaining this kind of momentum throughout your drafting days will carry you to a completed project in no time, and while it may not always make your writing great, it can make it easy, and, well, that’s a start, isn’t it?
NOW TELL ME // What are you best writing tips for when things get slow? Do you use any of these? Tell me below!
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