November is Nanowrimo (write a novel in a month) and I’m not doing it. I never have. But I have published three novels in the last 14 months and I have two more novels about to hit the world and yesterday a writer friend asked me HOW and it made me think—and remember.
Not too long ago I was really happy if I could write 1,000 words a day. My writing stints lasted about an hour and a half. I would spend the first half hour going over what I had written the day before then spend another hour writing. After my stint at the computer, my head would feel fuzzy, I’d leave my manuscript with a prompt for the next day and I would return to doing all the things that a mom with large family needs to do.
About two years ago, two things happened to coincide. First, and most importantly my children grew up and second a writer friend that I really admire told me that he writes for five to six hours a day. I wondered HOW? Didn’t his brain get fuzzy?
I still have three children living at home, but they are grown-up functioning adults. I adore them but I don’t need to feed, bathe or scold them. This means that if I want to, I really can write five to six hours a day. But first I had to learn to overcome brain-fuzz.
Here are my writing tricks for dealing with a fuzzy brain.
1. Define your writing goals and style. Do you want to be a Margaret Mitchell or a Harper Lee and write one brilliant novel? Or do you see yourself as an Agatha Christie with 80 stories to tell? (There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but be warned, if you see yourself with only one story to tell, some of my advice won’t apply to you.)
2. Have a definite goal. I’m not a math person, but I do have some numbers in my head. When those numbers are met, we will be debt (including mortgage) free, retired and living in a house on a lake. Because those numbers are concrete and very attainable, they keep me motivated and at my computer.
3. Embrace brain fuzz. It’s your friend. It’s your body telling you that it needs something to drink and your blood needs to circulate. This is how you make the fuzz work for you. Write for one hour, then take a break, even if you don’t need or want one. Get up, sweep a floor, put in a load of laundry, jog around your house, jump rope. Your goal is simply to move your body for ten minutes. Sit back down. Write for another hour. By following this pattern, I can usually write for three hours—until lunch.
4. Always end a writing a session with a prompt for what happens next. I end each stint with something like “the guy with the gun arrives” written down. By doing this, my mind works out the next scene so that by the time I return to the computer, I’m anxious, excited and ready to write.
5. Have more than one project going at a time. Because I’ve been writing almost daily for about thirteen years, I have a lot of not so great novels under my bed. The Rhyme’s Library, published in August, and Hailey’s Comments (about to be published in December) are both novels that I wrote years ago. Writing a first draft, revising and editing a final draft are very different mental exercises. When the first draft hits a snag, it’s great to be able to turn to a novel that needs polishing or revising. When I got frustrated with drafting Losing Penny, the novel currently with my editor, I revised/edited Hailey’s Comments.
6. Engage in other writing activities. Write a blog post. Look for and take advantage of marketing opportunities. Work on your character bible. Sketch outlines for future novel ideas. Take photographs of scenes you want to use in your books. Look online for book cover ideas.
7. Most importantly, read with a pen in your hand. Underline sentences that you love, dialogue that rings true, and lines that are cornball. Read good and bad books and learn what to do and what not to do.
There really is only one bad way to write a novel, and that is to not write at all. Just like in tennis, you have to keep your eye on the ball, when writing you have to keep your mind in the story. That means that you need to learn to sweep out the fuzz.