Advice for people who hate being told "you just write"
One of the main things I'm working on to try and get myself to the end of this first draft is building a writing routine. I'm setting aside some time each day with the goal of reaching 1000 words. That's the easy bit. The more difficult bit comes when I open my writing project in Scrivener and have to actually write something. Think of words.Put them on the page.
I'm not alone. A cursory scan of the most recent posts on r/writing reveals several people experiencing the same problem. Reddit is positively teeming with newbie writers asking "but what do I do? How do I write?" and experienced writers responding with various tidbits of information but an overall message of "you just write."
Today I saw a post in this vane from a newbie writer who came back to edit their original post , angry at the "just write" response. I was simultaneously annoyed with them and for them. On the one hand, this is essentially good advice. But I have been that person staring at a blank screen - or worse, a screen full of pointless drivel - knowing that I want to write but not knowing how to really do it.
Fortunately, I am no longer that person. Right now this is how I'm actually achieving 1000 words a day.
The main way I got past the inability to sustain writing was by listening and learning to people with more experience. For months I didn't actually draft anything. I prepared. I had ideas that I would work on after watching videos or reading books and articles on the subject of writer's craft and in the process I got a feel for what kind of preparation felt helpful to me and what was just completely useless. This was the first step in being able to begin building a consistent writing routine. I needed to have some kind of plan of what I was going to write.
I found that with a super-detailed outline my story no longer felt organic. My plots felt clunky and my characters felt insincere. But - as I discussed in this post - no plan was no use either. What works best for me is outlining the key beats of the plot so that I know what I'm working towards alongside considering my main characters' wants, needs, flaws and past trauma. I'm a spreadsheet kinda gal, so I have an excel doc where I note down the Save the Cat beats and the chapters and scenes of my story. When I'm not entirely sure which order scenes will come in or the detail of certain scenes, I record some vague details in the notes column and work the details out when I get to that point of writing.
This way I know where my characters are headed and I have some sort of aim at the beginning of each writing session. "My character is currently here but needs to be there. How will I get them there?"
The next thing I'm strict about is editing. As in, I'm not allowed to edit the actual draft. I know that thing is a mess but I also know I am a good editor. And a perfectionist. There is no point in me spending ages going over and perfecting the work I've already written when various character and structural points could completely change by the end of my draft. Editing can be my gift to myself once I actually finish the bloody thing!
However, I am also quite forgetful, so I do allow myself to do two things which kind of fall under the category of "editing". Firstly, if I make changes as I am writing that deviate from my excel doc, I can edit the outline so it will make sense when I do come to redraft. Secondly, I make notes of things I'll need to change in previous scenes and chapters if characters or plot points change. For example, today I made a note on my opening scene about my antagonist's primary motivation to remind myself I need to drop some breadcrumbs about that in my second draft. (This is part of the reason I love Scrivener - the notes function is seriously helpful!)
3. Practice Kindness
On the whole, I'm quite hard on myself. I don't necessarily think this is always a bad thing; my life is pretty decent. I come from a really normal, working class family and through hard work and perseverance I've managed to get a degree, a post-graduate diploma, a good career and I'm buying a house. I don't think I'd have got even half this far without giving myself quite a tough time! However, that being said I could definitely do with giving myself an occasional break.
I know this draft is a mess. But no one except me will ever read it. So it does not matter.
I repeat this mantra to myself every day and I celebrate hitting my 1000 word target. 1000 words of trash? Who cares! Turn them into 1000 words of treasure later. Essentially, I am trying to be kind to myself. It doesn't always work. Sometimes I still give myself hell. But no one is perfect!
Obviously, I'm no expert on writing. I mean the entire purpose of this blog is to chronicle the calamity of writing a first draft. But right now this is what's working for me. So maybe it will help someone else who is frustrated with being told, "you just write!".