How to Manage Your Writing Process

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

A long-time fan of Canadian mystery author Gail Bowen, I was happy to discover she had written Sleuth, a hands-on guide for anyone thinking of writing a whodunit. I highly recommend this informative and entertaining book chock full of solid tips and examples.

Here are ten tips on how to manage your writing process:

1. Write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes or to jot something down in your notebook or to do a quick edit on your work from the day before. Day-by-day engagement with your work keeps the connection alive and the juices flowing.

2. Never leave your writing in a bad spot. If you know a quagmire awaits you, the temptation not to go back to your laptop can be almost irresistible. Some of my best writing moments have come after I’ve gritted my teeth and stayed at my laptop till I’ve worked through the problem. Ernest Hemingway said, “Always leave the pump primed.” It’s good advice. And novelist Jodi Picoult tartly observed, “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.” If you’re in what a writer friend refers to as “suck mode,” then the process will be painful, but take a few breaths and forge ahead.

3. Many writers, and I am among them, believe that two quiet hours at 5 a.m. equal four hours of regular work time. Ignore this advice if you are a night owl.

4. When you’re stuck, leave your desk. Go for a walk. Make tea. Play with your dog or cat. Meditate. Whatever you do, don’t start surfing the net, don’t make a phone call, and don’t get together with friends. If you do, other people’s words will pour in where your words should be. Create a space. Be patient.

5. Use the Pomodoro Technique. Work for twenty-five minutes. Give yourself a five-minute break, and then get back to work. I’ve been doing this since I started writing. Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea this particular strategy had a name, but it does, and by any name the technique works.

6. Trust your instincts. If a character begins to surprise you, follow him to where he takes you.

7. Trust your instincts even when you don’t want to. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a character is lifeless, a plot line is limp, a symbol is leaden, or horror of horrors, your whole manuscript has the vitality of a long-dead mackerel. Give that draft of the manuscript a decent burial and start again. Try some creative recycling of the characters and plot points that didn’t work in the first draft. You might be amazed at how they snap, crackle, and pop the second time around. Remember P.D. James wise counsel: “Nothing is ever wasted.”

8. Never give up.

9. Learn to be your own editor. I begin every day rewriting the last page or so I wrote the day before. I always find something to shift or change. And working on the familiar material helps me to reconnect with the manuscript and gets the juices running again.

10. E. L. Doctorow said that writing “is like driving a car at night: you can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Keep the faith.

Source: Sleuth by Gail Bowen, pp. 40-42


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4 responses to “How to Manage Your Writing Process

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