Monday, 6 June 2011

Seven ways to write more when you're already at maximum

You've restricted your social-life to the point where you'll never get another Christmas card, stripped back the fitness regime so you can no longer see your feet, and cut-out TV so that you don't even know what century we're in. You have two jobs, six kids and eight works-in-progress – and you get a new deadline/manuscript-request/competition/commission that means you've now got to write more and faster. How the hell can you do it when you're already running on empty?

You have to get extreme.

Get Real

So you like to languish with your muse for six months whilst staring at a blank piece of paper, then pants your way through 90000 words of drivel only to have to spend 2 years rewriting it into something decent because it's the only way you can work? Those days are over – you just don't have time for it. You've got to work efficiently, and that means writing as effectively as possible in the shortest amount of time. You want a plot strong enough to hang your story on? Plot it - it takes half-an-hour to come up with a decent plot outline. You want convincing characters? Develop them - it takes about half-an-hour to come up with an interesting character biog. Just imagine how many characters and plots you could generate with an evening's effort. Sure, some of them may be atrocious, but you can weed them out before you even start. Better to have some idea of which direction you're heading before you stride off into the jungle. Leave as little to chance as possible.

Mix It Up

Writing isn't just about writing – it's firstly the expression of your ideas – and ideas can happen at any time. Therefore it's possible to write when you can't actually write, or simply when you need some time away from the keyboard – this will allow you to contribute when you're 'off the ball' and maximise your potential as a writer. Here's a post to help you do just that.

Cross Pollinate

You need a background for a secondary character to add depth and believability? Grab the one you've already developed on that second-rate novel you know is never going to get published – hell, grab the whole character. The same goes for sub-plots, scenes or any story-elements you can re-use from other failed, germinal or unfinished projects – you can change the names, the angles or attitude, and chances are, in the context of the new project, it won't be recognisable as the original idea. Two birds with one stone - and less time.

Negotiate Hard

So you're guilt-tripping when you're writing because you're not spending time with mum/wife/boyfriend/kids, and yet grumpy as hell when you're with mum/wife/boyfriend/kids because you're not writing. Cut a deal – tell the loved ones you're going to see them less due to the extra work-load but make a time commitment to them and spend it willingly and with full engagement. They'll probably appreciate a whole afternoon's worth of quality time more than the daily hour of begrudged distraction they currently get, and you'll probably appreciate it more too after all that extra writing.

Sacrifice Harder

So that one little thing you've allowed yourself to keep on – that regular tv show, the bonsai tree collection, the bridge night – that last time-consuming thing you've held on to to maintain your sense of self? Let it go.

'But I need my bridge night,' says the failing writer, 'it makes me feel alive. Besides, it gives me something to write about.' Right. Sure. So what's your imagination for?

You've got to make a choice – are you a bridge-player or a writer?

Get Less Sleep

Ever wonder why writers look like they're about eighty when they're only twenty-six?

Get Professional

There's nothing like the whiff of success to make all those people who'd rather you mowed the lawn or came to dinner suddenly take your writing seriously. If they think you're actually making money or that someone other than you is reading what you write, then saying 'sorry, I can't come to your dog's dinner because I'm working on my current project,' suddenly has a ring of authority about it. Naturally, if nobody is actually paying or reading you, then that air of professionalism has to come from yourself. Act the part, be the part, so to speak.

Or you could just lie.


  1. Wow. Aside from the two jobs and six kids, this describes my situation completely. Especially like the cross pollinate one. I've done that to great effect. Right now I'm actually taking a story I wrote with no audience and changing the "universe," (for one that has an audience) but keeping the character's and their roles largely the same. That said, time to get back to writing.

  2. Excellent article and timely. I've been looking for ways to improve efficiency.

    Thanks James!

  3. @John - thanks for your comment and glad my post resonated with you - it's pretty close to my situation too (minus, like you, the two jobs and six kids).

    @Gene - thanks for your comment, Gene - and your Twitter mention. Much appreciated.

  4. Cross pollinate and get less sleep.
    Got it.

  5. You know it makes sense, Sara ;)