Wednesday, 18 November 2009

10 Tips for Approaching Large Writing Projects


To most writers and newcomers to writing, the single most thing that puts people off tackling large writing projects, is the very thought of the SIZE of the end result. Whether it's a novel, a piece of research, a work of non fiction, or script, the thought of writing thousands and thousands of words can feel ... impossible. Darn it. Impossible. I've just approached the half-way point of a large, new writing project; I've written 40,000 words. And it feels really good. To anyone out there who longs to do the same but can't bloody well seem to get it off the ground: yes, you can do it. Here's how.

10 Tips for Approaching Large Writing Projects

1. Read often. Writers who don't read are like squeezed up lemons with only the pips left. Bitter. Read like a writer - absorb style; read like a reader - writers often write what they enjoy reading.

2. Write every day. It's an old adage, but trust me - it's essential. Writing is like flexing a muscle, if you slip up and miss a few days - weeks, even - your muscle could sieze up, and refuse to play ball next time you want to write. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to restart. Carve that time into your daily life. Then give it a nice cup of tea. It is your friend.

3. Treat your writing-self the way you want to be treated. Stay true to your word - if you say you are a writer, then write. If you miss an appointment, make up for it the next time you check in to the page and write a little more, or try something scintillating and different to cajole your writing-self. Remember: the more you muck your inner-writer around, the more likely it is to flip out and attack you with those writer's nasties - guilt, self-doubt and writers-block.

4. Time yourself writing a page. How many words did you write? How long did it take you? Now you know how many pages you need to write every day to reach your goal. You will be suprised at how little you could have to disrupt your daily Facebook habit, or post-work TV marathon to get the job done.

5. If you are someone that finds yourself wowing everyone down the pub with your incredible, BIG writing-ideas, and then ... get bored as soon as you start them so quickly give up, then try simply not talking about them. And writing instead. It can be tough holding on to that amazing thought, but is absolutely worth doing if that is your particular bug-bear. It also protects your baby writing-project from throwaway comments that could maim it for life, like: 'George Orwell, didn't he play for Coventry?'

6. If you HAVE to discuss your writing with someone, then think very, very carefully who you talk to. I've confided writing projects in other writers who have - totally unwittingly - put me off by helpfully saying things like: 'you want to write about drugs, death, and murder? Is this really something that is healthy to have in your life?' Or: 'maybe I should write it, I'd probably do it much better than you'. No matter how harmless the intention, your writer-self hears what it hears, and does not know the difference. Result: deflation.

7. Consider getting professional help. No, not seeing a shrink. Some of the best support I've received has been from published novelists whose insights into my ideas, and my needs as a writer really kickstarted me into action. It's very encouraging to have people whose work you admire give YOU and YOUR work creative input. Research courses, coaches, and tutors - support really can help.

8. Decide how long - roughly - you want your writing project to be. A novel can be as little as 60,000 words, but averages around 90,000 (for about 400 pages). A script will be less. Knowing how big your mountain is helps you to pace yourself, and to know what to aim for. This is critical when planning how to use your time.

9. Cherry pick the advice you read in writers-books, blogs, and magazines - there is a reason writers give such advice. It's because it works - but not all of it is for you. Mix and match until you find the right tips for you.

10. Stop reading this article - NOW - and write! Just. Do. It.

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