by Daniel A. Roberts
The ability to write a novel from start to finish doesn’t own any kind of magical formula. Like anything we try to accomplish in life, certain things can hinder the process. Some of them can’t be avoided, like the condition of your own health. If you’re coughing, wheezing, taking serious medication that can affect your judgment, I promise that most, if not all writing skills goes out of the window.
The things that can be avoided are usually the same standard problems faced by most writers. Interruptions during a critical moment of writing. Too much noise. The music you listen to in between chapters while taking a break got left at a friend’s place. Go and get it, your chapter is done for the day.
The inner spark that fires up has a different life span for every writer out there. Some can write in the middle of a Burger King on their laptop, the crying kids and yapping adults blending in with the sounds of traffic. Others may require absolute silence, where the drop of a pin is loud enough to echo, or that inner spark doesn’t flash as brightly as before.
Regardless of the type of writer you are, there are five thing to keep in mind when it comes time to start creating, be it your next novel or any type of wordsmithing. This isn’t shill stuff, designed to tell you something you already know about yourself. I hate those kinds of articles. This is designed to help you in a most economic sense with the work you love to do. Writing.
1. Control Your Environment
This is number one for a darned good reason. When I say to Control Your Environment, I don’t mean that you have to kick out your spouse/roommates/siblings/kids…though the idea of doing so may feel appealing to some of us. Designate a work space, no matter how small or big. For me, one of our spare bedrooms became my ‘office’ for writing. We all have a small personal space everywhere we live. For a long time, it was me, my composition book and my bed with a dozen number two pencils, in a time where laptop computers of today was considered Science Fiction.
Once you have your work space figured out, you need to notify the people in your life. Get a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, and politely let them know that it actually means what it says. Unless the house is on fire or there are armed intruders kicking down your door, you don’t want to hear about it until you take the do not disturb sign down.
Then the hardest thing you have ever done will eventually happen. You’ll have to enforce it, so the sign has teeth in its message. “Get out,” is pretty short, powerful all by itself, but can be spoken with a compassionate tone towards children who decides to test those boundaries. Use good common sense though. If your child is pleading for help with a bloody nose, that is an exception of course. Just make sure the trivial stuff doesn’t invade, and get that assurance across to the rest of the family/staff/roomies to know this and respect it.
2. Take Those Breaks Without Fail
This is also highly important. If you do binge writing and editing way afterward, this is a hard thing to do at first. When you see the positive results later on, you’re going to thank me for this.
Every hour to hour and a half, take a fifteen minute break. Set a timer. It’s a soft enforcement for your own level of self-control. If that ninety minute mark lands and you’re in the thick of a creative spurt, by all means finish the idea, then take your break. The more often you do this, your brain will adjust, and you’ll find yourself enjoying those breaks. Better yet, you’ll realize that your word count, your own personal production, will increase.
Think about it a moment. When is the best time your creative insight comes out? When you sit in front of the keyboard for the first time that day, refreshed and ready to get the fun written out! Your fingers fly, your mind is on overdrive, cruising along a touch past the mental speed limit, enjoying the ride. Almost two hours later, you’re pushing for more mental gas, and this is where you should park the imaginary car, get out and stretch those legs.
Leave your controlled environment during those fifteen minutes and do something else. Your family/roomies will notice those breaks, and they’ll actually time the daily junk that matters little to those breaks. It will make it easier for them to leave you alone while in writing mode, and your mental theater will be refreshed by the time you sit back down at the keyboard again.
3. Drinks, Snacks and a Garbage Can
We can’t neglect our smaller wants while writing. We get thirsty, we feel the munchies and in the process of satisfying those while squinting at the paragraph we just created, we also generate a surprising amount of garbage. So that 13 gallon office garbage can will get filled and emptied, which is a ton easier than cleaning up at the end of the day… or in some of our cases… by the end of the week. You don’t want a new, extra huge chore mentally linked to your writing.
Having a supply of your favorite drinks and snacks is also important. Remember those reading days, before becoming a writer? When you curled up on the couch or your favorite overstuffed chair with a book, you sipped your favorite drinks and consumed your favorite snacks. You love reading, which is what inspired you to write. Cross those same habits over to your writing, and you’ll cross just about every drop and bite of the same levels of love. This is important in not just building a routine, but keeping to your routine of finishing your next well-written novel.
Remember when those crackers ran out, or that tea-cup was drained? You went and replaced them, and then finished reading the novel. By keeping those same habits in practice, because you used them to finish your task, it will help you finish writing your novel as well. Worried about your weight? Hey, I didn’t say potato chips! Any snack and drink will do, and today there are plenty of healthy options to choose from. The important thing here is consistency with what you’ve done before, compared to what you’re doing now.
If you never snacked or drank anything while reading, congrats, you’re a rare breed out there. At least have a hydrating drink nearby while writing. Keeping your body comfortable is important, and those 15 minute breaks will be easier to do if it also means a potty run!
4. Aroma Therapy
Because I work in my office as long as 8 hours per day, just like a regular job, I tend to fart in the same space as well, more often than I care for. That’s not quite the Aroma Therapy I was talking about though.
Odors from the garbage can, from your own sweet butt music, and the occasional slice of garlic laced pizza you mostly gobbled down but is still sitting there a few days later, those odors can truly affect your writing.
There are many diffusers out there at various levels of pricing. This is not the same thing as steam. Here is an example. Once purchased, next you need some essential oils to diffuse into your working space. My favorite is three drops of Lavender Oil, and Three drops of Peppermint Oil, and the diffuser works very well for up to five hours before turning itself off. It’s not overpowering, but gentle enough to keep me from wrinkling my nose too often, no matter how loud my gas attacks get. Because it isn’t based on steam, the room/work area doesn’t get humid or balmy. It smells really nice and it does its job quite well.
Besides my silly reasons, the Aroma Therapy does help my creative process, or I wouldn’t have mentioned it here. I got the idea for it because if it helps my adult autistic daughter focus, it should help me focus too. It does, it works, and more of us should experience it. Look into it, try it just once, and the prices of the diffuser and oils won’t make you wince anymore. As for me, it was the best investment ever when it comes to my writing process.
5. Set The Average Work Day
This is no joke here. I know you’re the boss of your own schedule. If you wake up at 4am with that chapter looking to bust out, by all means, run to your computer/laptop/composition notebook and get it written out. If your brain-bladder full of ideas needs to take a pee, go do your business. I am not arguing against that.
Setting a routine writing schedule is more about endurance than anything else. Your creative flow can be trained to work harder for you, as long as it knows when you’re ready to work with it. Seriously. Many writers take their creative center for granted. Like any other part of the body, there is a reward for consistency.
Lifting those 25 pound hand weights 10 times, for three sessions every day will feel like a waste of time at first, but as it becomes easier to do, your muscles get firmer and that leads to overall better health.
Creative Writing will respond in the same manner, as long as you keep the routine for a long enough time. Set your schedule and stick with it. If you must alter it, then do so, but remain steady in your work flow. If you have a 40 hour job and writing is your relaxation and hobby, by all means, keep that hobby on a reasonable schedule. It is possible. Once you have a nice dose of mental strength, your creativity will match your writing productivity, and that’s when the magic happens.
The day you finish a novel and that surprises you as to how much easier it was this time around, is the day when you realize these five things have some level of merit. You’ll have an increase of not just productivity, but of quality as well. Go ahead, give it a try. At least you’ll impress your editor, and if you stick with it, that Best Selling Novel you know is in line will eventually get written, and that is what this is all about, is it not?
Guest post contributed by Daniel A. Roberts. Daniel has written several short stories, most of them free, in between the various novels he has written.