Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Pragmatist: What Works

There are as many approaches to writing as there are writers in the world. Some swear by writing in the morning, others by staying up until the wee hours; some only work at home, others only at the coffee shop; some set their own deadlines, others make themselves accountable to a critique group or a list of beta readers. But especially at this time of year, when there are so many extra items on our to-do lists and so many festive distractions, it's important to have some practical strategies for productive writing sessions. Here are a few things that have worked for me (and another I've been meaning to try):

1. Bribery!

Whether you go by page count or word count, set a goal and reward yourself when you get there. 5K words gets me a peppermint mocha. 10K gets me a pedicure. 50K...well, I don't get there very often, but a nice dinner seems reasonable, doesn't it? Whatever your prize (an episode of your favorite show, a really good piece of chocolate, a hot air balloon ride...), make it something that you wouldn't get or do for yourself on an every-day basis. It needs to be special.

2. Thinking ahead!

When I'm done writing for the day (my goal is generally 1000-1500 words), I leave myself a note for the next day. It might be a rough idea of what will happen in the next scene, or simply what I need the next scene to accomplish (e.g. get the MC from here to there, or put two characters in a conversation that reveals X). It might be the opening line of the next scene or chapter. It's not etched in stone, but it gives me something to think about between the end of one writing session and the beginning of another, and a place to start so I've got some momentum before I sit down in the chair.

3. Fast drafting!

Yep, that's totally what I look like when I'm drafting. Especially the angry face.
Full disclosure: I am pretty terrible at this. I'm a careful person, generally. I like things to be neat and tidy and I'm, well, controlling. Which is why my children won't do craft projects with me anymore. But with practice, I've become *better* (again, not great) at typing without stopping and just getting words on the page. I frequently roll my eyes at my own writing during these sprints, but I almost always crack open something important in the story that I wouldn't have gotten to by thinking about it. One of my favorite ways to do this is to write a long conversation between characters without any speech tags or actions -- I write only what they're saying, almost like a screenplay, and it speeds the pace of the dialogue and really opens up the whole interaction.

4. Setting the timer!

This is the method I've heard about but haven't yet tried for myself: The Pomodoro Technique. (If the name makes you hungry, that's because it's the Italian word for "tomato.") This method was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, who had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato. Hence the name. But any old timer will do. Set it for 25 minutes, work work work, and then take a 5 minute break. When you've completed 4 rounds (100 minutes of work, 15 minutes of time off), you take a 15-20 minute break. What I like about this is that it allows for our...I mean, my...compulsion to check social media, or eat cookies, or do jumping jacks, or whatever else one can do in 5 minutes. It also means that if you've only got an hour a day to work, you're still allowed to build in a bit of time off. Which can be its own reward.

I'd love to hear what practical strategies work for you to stay on track. Let us join forces and finish 2015 strong!

1 comment:

  1. In addition to timing myself, I find that any little change in visuals helps me not feel like I'm just filling blank page after blank page. That can be things like changing computers, the kind of documents I'm typing in, writing by hand, or just moving to a different place.

    I also play this game where I will write in 72 font until I reach my goal of five pages. Then I will size it down to 48 and write back up to five pages again. Then 36. I just keep going until I get all the way down to 12. By not focusing on getting to the end of the page, and also varying how long it takes me to get to the end of the page, it doesn't feel as repetitive.