Every week on my Facebook page, I do a #TipTuesday to help authors with their writing process. Sometimes it’s all about productivity, sometimes it’s about grammar, sometimes it’s about mindset — all the things that come together to help make your writing a success. So here are my top tips of the past year!
1) “Write everyday” is bullshit advice
I've never been one of those people who advocates for "write everyday" — it just seems impractical and unrealistic that you'll be able to do it everyday. (There might be times when it does happen that you're writing every single day and when it does, embrace it; it means you're on a roll!)
No, I'm all about cultivating a writing PRACTICE, the conditions and habits that get you writing. Nothing too restrictive that you can't replicate the practice in different places, but things that you know make your writing time work. Maybe you work best when it's silent, so you write before everyone gets up in the morning or when everyone's asleep at night (shout out to my night owls!). Maybe the low hum of the atmosphere around you (a cafe, etc.) gets you in your writing groove. A clean workspace might clear your mind and prepare you for the task at hand. Or a certain piece of music is the Pavlovian switch that tells your brain it's time to write. Figure out what works for you and your writing, and try to make these things happen every time you sit down to write.
2) Protect yourself from procrastination
If you're a procrastinator, have I got a tool for you. I spend an inordinate of time online, and I know that. What I didn't know is just HOW MUCH time I spend doing things to distract me from the work at hand.
I heard about RescueTime on Twitter (while procrastinating, obviously) and was actually terrified to use it. It took a while before I actually downloaded it because I knew I wasn't going to like what it told me.
RescueTime is an app that runs in the background of your computer and tells you WHERE you're spending your time—social networks, entertainment, news, Word, Excel, etc.—and tells you your productive time vs your distracting time. I get a report sent to me once a week, and got my first one on Sunday.
I was right to be terrified. The ratio was awful. Like, beyond awful. But that is a great motivator to start adjusting that ratio so that it leans more to the productivity side. If you need that same kind of kick in the pants, try it!
3) Save your eyes!
I have terrible eyesight, so my optometrist and I are like this🤞. He was really insistent about getting blue-light blocking lens, especially after he asked for much time I spent on the computer each day, which is a truly unholy amount — add in my late-night reading off my iPad, and it's hours and hours a day. Blue-light lenses block the bad light from computer screens that can make your eyes tired and weaken your eyesight. These are my glasses — they aren't actually tinted blue (that's just the glare off the phone screen), so they just look like regular glasses. I have a pair without a prescription that I wear over contacts and a pair with a prescription for when I take out my contacts for the day, and they are great and totally worth it. If you're sitting in front of a computer all day, whether it's for work or for writing, take good care of your eyes!
4) A quick way to check if you’re telling too much
One of the major things that pulls me out of enjoying a book is a flip from showing to telling. (Some people aren't bothered by this; some people can't stand it—I'm in the latter category.) A quick way to check if you're telling and not showing is if you're using the word "because" a lot in the narrative. For example, "she felt [this way] because of [this thing in her past]." If you find yourself doing this (do a Ctrl-F to search for uses of "because" in your manuscript), rewrite to eliminate the "because" and SHOW why the thing in her past makes her feel a certain way. Bonus: the sentence will probably flow better too if you change the structure!
5) Discovering your ideal reader
Do you know who your ideal reader is? Really, really know them? It's not just "person who likes to read the genre I write"—you need to get super specific on this. Age, gender, marital status, likes/dislikes, where they hang out online, what they do with their free time, their politics, income, where they buy books, what other authors they like, what other genres they read, etc. Dig deep and do some research on them. The more you know about them, the more you can gear your writing and your marketing of your writing to them and make life-long fans.
6) Why you need a critique partner
Let's be honest, being a writer is a lonely calling. It's a lot of shutting the real world out and living only in your head for so long that you maybe forget that there are other people around. (My fellow introverts, I know that sounds great in theory, but we need some extroversion and real human contact in our lives more often than we think.) And the problem with being in your own head so long wrestling with a story is that you can lose perspective and objectivity. That thing you wrote yesterday that you thought was utter crap? Maybe it IS utter crap, but maybe there's something in there worth saving. Maybe it's actually gold but you've been at this story for so long and feeling like it's not coming together and you can't see the good in it.
What you need is a critique partner. Not a beta, who will see the story after the fact and give you some comments. Not an editor, who will do the nitty-gritty work needed to get the manuscript in publishable shape (although you DO need an editor eventually *cough*). But a critique partner (CP)—ideally a fellow writer, who can commiserate with you when it's a low period, who will celebrate with you when you've nailed that key scene, who will give you valuable technical feedback and offer perspective from both a writer and reader standpoint, and give you the hard, honest truths about your MS because they know you'll give them the same thing back. A CP is a valuable relationship for any writer to cultivate to push them to be better and develop their craft in new and innovative ways, and to make the whole writing process a little less lonely.