Be resolute – make a plan
Anyone noticed it’s a new year again? Time for resolutions and all that stuff, as they say. After all, 2012 has arrived and… what are you going to do this year?
Hum. Well, you can resolute yourself into the middle of next year; personally, I prefer to make a plan.
Resolutions always seemed to me to be far too easy to break, a sort of promise lite. After all, who’s going to enforce it – your mother? I used to make my list like everyone else… and watch it fall apart, usually sometime in early January. In the end I gave up. Instead of merely telling myself that I would write that story, book, comedy pitch or whatever, I concentrated on saying that I would do so by a certain date. Somehow it seemed more disciplined.
And if you want to be a writer, you really need discipline.
The other thing you need in spades, of course, is the desire. It will be with you all the time, whatever is going on around you. You’ll be reminded of it whenever you pick up a book (say, one of your Christmas presents); it will be with you whenever you finish reading something and reflect on it; it will certainly make itself known every time you hear of another writer getting a contract or selling a story.
It’s the itch that never quite goes away.
So. How to go about it?
Well, you need to harness the desire to the intent; that is, say you will do something, but make a firm commitment to yourself and set some target dates. Short story? Easy. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks. But first, flesh out a rough sketch of the storyline. Ditto with the characters (you won’t need more than three main ones for a short) and think about a neat ending. Give yourself a target of no more than a day to do this. Tough? Yes, of course. But that will help you focus. Anyway, how much time do you want? How much time do you have?
If it’s a book you’re thinking about (and this is still in the thinking stage, remember), then be generous: give yourself a week. Very rough outline of the plot, pencil in some characters, sketch any ideas that you have already (for filling out later), then look at the calendar and think, okay, so how long will it take me?
Whatever you’re working on, it has to be realistic in terms of your time and other commitments. But you have to be determined to work around those, not let them dictate your writing.
Next, break up your story into segments, so that each part becomes a job of its own, with its own time plan. If the overall book is going to take say, a year, then you need to focus on getting parts of it done by set dates. It doesn’t have to be in chapter order, incidentally, because you might prefer to write out of sequence – as I do. But your work rate has to be matched to the expectation, so don’t lose sight of that fact. I tend to think of word count, but not each day (that’s too stressful). Instead, I have a rough monthly target, knowing that some days or weeks will be better than others. I might create only 2,000 words one week… but 15,000 the next. Swings and roundabouts.
With a short story, the time-span is much less, but the plan in mind is just as important if you want to succeed.
Some writers set a daily target of, say, 1,500 words. If that’s the way you work, great. But if you’re still finding out what works for you, focus instead on saying what you will do and doing it. The more you do this, the more realistic you will become – and the more you will be able to judge how long a project will take. This is what professional writers do all the time, because they know they have to. To leave a project to chance is to see it crumble – along with any future projects.
There will be times, incidentally, where your writing will set you on fire; the ideas will keep coming, the characters will take over and you’ll be so eager to get on with it that and can’t wait to get back to the keyboard. Take this as a bonus – as words in the bank – but don’t slacken off. Remember, the next week could be a drought, so you need to use the momentum gained to keep yourself going.
So, forget resolutions and go for resolve instead. Instead of saying you will write and hope for the best, plan how your writing will go and how you will achieve it.
To help you get your head around it, imagine this:
You’ve submitted your first work, which took a year to write. You hear back from an agent / editor who says that they want to see more and what else have you got?
What are you going to do? Tell them to wait another year and you’ll get back to them?
No, you’re not, because you already started the next project the moment you submitted the last one. Setting yourself targets will help you focus and add discipline to your writing and work rate. It will make you more professional, lifting you above many others with the same intentions.
It’s simply a matter of say ‘I will’, not ‘I can’.
So good luck with every word. I hope this year is yours to write, to enjoy and to succeed. After all, you’re the only one who can do it.
Thank you Adrian, I’m off to make my plan now!
Adrian Magson is the author of 11 crime / thriller novels and hundreds of short stories and magazine articles, published here and overseas. His latest novels are ‘Deception’ (Severn House – Nov 2011), in his Harry Tate spy series, and ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ (Allison & Busby), in his Inspector Lucas Rocco French police series, A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for Writing Magazine, and is the author of a wonderful book for writers (I could be biased because I’m mentioned at the back but I have it and it’s great): ‘Write On! – The Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press – Aug 2011).
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