Don’t Get Side-Tracked

To really be a writer you have to write, and the only way to do that is by not doing other things.

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A writer writes.

It’s a fact. A lot of authors say it; even fictional authors (Billy Crystal’s character in the 1988 noir comedy Throw Momma From the Train never stopped saying it), and it’s very, very true.

The main thing that separates true writers from fantasists and other ‘non-writers’ is the fact that the latter will always talk about the incredible book or books they’re going to write while the former will be far too busy actually writing them to commentate on their progress.

Get it down on paper. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how incredible your plot, characters or narratives are if they’re just things that exist on the inside of your eyelids. You have to write, every day (or at least as much as you can) and lock in a word count that you’re happy with, one that gives you the freedom to create while setting you firmly on a path towards your goal.

I write 2,000 words per day. Occasionally, I write an awful lot more than this and sometimes I write less… but 2,000 words per day is my standard expectation for fiction. I do this because I started out as a short story writer trying to create and sell stories to small-press fiction magazines: a lot of these magazines had guidelines that demanded a length between 2,000 and 10,000 words. Being a young author desperate to break into publishing I quickly decided that the more stories I wrote the more chances I would have; I therefore turned out a veritable ocean of stories with word lengths that never ran much over the lower limit.

You should aim to write somewhere between 500 and 2,000 words per day; whatever is comfortable for you and whatever you can fit in around your life and your commitments. Whatever you decide, attempt to stick to it for a month or so before reviewing the parameters.

Don’t get side-tracked

This is a simple instruction, but a deceptively difficult one to follow. There are a million things vying for your attention when you sit down to write, and the worst of these (for writers) are Facebook and Twitter. In a world where identity is everything, the first act of many new writers is to sit down and carve themselves out a decent Twitter handle and a Facebook account. Fledgling writers will spend countless hours designing their ‘official page’ and ‘tagging’ all their tweets before they even write a chapter title or a page heading for a project. This would all be fine if the buck stopped there, but after this enormous waste of creative energy the monitoring starts. Who’s following me? Any other writers? Do I have more likes than my mate Neil; I think he’s trying to write a book, too? Well, you needn’t worry about Neil. He isn’t writing a book, he’s checking your page on Facebook to see how many likes you have. Incidentally, all these insane distractions don’t stop when you’re a professionally published author: you’ll stop caring about Facebook and start monitoring sales ranks at Amazon or Barnes & Noble while checking your publishers’ dashboard for up to the minute data on your latest release.

How to not get side-tracked

The only way you’re ever going to write is to follow these steps:

Find yourself somewhere quiet and isolated (or noisy and populated if that’s your bag) to write without distraction.

Take a glass of water or a cup of tea with you: a snack is also fine, but don’t go overboard or else you’ll end up like a cop on a stakeout—the food will become the focus of your alone time.

Turn OFF the internet. Actually turn it off. If you don’t, one alert will lead to another and you’ll be following a trail of breadcrumbs to Facebook.

Write until you hit your personal word count target, even if you don’t feel like it. Crucially, even if you don’t feel the slightest inspiration. Write something, and get used to the feeling of creating when the juices are flowing and when they aren’t.

When you finish, close the computer and get on with your day. Do not go back to read what you have written until the next morning/afternoon. You cannot be fully objective about anything you’ve just written.

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David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.

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