So, you want to be an author and you have an actual life? Nearly everyone has a dream of one day writing a book, but few ever even begin the project - much less finish it. You want to get started on the great American novel, or your memoir or the next Game of Thrones, but you want to tackle it when you are in the midst of big changes in your life, like planning your wedding, first year with baby or starting a new job. Some would say to put it off until your life settles down to a routine. Instead, that period of personal growth may be the perfect time to start. Fitting a new writing routine into your life at the same time is a terrific idea. Making the decision to start is just the first step, however. How do you go about actually doing it? Like building any new good habit, it helps to focus on a few principles and stick with them.
It’s all in the numbers
A time honored tradition in the writing world is to set a daily word goal. Stephen King, author of dozens of best selling horror novels, sets a goal for himself of 2,000 words per day. Minimum! Stephen King is prolific, to say the least. Most writers set themselves a goal that falls somewhere between 500 and 1,500 words per day. You pick the goal, so you can make it for you instead of against you. If you are juggling a baby and a demanding job, you may want to stick to the low end of the range to start. You may be surprised at how quickly 1,000 words comes once you get started. Combine discipline with a dash of self compassion. Being a perfectionist can end your book writing days, just as easily as lack of focus. If you miss a few days, or just can’t get past 300 words one day, be gentle with yourself. Just pick right back up and keep going.
Don’t wait for inspiration
Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, says “If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.” Neil would know a thing or two about the writing life, having written many best-selling and award-winning novels. Neil goes on to say that when he reads through the draft of one of his novels, he can’t tell the difference between the scenes he wrote when he felt inspired and the ones he wrote when he just wasn’t feeling it. I’ll bet you won’t be able to either. Write every day, rain or shine, happy or sad. As those words start to accumulate, soon you will have the bones of your first novel.
Change your scenery
Have you ever bought a piece of gym equipment only to find months later it had become an expensive place to drape worn clothing? Just as with building a fitness routine, sometimes the best option to start and stick with a new habit is to make where you do it somewhere other than home. If you aren’t home, you will be less likely to be interrupted by questions from your spouse or kids. Your nice comfy sofa won’t be there either. Signing up for a writing workshop at a community center or joining a writing group are both ways to add structure to your routine. They also have the advantage of connecting you with other writers for encouragement. Failing that, you can do what college students have done when they needed to focus for eons – go to the library. Libraries are quiet and have computer workstations and tables you can spread out on. Another great option is to join in on National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) every November. You get connected with a huge community of other aspiring writers all with the goal of producing the first draft of a novel in one month. Don’t look so surprised. With the fire in your belly, it is 100% possible to produce 50,000 words in just 30 days.
There are writers that are able to focus full time on their work with few distractions, but the majority of books on the market are written by people that do have actual lives, families and obligations. Your life experiences always influence your writing anyway. Taking on your first writing project at this stage of your life is not only a good idea, it’s a great idea.