Writing and the magic bullet

A spread from my writing journal
A spread from my writing journal


When I started writing for more than just the amusement it provides, I scoured the internet for tips and tricks from established writers, unconsciously searching for a magic bullet (pill, sock, cat or milkshake) to write my book for me. Unfortunately there isn’t one, and what’s more writing a novel (which is a gzillion times longer than a tweet) requires discipline, planning and months, if not years or decades, of your life. Plus you don’t get paid for it.

But while I didn’t find the magic bullet (pill, sock, cat or milkshake) I did find some good advice1, some of which has informed the way I write now.

After more than two years of trail, error and some fruitless Googling, here’s what works for me and a few tips that might work for you.

Tip one – Know thyself
Or more accurately, stop punishing yourself because you’re not J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, Tolstoy or Stephanie Meyer and don’t write 10,000 words a day.

I don’t write 10,000 words a day. In fact I’m lucky if I write 10,000 words every two months. I’m a slow writer, capable of 1000 words/hour if I’m on a roll and 200/hr if I’m not, and I spend a good 10 to 15 minutes staring at a blank page before I’ll even put pencil to paper and countless other minutes staring into space. However, I know that if I lock myself in a room for an hour I’ll write something. So, each day, I lock myself in a room for an hour.

I still don’t write 10,000 words a day, sometimes I lucky if I write 400, but I write, and that’s an achievement.

Tip two – Gag the inner critic
You’ll never get anything done if you don’t stop telling yourself how terrible your writing is. It’s not terrible, it’s a first, second, third, forth, or fifth draft, and your inner critic is a lair anyway.

Just between you, me and the whole wide world, my inner critic is a cast iron bitch. She keeps a set of dull spoons and bamboo needles in her purse, well-used and blood-stained, which she delights in whipping out at the least provocation. She particularly likes it when I use the computer to write and delights in killing my creative flow, so I don’t use the computer, at least not for my first draft.

For my initial draft I find myself something gorgeous to write in (Paperblank journals are my favourite). Handwriting, through some magic combination of pen and paper, shuts up the inner critic and prevents my inner editor form nit-picking over yesterday’s efforts, making it much more conducive to getting my thoughts down on paper.

Only once I have a healthy chunk of writing will I type it up and let the editor do her worst, which is generally pretty helpful. Of the critic, there’s not much sign.

Tip three – Time is made, not found
Because no matter how hard you look, there will only ever be 24 hours in a day.

Between a full-time job, part-time study, family and social commitments I used to bemoan the fact that I could never find the time to write. Then I got sick of waiting for it to turn up and made the time.

Making time is about being proactive and protective of whatever slice of the day, or week, you set aside to write. If you’re serious about being a published author then writing is just as important as your day job and you should give it the same care and attention.

I have an hour each morning (between 9 and 10am) that I use to write. It’s blocked out in my calendar, which is displayed prominently on my desk, and I make myself sit down with my journal and pencil for that hour to put words to paper. Sometimes it’s a chore, sometimes it isn’t, but it always results in an increased word count.

Tip four – Keep on chugging
Or don’t let the bumps, mishaps and weeks when you don’t write a word, get you down.

Some days, which are more frequent than I care to admit, it can be difficult to follow my own advice. On these days, when the inner critic is at her worst and it takes three hours to write 300 words, discipline and the thought that tomorrow will be better keep me going, because, as Annie said:

So now you’ve heard from me (and Annie) I’d love know what works for you.

  1. My favourite is in Jennifer Cruise’s post Hello, I’m Your New PRO Columnist: Reflections on the Columns I’m Not Going To Be Writing where she tells readers to forget what everyone else is doing and “go write your good book”. Sound advice. What are you waiting for? []

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