Persistence Is Key
For me, it is important to have a designated time and place to write. I think J.K. Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series in one coffee shop. Personally, I need a quiet place with few distractions, and it needs to be the same place every day. My desk is on a landing at the top of the stairs next to a window that overlooks our front yard. My dictionary, thesaurus, and research books are within arm’s reach—so there is no excuse to get up. On the bulletin board in front of my computer, I have an article entitled “In Writing Persistence is Key.” When I wrote CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES, I hung portraits of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, a photo of the well where the murder took place, and a map of 18th century New York. Not only did these things inspire me, they helped me write better descriptions in my novel.
Some writers use outlines. I keep a table of contents to record what happens in each chapter and jot down ideas for later chapters. I also keep a “recycle file,” which makes it easier to cut things without necessarily trashing them. I can edit faster that way without getting hung up on keeping a certain turn of phrase. These tricks work for me. The most essential component for success is to find a routine and system that works for you.
Don’t Be a Perfectionist
While it is important to establish a routine, it is equally important not to beat yourself up if you slack off for a day or so. The important thing is to get back to it. You should want to get back to it. When I am not writing, my day is not complete. This is not because I am such a natural. It is because writing has become a habit for me.
Nothing is written in indelible ink. If you are working on a first draft, just focus on getting the story down. The most important first step is to simply get the story down.
There Is No Such Thing as Writer’s Block; Just Detours
Many of my best ideas come when I am not sitting in front of the computer. If I get stuck on a plot point or sentence, I find it helpful to walk away. I try not to make phone calls or pay bills. Instead, I weed the garden or take a walk to mull things over. Ideas can strike at any time.
Sometimes it helps to take an alternate route. If you’re writing about a warm fire, leave the computer and go sit by the fireplace. I wrote about specific New York City streets in CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES. While the action in my book happened two hundred years ago, I found it very helpful to stroll through those neighborhoods today. There were people from all walks of life, traffic, smells, and sounds. All of which made it far easier for me to imagine the scene. Always carry a notebook; one never knows where or when ideas will strike.
Reading Is Essential
Of the millions of manuals and blogs that exist, there is no substitute for a good book. I read on a Kindle. I find its dictionary very helpful. While I understand words in context, they are not necessarily my go-to words. Expanding your vocabulary broadens your word choice when it’s time to write. Another wonderful tool is the ability to underline passages and create a clipping file. I read a wide range of books from thrillers to histories, but I always find some sentiment, insight, or phrase that makes me think about my own work. Anything from science fiction to daily newspapers can be relevant. Good writing is always inspirational. When I come across a meaningful passage, I underline it and reread it in the morning. This is often a good warm up exercise to get going when I sit down to write.
Believe in yourself and the story you want to tell. Don’t get distracted by the latest craze in young adult, dystopic, or vampire fiction. Don’t worry about agents and publishers. String some words together; form a sentence then a paragraph. Tell your best story and the rest will fall in place.