INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
I’m sure you feel your writing isn’t going fast enough. This is an almost universal complaint of almost all writers in almost every project.
Here are a few ways to pick up the pace:
1. Consistency—Nothing beats showing up day after day. You don’t have to spend time remembering where you left off. You stay in the narrative flow and you can build up a cumulative momentum. You won’t be able to produce a lot of words every time you sit down to write, so the more often you do it, the more likely you are to be sitting at your desk when you hit a productive patch.
2. Make Sure This is the Right Project For You Right Now—The right project at the right time makes you want to work on it. We often feel we ‘should’ work on certain projects, often for good, rational reasons, but if the project isn’t coming out on paper, there might be a compelling irrational reason to work on something else—at least for now.
3. Benchmarks & Quotas—Accumulating material and growing your project can become goals in and of themselves and add an extra incentive to the writing process. Even if you only have a half-hour to work right now, maybe you can put this book down and sketch out the next scene in your outline. (See “Productivity (Phase 3)” and “6 Ways to Make a Deadline Meaningful”)
4. Organization—It sounds trivial, but if you know where to find a reference material, notes or previous draft (or your computer), you don’t have to waste time looking for it. (See also “Guidelines for File Management”)
5. Get Competitive—What if I told you someone else is working on a similar project right now and whoever finishes first will get the publishing / production deal? It doesn’t take much imagination; there probably is someone out there working on something similar. You could easily have competition in your topic area, and whichever project is done first will probably have a huge advantage in the marketplace.
Music producer Danger Mouse said that when he was working on his “Gray Album” (an inspired mashup of the Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album”), he was convinced others would have the same idea and that kept him working feverishly during all-night sessions so he could finish first.
6. Bribes—There’s nothing wrong with greasing the wheels as a reward or incentive. I find there’s often more inspiration in the carrot than the stick.
7. Ride the Waves—When you do get in the flow (and you will inevitably get in the flow eventually if you keep showing up), try to keep writing as long as it lasts. If you have something scheduled and you’re on a roll, see if you can cancel it.
Eventually the creative wave will break, or start to taper off. Try to feel that happening then get off the wave. Otherwise, you will start to experience diminishing returns, not just in word count, but often in the quality and clarity of the writing. You may start to lose your enthusiasm and question everything you just wrote and soon find yourself moving backwards instead of forwards. All waves end. When that happens, don’t look back, examine or question what happened. Use the momentum if you can to keep going through the trough until you catch another wave.
8. Feelings Are Just Feelings—Your enthusiasm for the project will inevitably wax and wane during the writing process. One day you feel like it might be the greatest thing ever written, the next day you feel like it’s terrible. Conversely, sometimes you feel like you’re writing drivel, then you look back and find it doesn’t suck that badly. That’s why you have to keep writing regardless of your feelings. Use your feelings to propel or inspire the writing if you can, and if you can’t, write anyway.
Sometimes, when you reach the middle of a project, like a see-saw tilting towards the end, the beginning starts feeling like it’s up in the air. This might just be a feeling because your emotional weight has shifted forwards. If you don’t have a rational reason for stopping your momentum, don’t stop. It’s possible the beginning of this rough draft doesn’t have exactly the right beginning (yet). You have a better chance of finding it if you keep moving through the draft. Sometimes you can’t find the right beginning until you find the right end.
9. Find a Writing Partner—Of course, finding the right partner is extremely difficult, and can potentially take more time than actually finishing the draft, but if you can find someone truly compatible, you can potentially divide the labor and double your rate of progress. Although, you will also halve your profits.
10. Hire a Ghost Writer—If you’re desperate to get your project to market and are willing to forego the creative satisfaction of writing it yourself, this is a completely legitimate option. Of course, it also comes with complications:
a) It’s usually expensive.
b) You don’t get the satisfaction of having written the project yourself.
c) You don’t get the joy of creative discovery and the thrill of finding a way to make the project even better along the way.
d) Someone else has quality control over the draft.
e) Now you’ll be asking “Why is it taking them so long?”
But if your issue is simply generating a draft, this may get you to the next phase of the project more quickly.
11. Lower Your Standards—Don’t freak out. I’m just saying that maybe, just for now, you could temporarily be a little less perfectionistic—just to get through the rough draft a little more quickly. Maybe, in the service of a greater goal (a finished draft), you can temporarily live with . . .
12. Papa Hemingway’s Writing Interruptus Method—When you’re in the flow of writing, it’s tempting to keep going to the end of the scene, sequence or chapter, or until you’re seeing double, even when you’re running out of creative steam. Hemingway developed the habit of getting up from his typewriter right in the middle of a sentence. That way, when he sat down to work the next day, he knew exactly where he was ‘starting’ and could dive right back into the flow. This tactic is particularly helpful if you have trouble getting going at the beginning of a writing session.
13. Don Roos’s Reverse-Psychology Time Limit System—Instead of requiring that you write at least an hour a day, try limiting yourself to an hour a day. Screenwriter Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”) literally limits his writing to one-hour per day. If he’s so excited about a project that he can’t wait until the next day, he allows himself a second one-hour session later in the day. That’s it. He says when he knows he only has one hour to work, it cuts way down on his distractions and procrastinations. OMG, you only have an hour to work on your project? You better hurry. Go, go, go.
14. Writing Out Loud—For some writers, the writing itself is the slow part. You resist sitting down at a desk and, when you do sit down, you resist actually writing any words. If that’s true for you, I bet you’d be happy to talk about your project. Guess what? Talking is writing, thanks to voice transcription software that lets you dictate directly into your computer. All you have to do is speak and the computer ‘writes’ the draft for you.
If it feels weird to talk out loud to yourself, you can talk to someone else and record that. If you don’t like the idea of being tied to a computer, you can dictate into a digital voice recorder and there are still many good old-fashioned transcribers who will turn your taped words into a ready-to-rewrite computer file. If you are completely techno-phobic, still write longhand, and resist the idea of any kind of technology between you and your precious draft, then you probably aren’t worried about how long this is taking. Just get out another roll of papyrus and keep scrivening.
15. Retreat!—Some writers find it productive to escape to a retreat or writers’ colony. There, removed from the distractions of their daily routine, sequestered from family and friends, in the company of their fellow writers, their creativity flourishes and their productivity increases. At least, that’s the fantasy. The reality is that a) it’s expensive, and b) you can’t escape your self. But if this seems appealing and / or you have the means, by all means try it.
16. Don’t Waste Time Beating Yourself Up For Wasting Time—It really just wastes more time.
17. Throw Something Around—Another way of incorporating movement into your writing practice is to toss a ball against a wall or a nerf ball into a hoop. Weights, Body Blades, exercise bands or bows, martial arts weapons like nun-chaku sticks, all accomplish the same things. They . . .
18. Press Up—According to Psychology Today, “Pressing up on the bottom of your desktop flexes the muscles used to bring things closer, signaling a benign (rather than a dangerous) situation and boosting your creativity”.
19. Bite-Sized Chunks—It can feel overwhelming to think about how much work you still have to do or how many scenes there still are to draft, so don’t think about it. What big picture? Let the forest worry about itself for a little while. Just think about the next tree. Clear, measurable, achievable goals will start to add up and boost your confidence. You can do this. Step by step. Inch by inch. Scene by scene. If the scene seems too big and overwhelming, break it down into 3 sections and focus on one part of the scene at a time. The chunks will start adding up. And that’s what Phase 3 is all about.
If you’re of a martial mind, think of this as urban warfare. In order to secure your territory, you have to go house-to-house. Sweep through one house, secure it, then move on to the next house. Keep going until the whole town (act or chapter) is ‘pacified’. Or think about bite-sized chunks of your favorite food and try to savor each piece, instead of seeing it as an enormous meal that you’ll never have the stomach to finish. Stay hungry!
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This material is excerpted from “How To Be A Writer Who Writes: Strategies and Tactics to Start and Finish Your Book or Script” by Greg Miller. Get the book for Kindle or any other e-book formats.
Contact Greg directly for one-on-one coaching that is “Revelatory and dead-on!“.
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For more tips, check out these other blogs:
12 Things That Can Increase Your Productivity
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Awesome artwork by Olimpia Zagnoli
“Just get out another roll of papyrus and keep scrivening.”
Too, too funny, and so, so true.
Also, “Lower Your Standards” = boom! Cause you’re going to have to rewrite anyway, so you might as well get something on paper, quick-like.
You make a great writing coach! #1 How true! Unfortunately, I have not carved out a consistent time to write. I probably spend more time reading emails than I do writing. #7 Like the idea of cancelling the appointment. However, my appointment usually means money, so I don’t dare cancel.. But how regrettable that my thought process was interrupted…which really conflicts with #12 Papa Hemingway’s method. I feel compelled to finish the scene, not just the sentence. I find that finishing a scene at a later date is of lesser quality and requires more rewrites. I don’t know if others use this method. Interesting query…l
Thanks for these thoughts on writing.