By Ramona Richards
I am not normally a creature of habit. I can barely remember to put my toothbrush in the same place every day. I don’t get up at the same time. While I do have set work hours for the day job, the routine within those hours isn’t always the same.
There are pros and cons to this kind of lifestyle. One major con is that it can be difficult to manage your time, to set tasks and check them off. (Yeah, I should probably mention I’m not a great fan of lists either.)
One major pro is that you tend to be flexible and can shift things around quickly should the need arise. This pro showed up quickly when the need arose to stay at home during a pandemic. I already worked from home anyway, so removing outings such as choir practice and church was an easy shift. I did become a little more organized about going to the grocery store and combining errands.
But this flexibility also allowed for something unusual to occur: inspiration.
As a writer, I know I need to write something every day, just to keep my skills sharp and my writer brain engaged. My writing time is usually just after work but before supper, and right after supper. And I’ve been able to finish books with that schedule.
But lately, I’ve had a book gnawing at me. It’s been fermenting in my head, slowly plotting, the characters growing, changing names, developing bad habits and some new ones, their speech patterns evolving. If you’re a writer, you’ve known that period of development I call the “fermentation pot,” that mental location you store ideas, where all the elements needed for a complete story hang out, bubble, and morph.
If you’re a plotter, the next step is usually the first outline. If you’re a more organic writer (aka pantser), you may sketch a quick synopsis or just dive into the opening scene. I’m more organic, so I usually write the opening scene or two, then add those to the fermentation process. My next step is usually about a sketch of the book, about 500-1,000 words. Then a touch more fermentation.
Then I sit down to write. Usually 500 to 1,000 words a day is a good output for me. If I stick to that, in two months I can have a category length book (50-60,000 words).
The current book, however, had been in the pot for a while. I had lots of scenes, a plot, a dark moment, a romance, two motifs. And on May 10, 2020, it blew the lid off the pot. I became driven to write it, so I added more time into my writing schedule, two hours before work. Essentially six to eight a.m.
Now … anyone who knows me knows I feel about mornings the same way I do root canals. I even have a t-shirt that reads, “I don’t like morning people … or mornings … or people.” I wear it to writers’ conferences so that no one will pitch ideas to me before caffeine.
But when a book has you by the jugular … a little flexibility is in order. And between May 10, 2020 and June 2, 2020 (24 days), I wrote 80,557 words. That’s an average of 3,300 words a day. And it’s not finished yet.
So … what’s my point?
One: there is no right way to write. Find what works for you, and accept that it may vary from book to book. Don’t hobble your creativity with labels, adages, and truisms about writing.
Two: you need discipline as well as flexibility. Writing is hard work. It’s also a lot like learning a language: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Try to practice it in some way every day. Keep those hard-learned skills sharp.
Three: accept that, as a writer, you’re a little odd. The rest of the planet doesn’t think like you do, and not all writers think the same. But we are all a little odd. And that’s okay. There’s no need for you to fit in everywhere else. Even nonfiction writers are off from other people. Think about it: everyone goes through hard times. Not everyone has the ability to take those hard times, see spiritual application to the journey, and have the gift to share that insight with the world through well-crafted words.
Four: writers are driven to write. It’s our make-up and our mindset. We get even odder if we don’t have that outlet. Understand that, and open a valve. Even a trickle is better than none at all.
Too many people think there’s a formula that will guarantee success as a writer, but the hard truth is—there’s isn’t. At some level, we’re all feeling our way through. Find what works for you and don’t give up.
Just. Keep. Writing.
(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and njaj.)
Whether you're a plotter or panster, there's no formula that will guarantee success as a writer. Find what works for you and don't give up. via @RamonaRichards (Click to tweet.)
Ramona Richards is the award-winning author of eleven books and a frequent speaker at writers conferences and women’s events. She has edited more than 500 publications, including study Bibles and curriculum, and is currently the associate publisher for Iron Stream Media. In 2019, she received the Joann Sloan National Award for the Encouragement of Writing, a mentoring, editing, and coaching award presented at the Southern Christian Writers Conference. Her newest books are Murder in the Family (Firefly Southern Fiction) and Tracking Changes: One Editor’s Advice to Inspirational Fiction Authors (New Hope). Her next book, Burying Daisy Doe (Kregel), releases in November 2020. Ramona lives in Moody, Alabama.