Organising Your Writing Life
Finding Your Success
In our modern, fast-paced world, with computers and smartphones providing entertainment at our fingertips, we writers often struggle to focus on our writing. It can take years to learn how to organise our creativity but all successful writers have found their own way. As Ernest Hemmingway said ‘those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t writing, don’t.’ Organising your writing life is the only to turn this desire to write into achieving your writing goals.
If you announce you are a writer, the general public immediately has an image of you. This most likely involves an antique desk and a feather quill; or perhaps these days a coffee shop and a laptop. You may even have this romantic image of yourself. You may buy many beautiful notebooks and imagine yourself producing your masterpiece within its pages. I know I do!
In practice, this image often doesn’t quite gel with the reality. Many of us have to fit writing around our ordinary lives. Perhaps this means you scribble in notebooks whilst your kids do their homework; perhaps you tap on your laptop in front of the telly; perhaps you write notes on your phone whilst waiting for the bus. We all have a lot going on but the chances are that most of us will have found ways to squeeze a few minutes here and there into our daily lives. This is fantastic! The only way to be a writer is to write and this means you have to take advantage of those otherwise wasted moments.
But what if you want to write something more? What if you want to write a larger project: a novel, a collection of poems or stories, a screenplay? You’ll need focus. You’ll find that, no matter how many moments you take advantage of, you won’t get a larger project finished in them. This is where that dreaded word comes in: organisation. It is rare to find a person who enjoys this but most of us can see the benefit. If you want to write a substantial piece of work, focus and structure are essential. You must organise your writing life to find your success.
A writing project takes focus and organisation. You’ll need an environment in which you can focus and concentrate. The form this takes will vary depending on your personality. The environment writers find is as varied as the work they produce.
First, settle on a place to sit down and write. Don’t feel like you can only write here but picking a specific spot will help you get in the habit of writing regularly. You will come to associate that place with sitting down to work and the words will start to flow more easily.
My writing place is my study. It has plenty of lighting and plenty of ventilation; these are vital. I work at my desk and have a comfortable desk chair. You need to be both comfortable and supported.
You may like to have a view to inspire you or you might prefer bare walls and sparse surroundings. I have my desk side-on to my large window onto my garden, where I can watch the wildlife but also turn away and force myself to work. You may find you concentrate best shut away from the household in your own space, or you may prefer to be in the thick of things, with activity happening all around you. On the other hand, like me, you might swap between the two, depending on your mood.
Next, you have to think about what you need for a writing session. You will need to have access to certain equipment and tools as you write. I use my computer but also keep notebooks, pens and pencils around, mainly for drafting notes but also for the occasional time when I feel like handwriting. You may like to write your first draft by hand but, if you plan to publish, you will need a computer at some point. Publishers require a word-processed manuscript for submission. Some will even ask for submission via email, so internet access is helpful. If you don’t have the internet at home, try your local library or internet cafe.
You will also need reference books. Which books you need depends on what you write. You may need to add to your choices as your experience increases and your work expands. I often write about animals and fantasy fiction so I have animal and mythological encyclopaedias. Also useful are craft books on creative writing, a dictionary and a thesaurus. I also have a slang dictionary and I would recommend a baby name book to help with character names. I also keep on hand foreign language dictionaries as I often use these in my work. The internet can be used for this information but take care that you use reputable sources and back up your facts. Anybody can put any amount of incorrect facts online!
If you’re going to be in your writing space for a while working, you’ll need something to keep you going. Drinks and snacks are vital to keep your brain working. The proper thing would be for me to suggest healthy snacks such as fruit and water but chocolate biscuits and a cuppa will work just as well!
It will help you to keep your focus if you have everything you need within reach and you will increase your writing time if you do not have to search for your supplies every time. When your muse is humming, a long interruption is the last thing you need.
We all have to deal with distractions. It is all too easy to let life get in the way of our writing. However, if you want to achieve your writing goals, you will need to find some way of working despite these distractions. This does require self-control and the motivation to be successful in writing.
You can minimise the temptation of distractions; constructing a distraction free environment is the key. If the television distracts you, make sure you set up in a place without one. If you are distracted by the internet, disable it while you are writing. If the presence of others distracts you, shut your door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Get your household’s support in meeting your writing goals.
You can also limit distractions by scheduling yourself time to write. If you have the self-control to stick to this, it can be a helpful way to ensure you have those distraction-free periods to write. If you struggle to keep your focus and find yourself clock-watching, set a timer and write until it goes off. Depending on your personality, you might like a silent timer, such as an alarm clock or a clockwork kitchen timer if you prefer the pressure of hearing those clicks!
Personally, I prefer to write with background noise, either music, the television or simply the general noises of the house. I am usually able to concentrate but if I am struggling, I reach for silence. I have found that I prefer noise when I write creatively but silence when I edit or write factually. Your personality will dictate how you like to work. Don’t feel you have to do things a certain way; experiment and find the best way for you.
If you are a career writer, deadlines will be a significant part of life. But even if you don’t have deadlines, setting yourself goals can be a useful motivational tool. Again, how you do this depends on you. Some people become stressed by pressing deadlines; others thrive on the pressure.
I certainly achieve more when I have a deadline to work towards but I can also feel too pressured by a large task. My solution to this is to split the job into smaller amounts. This way, I am spurred on by the small reward of completing one small task at a time, instead of having to wait for the satisfaction of completing the entire project. If I am working on a project, I split the word count over the days I have available. This gives me my daily word count goal. If I meet my goal each day, I will easily complete my project.
However you do it, plan your commitments. Set out your projects and deadlines on a wall planner or a diary.
Of course, setting daily goals is one thing. Fulfilling them is another. Managing your time has a big learning curve and many people struggle with finding the right balance between life and writing.
Experiment and discover your most creative time of day. Some prefer early morning work, others can’t imagine getting out of bed before noon if they don’t have to. Some work late into the night, others turn into a pumpkin at midnight. You might discover you prefer to work for an hour after lunch or that you get up in the middle of the night to tap out a few thousand words. You might work best with a dedicated chunk of hours or you might prefer small sessions throughout the day.
Once you decide on this time, it’s not set in stone. Re-examine how well it’s working for you and change it if something else works better. For example, when I was a single woman, I’d spent hours late at night writing. Now, my most productive time is late afternoon when my partner is at work. This is one less distraction!
Schedule your time, building in pleasure and social activities as well as your writing and the necessities of life such as eating and sleeping. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a scheduled session, we’re only human! Having a schedule gives you a framework; return to it when you get back on track. Also record your progress as a motivational tool; you’ll be able to see yourself getting closer to your goals.
Organising yourself, your goals, your time and your surroundings will go a long way towards helping you make a success out of your writing. Take yourself and your work seriously and devote the time and the focus to it. Organising your writing life is essential to achieving your writing goals and these tips are a good place to start.
As you develop your writing, you will also develop your organisational skills. Allow yourself this development and don’t neglect these aspects to your work.
Believe in yourself and ensure your environment and schedule support your goals and you will have the tools necessary to find success as you embark upon your creative writing life.