“If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.
You have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.
The process of writing can be magical. Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another.”
Neil Gaiman, talking with Chris Hardwick
People always ask me: how do I go about writing the actual act. Neil Gaiman’s words sum it up. I sit down and I write. That’s what you have to do if you want to be a writer.
This is for all you beginners out there. For those of you who “have a great idea but I’m just never in the mood to write” people. The act of writing isn’t some divine rite. The stars don’t need to align in just the right way for you to sit down and write. The physical act of writing is like any other hobby or skill, you have to make the time to do it.
You need to carve out a time that you decide is time for you to write. Even if it’s just an hour on Sunday afternoon, that’s fine. When Sunday rolls around you grab your laptop/computer/paper and pen, go somewhere and sit with it. For the next hour that’s all you do.
Seriously, for the next hour do nothing but stare at the blank page or computer screen and thinking about your writing (whatever it is your writing). You may even write something, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t. And don’t do anything else.
And the computer/paper.
And the story.
At the end of the hour you’re free to go. When the next Sunday rolls around grab your laptop/computer/pen and paper and go somewhere for an hour. Again you sit there with your computer/paper and you think about your writing.
Again, if you write something, that’s great. But don’t be surprised if you don’t. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t write anything (or if you write only a paragraph or two). This isn’t to gauge yourself as a writer, and it’s not about developing the process by which you write. It’s much more basic than that, it’s about developing the mindset, the habit, of writing.
When I started writing my first novel, Superiority Complex, I would get up in the morning, eat breakfast, and then sit down in front of my computer to write. Up until this point I’d only written short stories; these are relatively simple, I could sit down for a couple hours (up to six) and pound them out. The task of the novel is a different animal. I would sit in front of my blank screen staring at the blinking cursor. I’d type a sentence. Delete the sentence. Type another. Delete that one too. Sit in frustration hating the white screen. I wouldn’t move though. I wouldn’t play computer games. I’d cheat every forty-five minutes or so and check my e-mail, but then go right back to the blank document.
It was the most frustrating thing in the world. I had all these ideas about what I wanted to say and what I wanted my characters to be like but it was all stuck in my head. Eventually I’d attack the keyboard and write out of pure frustration. I was frustrated that I was wasting time I could have been working to help my wife support us. I was frustrated that a blank screen was defeating me. I was frustrated that my awesome ideas weren’t out there for everyone to enjoy.
Most of what I wrote like that I ditched. It wasn’t as awesome as I hoped, but some of it was good and I kept that. My point is two-fold: frustration is part of the writing process (especially at the beginning), and you have to develop the habit of writing so you can write. It got to the point where I was writing every day and I felt great.
Once you’re writing consistently every Sunday for that hour, you can work on finding more time to write and even on finding your process. First and foremost though, you have to get in the habit of writing.