(Underwhelmed? Hang on, let me unpack it before you roll your eyes and exit stage left.)
That advice doesn't originate with me, the first time I heard it was from Neil Gaiman but since then I've heard gaggles of other talented writers say the same thing.
On one level the advice is so obvious as to be tautological. But what it means is that if you feel that your writing is off, that all your words are vying to be the most hideous ever written, then there's only one thing to do. Write the next word.
On the other hand, if you think your writing is awesome, if you feel that you're inspired and that the gods on Olympus smiled on you and gave you the gift of writing excellence ... Well, there's only one thing to do. You guessed it. Write the next word.
If you're feeling a bit off, if you haven't had enough coffee, if you didn't sleep well, if you've got mountains of work to do, if your head's fuzzy, if your cat woke you by drooling in your nose (happened to me, swear to God) then there's only one thing to do: go to your writing space, sit down, and write the next word.
The key to writing 2,000 words a day is simple. Whether you feel like doing it or not, put your butt in your writing chair and write the next word, and the one after that, and the one after that, until you've done your word count for the day. (At which point your miniature giant space hamster minions will feed you skinned grapes and chocolate, or whatever it is that you get your miniature giant space hamsters to do for you.)
Don't walk away from your computer, don't put it off till you're feeling more in the mood. Why? Because that's _self-doubt_ and (if you're anything like me) it will pop it's head up every single bloody time you sit down to write _anything_.
You might be thinking something along the lines of: that's easier said than done. If so, then you're right. So. Here are a few things I do that seem to help the process along.
First Drafts Don't Matter
That's what I tell myself and (* knock on wood*) it works. It takes the pressure off.
I love the idea of writing a zero draft. The name reinforces the notion that nothing remotely anxiety inducing is going on, you're not ripping your guts out and smearing them all over the page, you're just writing in your journal (or typing on your computer), nothing to be nervous about. No one will see this, no one will judge you.
A zero draft is a draft where, truly, anything goes. I write thoughts about my story--what I'm feeling about it, where I want to take it, possible endings, possible beginnings, character notes, possible tags and traits, I scribble out mind-maps, do Venn diagrams. Then, at some point, in the midst off all this messiness, this literary equivalent of a coughing up a hairball, I'll fall into the story.
I'm no longer sitting in my writing chair (or slumped on the couch or lying in bed or sipping coffee at my favorite caffeine dispensary). I'm in the story and I'll look around and see things, story things, and I write these down. I'll be with the characters in the scene, watching it play out around me. This might not last for long, perhaps I've just caught the tail of the story, or glimpsed an eyelash. Whatever. That's my 'in'. That's what I hold onto and follow, and see where it takes me.
Perhaps it'll take me to a dead end. It could. But that's okay. This is the planning processes. Zero draft. No pressure. I go back to writing down my thoughts and doodling and drawing connections and then, at some point, the characters will spring to life again and another scene will unfurl.
Usually this process lasts only a couple, maybe three, days. Long enough to do up an outline, a rough one, and write a few scenes.
Once I get an outline I've got my roadmap. I know where I'm going. (Kinda, sorta.) I'll still have to do character development and a lot of fleshing out, but I've got my starting point, my story.
I'm on my way.
I learnt this term in computer science eons ago but I think it also applies to writing.
Originally bootstrapping referred to an impossible task--pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps--but it has been adapted for various areas and undertakings.
The general idea is that one starts with a little something. Not much, but something. Then, through a process that's simple but not easy, you work your way through to a higher, more organized, more complex state.
Think of a lumberjack working his way up a tree. Lumberjacks can climb to dizzying heights by possessing the right tools (iron climbing hooks and rope) and following a certain process.
It's the same with writing. We can bootstrap our way into a finished novel, taking each step at a time, and steadfastly refusing to look down or dwell on how many words are still to be written or get discouraged at all the times we're going to have revise the draft. That's for later. Right now we're just writing this thing, this labour of love and sweat and fear, and we're doing it one word at a time.
In my next post I'll talk more about the process of bootstrapping. Specifically, how you break your novel into tiny, bite-sized, completely unintimidating, pieces.
Till then, good writing!
PS: Chuck Wendig has written a motivating blog post for NaNoWriMo bursting with advice that'll help you get ready for a writing marathon. He writes: "My oft-repeated refrain is that plot is Soylent Green — it’s made of people." True! The article is an educational and entertaining read.
Also, take a look at Chuck Wendig's article, 25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story, for a whirlwind overview of different ways to start writing and to organize what you've written.
Photo credit: "Raccoon Kids" by Ingrid Taylar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.