* “If you want to be successful, you need to get up early every morning and write for at least an hour without interruptions.”
* “The best time to write is late at night when the kids are in bed and there’s nothing exciting to watch on TV.”
* “The only way to write a book is to have a detailed outline before you begin. You need to know what scenes will be in every chapter, whose POV each scene will have, and make sure that every plot point is outlined.”
* “Outlining a book before you write destroys creativity. The best way to write is to simply sit at the computer and let the ideas flow.”
If you’re like me, you’ve heard this kind of conflicting advice, whether presented in a workshop at a writer’s conference, posted in a blog or simply expressed as part of a casual conversation among writers. Again, if you’re like me, you’ve gone home shaking your head, trying to figure out which one of the statements is correct. You may even have despaired of ever being a successful writer, since you don’t do any of the things you were told were essential.
What’s a writer to do? I propose a three-step program. Ready? Let’s go.
Step One: Take a deep breath. If you’re a chocoholic, have a piece of chocolate. If you’re a jogger, this is the time for a nice long run. If movies are your favorite way to forget about the world, watch one. In other words, relax.
Step Two: Repeat after me, “I am a writer. I am unique. What works for someone else may not work for me.” Relinquish the guilt and sense of failure that no matter how many times you tried, getting up at 4 AM to write only makes you tired and cranky, not creative, and that even though you would like to let ideas flow as Mega-Selling Author advised, that doesn’t work for you.
I know I’m making this sound simple, when the reality is that it isn’t, but it’s an essential step. Even though you want to have Mega-Selling Author’s success, it’s important to remember that you’re not twins. What works for Mega-Selling may or may not work for you. And that leads us to the final step.
Step Three: Find your writing rhythm. There are several aspects to this. The first is determining the time of day and days of the week when you’re most productive. You don’t need to be a scientist to do this. Simply observe yourself over the period of a couple weeks, noting when you feel most energized and writing down both the day and time. It may be that Tuesday through Thursday early evenings are your best time. If you know that, your goal should be to devote that time to writing. There’s no reason to waste your creative time doing laundry or watching TV, is there?
Secondly, think about yourself. Are you a left-brained person who needs everything organized? When you take a trip, do you have a detailed itinerary and avoid detours? If so, it’s probable that you’re a plotter and will be more productive creating an outline before you begin writing.
If you’re an explorer who finds more pleasure in the journey than the destination, you may be a seat-of-the-pants writer (sometimes called a pantser). It’s also possible that you’re a combination of the two, that you may start with an outline but find that your story takes you in unexpected directions when you write. That’s good, but so too is being a pure plotter or pantser, if that’s where you’re most comfortable and most productive.
The essential thing is to discover what works best for you. I’m not telling you to ignore the advice you’ve received, but I am saying that you need to consider whether the techniques that are being touted as the only way to succeed are ones that fit you.
One size does not fit all. The truth is, there is one right way to write. What is it? The one that works for you.