Writing a full-length book is what I call ‘long-distance writing.’ Unlike blog posts, essays, poems, or stories, a book spans time—anywhere from three months to three years, and in some cases, many years. Thus, a bit of psychic preparation is necessary before you even begin. Think of it like preparing for a marathon run, only instead of getting into shape physically, you’re psyching yourself mentally for the long haul.
It helps to know in advance what to expect—but, there being nothing like experience, most writers don’t learn until they’ve done it at least once, and usually more than once.
Some of the things I do or don’t do while writing a book—such as not reading books in the same genre I’m working in—represent a real sacrifice. It’s one reason why I tell students that if they don’t feel absolutely compelled to write, they shouldn’t. Be prepared to sacrifice for the muse. A few other things I’ve learned:
- Unless you’re a genuine night owl, hit the computer first thing in the morning (permission to make coffee first is hereby granted).
- Get dressed every day. Even if it’s just sweats or jeans; just don’t spend the day in pajamas or whatever you wore to sleep.
- Start work early, and take frequent breaks to get up and move around. Save household chores to do during breaks — walk the dog, wash the dishes or the floor, get the mail, do yoga, cook, eat, etc.
- Cultivate discipline in the writing part of your life. Stick to a schedule (within reason), and always meet your deadlines, even those that are self-imposed.
- Be regular and orderly in your life, like a bourgeoisie, so that you may be violent and original in your work.—Gustav Flaubert
- Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed at night.
- Cultivate an ability to see things from more than one perspective.
- Recharge your batteries as needed: travel, even if just for a day; take yourself some place you’ve never been and stay in observation mode.
- Do paperwork in the evenings.
- If possible, receive email at a different computer / location from where you write. If that’s impossible, stick to a strict email schedule: read and write it only at specified times—no more than twice a day.
- If you’re writing non-fiction, from time to time stop—especially if you get stuck—and ask yourself the basic journalism questions: Who, What, Why, When and Where? If you’re writing fiction, the Why? is the most important piece of the equation—but even with fiction the other questions can sometimes work as triggers.
- When writing fiction, visualize the characters and the action, almost as if you’re writing a script for film. This will make your prose more vivid.
- When you reach a place in your writing where you need to do research, but the work is rockin’ and you don’t want to stop, BOLD the words and/or make them a different color (using the same color or system for all research notes). When you’re ready to do it, you’ll easily find the places where it’s needed.
- Read the classics as often as you can.
- Try typing out passages of writers you admire. Caveat: If you’re highly susceptible, as am I, to the influence of other writers’ styles, don’t read the genre in which you’re currently working. I once channelled Margaret Drabble for six pages before I realized what I was doing.