Whether you’re working on a novel or building readership, this is the minimum
I write a lot, but not because I’m trying to be one of those people who crank out ten articles a week for for fame and fortune. I do it because I’m a professional writer and I’m being paid retainers to develop a comprehensive content strategy and implement it. But I still find the time and energy to write novels and articles about things that interest me (like creativity). So, I don’t have much patience for those who complain about a lack of ideas, being blocked, or not being able to finish things. I don’t have a choice. Professionals have to deliver.
This doesn’t mean I don’t get stuck occasionally. But it’s rare these days because over the years I’ve found ways to keep the juices flowing, like the maxim in the title of this article. First I’m going to talk about the 300 word rule then I’ll share some other things that have reliably worked for me over time.
Blockage is a conscious problem, not an unconscious one
This applies to virtually any creative challenge from writing and arranging songs, to running a business, or hitting your numbers. The secret, and it’s not much of one, is that the game is incremental. Take those 300 words for example. 300 words a day is about 9000 words a month or 110,000 words a year; in other words, a decent length novel. And it should only take an average writer a few minutes to write them. There are several secrets to making this ridiculously easy and they are based on the fact that creativity is not a conscious practice, it is an unconscious one:
- Put it on automatic. Start with a sentence or an idea and start writing. Don’t edit as you go. Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry if it is ‘good’. Don’t even worry if it makes sense. (BTW, this about the 300 word point in this article)
- At the end of your session, write the first sentence of the next day’s writing. You’ll be in the mode, so this should be easy. Then stop and leave it. Hemingway called it leaving gas in the tank for the next day’s writing. You’re seeding an idea into your subconscious and letting it ferment for the next day’s session.
- Type a total word count at the end of each day’s work. Try to stay at whatever count you’re averaging. For my first novel it settled in at 800–900 words. With my second it dropped to 300–400 because I was trying something a little more challenging stylewise. You’ll find that you adapt to this cadence as ‘normal’.
- If it’s not coming, do two things: Write anyway, or take a long walk and don’t dwell on the story or project. It will generally fix itself.
- Need to get more done? Have a couple of projects going that don’t overlap. For me there is a hard line between my creative writing and my marketing writing. They don’t cross paths, though the same processes apply.
- Don’t be seduced by new ideas when they pop up. I keep a running list of ideas and simply add a new one to it when I get it, then get back to work. It will still gestate
- Every day, seven days a week.
With writing, as with most creative practices, nothing is written in stone
As a creative you are omnipotent, at least until the moment your work goes public. You have godlike powers over life, death, and magic, and your weapons are delete and rewrite (or erase and redraw, etc.). Because of this omnipotence it is a total waste of time to obsess about whether your work is good at the first draft stage. It doesn’t matter because everything can be fixed. One common example you run into with novelists talking about process, is how common it is for the last chapter they write to become the first in the finished book. The first chapter has to be powerful and compelling and by the time you reach the end of your draft it’s likely that your writing is much tighter. Those same writers are likely to tell you they discard the first initial attempts at beginnings. I rewrote my first chapter seven times and rewrote the first paragraph many times trying to get that story hook set. It’s a matter of killing your babies, babies being those precious words you conjured.
Skills only come with practice
Once you have your basic tools in place like grammar and syntax and advice, good or bad, the only way you progress is by practice, steady, consistent practice. That’s why advice like the 300 words adage is the advice you’ll hear from every professional.