How to Write, Pronto!

Write like Speedy! Photo by Jeremy Brooks, Flickr

You’ve written your first chapter! Hooray!

At least, that’s what you thought your friends would say. Along with popping a bottle of champagne for you. Instead, they keep asking when you’ll be done already. Your throat tightens. After all, you spent five months in an isolated haze to give birth to that pearl of a first chapter. What do they think, that novels grow on trees?

The pressure to get that novel written is the quandary facing so many writers. And it’s not just the newbies but published authors, too. In fact, some forward-thinking writers are churning out two books before they even land their first contract, just to avoid feeling this crunch.

But if you want the satisfaction of finishing your novel in the next year or so, no need to despair. Remember good old Parkinson’s law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Think of all the late-nighters you’ve ever pulled. Remember the beauty of external deadlines? They gave you clear time frames, external accountability. And with great pressure came great focus. Here are more ways to maintain that focus.

Seize the time

Maybe you don’t have a whole day to write. Maybe you work 12-hour shifts or have a special needs child to watch. Maybe you can’t get up at 4 a.m. everyday and write for 2 hours the way Khaled Hosseini did while he held a medical practice and worked on The Kite Runner. Maybe you don’t want the sleeplessness that plagued Barbara Kingsolver while she worked on The Bean Trees and dealt with single motherhood and a newborn. I get it. Who are these overachievers anyway, messing things up for the rest of us? Still, I know most of us mere mortals can find 10 or 15 minutes in a day to devote to a project that’s meaningful to us. If that’s all you’ve got, that’s okay. Take what you can get. And use it to write your hearts out.

Remove distractions

Honor your time by making it a distraction-free zone. When I took a flight from San Francisco to Singapore, I was amazed at what could be done without the siren call of Google. Who knew that a 20-page paper could finish itself in three hours?

Do it badly

What happens when you tell yourself you have to write the next great American novel? Me, I’d pee my pants. But telling myself I get to write the next crappy American novel. Piece o’ cake. Done. Allow yourself the freedom to write poorly. You can fix it all later.

Find a reader or two

Reach out. It helps with inspiration, critique or, at the very least, idea-stealing. But seriously. TV writers crank out entire episodes in a matter of weeks. I think it’s no coincidence that they don’t write in pure isolation. The act of bouncing ideas around with others helps you immediately discern the ones that work from the ones that tank.

Adopt a badass attitude

Our minds get stuck in certain grooves. My favorite one is, Who are you to think you can write a good novel in that time frame? Research shows that whatever you say to yourself becomes your reality. And since there’s no time to dwell on whether you’re a fraud or a genius, repeat to yourself: you are a literary genius.

Reward yourself

You know how athletic people give themselves a recovery day? Writers get that too! Show yourself some love for getting through all this work.

Find your first love

Speaking of love… remember what drove you to write to begin with? For me, it was the pure, escapist joy of reading. My childhood favorites were Enid Blyton’s stories, with elves and gnomes, magical wishing chairs and witches who got into trouble at boarding school. Reading inspired so many ideas I had to write down. When you’re stuck, hearken back to that first love. Where were you? What did it look like? What did it feel like? Allow yourself to indulge in that activity if you can. If not, hold the memory of it in you for the next minute. Get into the posture. Feel the love. Write from that place.


About Mei Li Ooi

Writer. Editor. Diet Rebel.

2 Responses to “How to Write, Pronto!”

  1. Julien April 2, 2015 6:27 pm #

    Thanks for this post I will try it 🙂

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