This post is specifically about writing; it’s more about getting things done. For me, writing is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, things that I do. I want to write. I make plans to write. I’m even motivated to write. Regardless of how prepared I find myself, I still have trouble sitting down and putting words on paper — or into a word processor as the case may be.
I suspect that there are literally thousands of writing guides and techniques, if not millions. I suspect that I have read or tried more than I should have. Most of them have been a waste of time. The truth of the matter is that there is no technique that will force you to sit in front of a keyboard and type.
Some of the writing advice is actually in conflict. One person will say to use a timer, and another person will say to avoid the timer and use word count in its place.
I use both. Sometimes I use a timer; sometimes I only pay attention to the word count. The kind of trouble that I am having writing will determine which tool I use to try to get over that particular problem.
If I am having trouble focusing, I will use a timer. I choose the timer because, when I can’t focus, it seems like I have been sitting in front of the keyboard for hours even if it has only been a few minutes. I use the timer to keep my mind grounded. The hope is that my mind will stop focusing on the time and fall into the process of writing. If that happens then I can forget all about the timer. I will, at some point, look over and realized that an hour or more has passed. If, on the other hand, my mind refuses to engage in the process of writing then I can force myself to try for a specific length of time before I allow myself to do the dishes, sweep the floor, or any of the other things that I might do to avoid writing.
What makes the time work so well for me is that I will feel good for trying, and that is they key for me. The more that I try, the more that I succeed. Over time, there are fewer and fewer days when my mind refuses to engage in the writing. And if my mind does refuse to engage, it is probably because there is something bothering me about the story — but that is a topic for a different time.
I also use word count.
Word count is an important tool for me as well. When I get to typing, if I’m not careful, I can generate way more words that I intend. If I want the story to flow a specific way, it is important to keep track of how the story is moving. That is where word count comes in for me. I can tell by looking at the count whether the story is moving faster or slower than I think it should be. I can also use it to measure my day-to-day writing. Much like how I use the timer, if I have am succeeding then I will see the word count growing every day.
It isn’t that either technique is bad. The problem is that, if you don’t take writing seriously, then any technique can fail.
If you don’t really want to write then all you have to do is sit there until the timer runs out and you can pat yourself on the back for trying. If, on the other hand, you use the word count method, you can always just produce crap that you know doesn’t fit in and will be scrapped later.
I have even read of people who would promise themselves to write at least one page per day. It didn’t help their writing when they would write something like this:
Twenty more lines until I am done.
Nineteen more lines until I am done.
Eighteen more lines until I am done.
Seventeen more lines until I am done.
Therein lies the problem with any writing technique that you will ever find. Nothing can replace the determination to actually put words on paper. All any technique can do is help you accomplish what you really want to do. If you really want to do anything other than write, your mind will find a way.
So what writing techniques do you use to help you write? Is there a different technique to help you start versus a technique to get you through a tough spot?