It’s hard to explain why people like me, who want to write lots of books, sometimes find it so hard to write a sentence. In honour of National Novel Writing month coming up in November, here are 7 things that help me:
- Planning when and what I’m going to write ahead of time.
- Breaking every enormous task into smaller units: drafts into acts, acts into chapters, chapters into scenes.
- Using a spreadsheet to track my progress. Assigning each scene or job a row, and watching the sheet change colour as I work through my draft. (Thank you, Rachel, for introducing me to this joy.)
- In Britain, we have a gameshow called “the Cube”. Contestants are given a series of difficult tasks and so many tries to get through all of them. They are allowed to simplify one task if they’re stuck. I pretend I’m the producers. How do I simplify my problem to give myself the best chance of moving to the next stage?
- Sometimes the question isn’t what is my next sentence? Sometimes it’s something technical you can look up or a place that exists in real life and you can find a picture.
- If I don’t feel like starting in the first place, I tell myself my first job is to turn on my computer and open my file. My next to write for just fifteen minutes – ten minutes if that feels too much. I set a timer. By the time the alarm goes off, I’m usually deep into my draft and happy to continue for a couple of hours. If writing is one big confidence trick it can be broken down into a set of individual slights of the hand.
- If I’m struggling to revise a scene, I can get it right later on. This pass, I just need to make progress.
There you are. I don’t have many more writing secrets than that. Good luck to everyone taking part in National Novel Writing Month.