You don’t have to write thousands of words every day in order to be a writer. In fact, this is likely to only happen when you are in your ‘creative zone’, and I mean the zone where you’re totally tuned out from the world and your imagination is solely focused on the piece of work at hand. In the ‘creative zone’ you’re happy and excited by your work and very little can distract you. This is great when it happens but for a lot of writers, myself included, it can be very difficult to reach this zone in the first place, let alone maintain it for hours.
So, how do writers write? It is one of those questions that is often asked of authors, and the responses are usually anywhere between vague to extremely specific. That is because the question has no right or wrong answer, and every writer writes differently. You can try and set yourself a certain time every day to write (which is a good idea), but that is more about time management and not so much about the actual writing itself.
The truth is there are lots of ways to write. I read a Facebook post recently where the author described themselves as a ‘quilter’, someone who writes different parts of their novel in small chunks (though not necessarily in order) and then combines all the chunks together to make one smooth, flowing story. A bit like how patchwork quilter stitches together different pieces of fabrics into one smooth quilt.
At school we are taught that in order to write a story you need a beginning, a middle and then an end. My teacher used a burger to illustrate this idea, where the top bun is the beginning, the fillings the middle, and the bottom bun the end. However, the burger/sandwich illustration is also used to help students write essays, reports, quotes and paragraphs too. Another diagram used in classrooms is the basic story/plot arc diagram, where a sharp peak or the top of a semi-circle indicates the climax of the story, before it then falls to a resolution. These are all very nice and idealistic ways to write a story, but these diagrams suggest that you need to start at the beginning of your story and then work your way through to the end. If you were led to believe this like I was at school, it is terribly inaccurate.
Author’s will often write (or have the ideas for) different parts of their novel, and they won’t necessarily write them in chronological order. J.K. Rowling allegedly wrote the Harry Potter series knowing how the final book would end. According to online sources, whilst J.K. Rowling was on tour for the first couple of books in the series, she said that she had already written the last couple of chapters for what would be now, her seventh book. Author’s have been known to write their endings first and work backwards, or even jump around their chronological timeline as different ideas hit them.
Another approach to writing can be seen in Chapter 13 of Twilight. Stephanie Meyer wrote the famous Twilight series because she dreamt of one particular scene that would later be a small, yet important part of her novel.
‘I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately. For what is essentially a transcript of my dream, please see Chapter 13 (“Confessions”) of the book.’ – Stephanie Meyer (http://stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html)
Whether or not you are a ‘quilter’, write your endings first, or write from a specific scene, there are many ways in which a writer can write. You may even unintentionally or intentionally write different scenes that will later feature in completely separate novels, this is perfectly fine too. The idea is to write something, anything, each day, even if it is something small like a specific scene, or a conversation between characters, or the wording for a certain detail. This is where a notebook comes in handy, some days you may just write a single line or jot down a word, and other days you may be writing out whole paragraphs. It often depends on when inspiration strikes you and how long you can spend in your ‘creative zone’ at the time.
Yes it is true you need to write lots in order to improve your writing, and you’re not always going to have the ideal writing conditions, but that doesn’t mean you have to write thousands of words religiously, every day. So don’t lose heart if you wake up one day facing a screen or staring at a fresh page in your notebook and it remains largely blank. If you’re lucky enough that you’re able to reach your ‘creative zone’ and write thousands of words every day then I believe you have an enviable talent and please share your secrets! For everyone else, good luck with your writing, and if you’re struggling just to get started and need ideas for characters, then take a look at Blog 5: Acrostics – A Fun Way to Create Characters!
‘Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who will be much better at doing this or doing that, but you are the only you.’ – Neil Gaiman