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How to Jump-Start Your Writing

Karin Cather
Last updated Jul 1, 2024

Are you working on a novel, but you aren’t writing as much as you wish you were? Has your project stalled as a result? Are you kicking yourself for your lack of discipline?

I’m going to assume you really do want to write the book. I’m assuming that the problem isn’t writer’s block.

For most of us, the problem isn’t writer’s block. It’s a problem with the very act of opening the laptop and then writing. 

What Do I Know?

Well, my 115,000-word entitled A Million Monkeys is waiting to be edited, and I’ve written 75,000 words of the second novel in the series, which is called Sick Puppies

It took me seven months to finish the first finished draft of A Million Monkeys, and at that time, it was just under 120,000 words long. Then I revised it on and off. Then I let it sit and started on Sick Puppies

I Didn’t Write it Overnight

I started A Million Monkeys in January 2022. I finished the first draft in July 2022, and it’s January 2024.

Now I’m back to Sick Puppies

My productivity dropped when I moved in with my partner. He is supportive of my writing, but there is just naturally less empty space in your day when you live with someone.

I haven’t stopped, but it will take me twice as long to write Sick Puppies

Are There Tips and Tricks for Writing More?

When you Google the issue, you can find pages of blogs and articles giving lists of suggestions for how to turn yourself into a novel-writing machine.

Are you expecting me to give you a grocery list of suggestions? They look something like this:

  • set a word-count goal
  • set aside a writing space (your coat closet will do)
  • eliminate distractions (pets? children? partner? dinner? It is to laugh.)
  • get up at 4:30 a.m.
  • get up at 3:30 a.m.
  • who needs sleep, really?
  • start an exercise program (procrastiworking for everyone!)
  • plan a writing process (oh, great, more procrastiworking!)
  • soundproof the air around you
  • learn to teleport

That first is my favorite. Set a word-count goal? Oh, sure, that’ll do it. That’s never occurred to you!

There are so many “easy” suggestions that aren’t easy. 

Why Don’t They Work?

They don’t get to the root of the problem. 

As proof, count the number of words you probably post on social media. They might even exceed your word-count goal for your novel. You manage to do a lot of writing, posting, meme-searching, and so on, all while your novel sits untouched. 

You might decide you’re going to write and then find yourself folding laundry, cleaning the baseboards, sending emails that could wait, or other forms of procrastiworking. Or, you know, making that writing star chart.

If those suggestions I listed had not occurred to you, and implementing them worked, omigod, I envy you! I’m not calling anyone out. 

As proof, remember this shit?

<insert meme here>

You probably had the same response to that thing that the rest of us did, hence all the caustic parodies. Do I personally think the author of the original post could have been sitting at his laptop in his underwear getting Cheetos crumbs on the keyboard?

Why Can’t You Plant a Meditation Tree in Your House?

So many of these suggestions call for you to make major life changes. Do you work full time—either at a paying job or as an at-home parent? Are you a student? Do you have a significant commute? Do you have a romantic partner? Kids? Pets? Chronic pain? Financial worries? 

And now you have to look at this list of tips and tricks and decide where to put a brand-new writing desk or something, set aside a corner of your living space that’s just for you, set aside a regular time to write. Etcetera.

If those were practical suggestions, you already would have been doing those things. 

The issue isn’t willpower or discipline. It’s that humans aren’t very good at making drastic life overhauls. A lot of those suggestions force you to make some significant changes in your life.

What Are the Real Barriers?

When my own productivity has stalled, it’s due to one of three things:

  • loneliness
  • overwhelm
  • perfectionism

I’m guessing that’s true for a lot of us.

Loneliness

Writing is a solitary pursuit. I could quote you the studies about what percentage of people of all ages currently say they are lonely. So when there’s an opportunity to spend time with someone, it’s hard to pass that up. 

When you’re writing, you’re not spending time with the ones you love. Even if you’re an introvert, like me, you probably don’t do well with total isolation. 

So your solution has to take into account that you don’t love solitude (if you, uh, don’t love solitude).

Overwhelm

You worked all day, put dinner on the table, took care of chores, took kid(s) to an activity or took care of a pet, and maybe exercised. Maybe you’re also managing the health issues of an elderly parent, spouse, or child, or maybe of your own. Now you just want to sit on the couch with your loved ones and just chill.

I could also quote you studies about what percentage of people are sleep deprived, which doesn’t help. Assuming you work days, this business of getting up really early and doing without even more sleep makes no sense. If you work day shift, should you be staying up until 2 a.m.? No, but forcing yourself to go to bed at 8:00 p.m. isn’t productive anyway.

Again, you need a solution that takes it into account.

Perfectionism

We don’t want to write bad prose. We imagine our audience looming over us as we write, and we think we must write a polished manuscript right away.

There’s a reason that they call it a rough draft. Give yourself permission to write something that will very definitely need to be revised.

For example, what happens in my second novel, Sick Puppies, had to happen that way, which means that certain things in A Million Monkeys had to change. So after writing 75,000 words of Sick Puppies, I went back to make what I thought were minor revisions to A Million Monkeys.

Omigod, there is nothing minor about the revisions it so desperately needed. Among other things, it lost 10,000 words.

People, I save each version of any Word document I write or edit as its own file number. I’m on version 311 of A Million Monkeys. The first hundred versions make me cringe—cringe. They are awful. I could describe the many ways that these drafts are as embarrassing as some people’s Google search histories, but then this blog post would be too long. My search history will confirm what everyone already knows—I’m a total nerd. The version history of A Million Monkeys, on the other hand, is the equivalent of walking into the living room in a towel to discover you have company.

Today, A Million Monkeys is a book I’m proud of.

The lesson that I took from that is that perfection isn’t required the first time. I at least had something to revise.

It doesn’t matter if your book as published will be a Hugo Award winner. It doesn’t have to be a Hugo Award winner now. Now you’re allowed to write the equivalent of Atlanta Nights [http://www.travistea.com/]—created when a bunch of authors got together to write a deliberately bad book.

It’s not going to stay a bad book. You’re going to do what most writers do: revise, revise, revise. Then you’re going to send it to an editor. Then you’re going to revise again.

That’s what professional authors do, and as proof, look in the acknowledgement sections of your favorite books. 

Actual Solutions 

You’re not going to set aside an hour, two hours, or an entire day. You’re not giving yourself, say, a minimum of 500 words. You’re not writing perfection.

Write 15 Minutes a Day

Set the timer. Then stop. I’m serious.

That doesn’t sound like very much, but that’s 105 minutes more a week than you were writing.

Write Badly

This is a draft. It’s supposed to suck. You’ll go back and edit later. 

Are you a plotter? Just write the concept, the plot, etc. I like The Novel Factory for this <link>. It’s a series of writing prompts, not AI. Full disclosure, they’re an affiliate, but also full disclosure, I have a subscription. A free trial lasts 30 days, and you don’t enter payment information, so if you find it doesn’t work for you, the subscription just lapses.

You’re revising everything you write anyway.

So just write. Even if it’s stream-of-consciousness. 

If you’re stuck on chapter 2, write something for chapter 3. Or imagine that one line that was the motivation for your writing this particular book.

Think about Gary Oldman’s line <link> https://www.tiktok.com/@fameitself/video/7136404153261231402>

In an interview with Esquire, he said, “I wanted to play Dracula because I wanted to say: ‘I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you.’ It was worth playing the role just to say that line.<link https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/interviews/a12065/gary-oldman-quotes-0112/>

I Mean it. Fifteen Minutes

It sounds like nothing. It’s also 91 hours a year, which is 91 hours a year more than not writing at all is. 

About the Author

Karin Cather, with her background as a former prosecutor and a Krav Maga black belt, uniquely blends her skills in editing and ghostwriting. She specializes in detective, dystopian, select fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction. Karin also brings her expertise to forensic psych reports, providing valuable insights into behavioral health issues. Her focus is on preserving the author’s voice and balancing creative expression with writing conventions, making her an excellent choice for those seeking a comprehensive and insightful editor or ghostwriter.

Learn more & contact Karin Cather

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