I’ve heard countless people say, ‘I’m going to write a book one day’ or ‘I can only write when I’m inspired.’ I’m one of those people who used to speak in a similar vein. My internal dialogue was, ‘I’m going to pay off my house and then give up work and then I’ll have time to write books.’
I’m now supporting myself as a full-time writer, but my earlier internal dialogue had nothing to do with me being in this position. In fact, had I stayed on that path, there’s no way I’d be a writer now. You see, once I became financially independent, I had kids – time-consuming kids. There is always something in life that’ll take you away from your writing if you allow it.
The change for me happened when I read Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’. In it, he says, ‘I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired at 9am every week day.’
If you want to be a writer you have to treat it like a job and give it priority. Otherwise, it’ll never happen. I’m not telling you to immediately go out and quit your day job – we all have bills to pay. However, if you’re serious about writing a book now, you can set yourself a goal to write 5,000 words a week. That’s 1,000 words every week-day, and that’s not unrealistic. If you do this, in 17 weeks you’ll have written your first draft of an 85,000-word book. Chunk your book down like this into small, achievable goals and before you know it, you’ll be there. For most people who haven’t had time to write, I say set a goal of 500 words per week, and in two years you’ll have a first draft of a book. Some weeks you’ll write more. So long as you always write at least 500 words you’re moving towards your goal.
Of course, there’s more to it. You need to know how to write and if you haven’t yet explored your craft and refined your skills, then make sure you do. There are plenty of courses, writing groups, online forums – immerse yourself in them. Every learning activity you involve yourself in will teach you something new. Act like a writer, live the life of a writer, immerse yourself in the world of writing, and you’ll be a writer. I go to a published authors group once a month – Brisbane Book Authors – and also go to writing forums, sessions, and festivals whenever I can. One of the best festivals I’ve ever been to is Newcastle Writers Festival.
Writing a novel length piece of work is like a home loan – immensely overwhelming if you focus on the end game. Break it down into one step at a time, and it’s much more manageable. Find what works for you. In my case, I’m a journalist. For 20 years I kept telling everyone I was going to write a book, but every time I started it turned into a 2,000-word short story. There were some fairly good short stories to come out of it, but it was a recurring pattern for me. 85,000 words is a long time to sit with a character. Eventually, I stopped and considered what I was good at. For me, I was good at 5,000-word feature articles. I wrote them every week for work. So for my first book, ‘Inspiring IVF Stories’, I interviewed men and women all over Australia and every chapter in the book is, in essence, a 5,000-word feature article. Each chapter is a complete story of someone’s IVF experience. I put 12 such feature articles together and turned it into a book.
Once I’d written one 85,000-word book, I knew I could do it. I then started research for my next non-fiction book, ‘Finding Love Again,’ and now I’ve just finished the first draft of my personal dream goal – to write a fiction novel.
Once I read Stephen King’s philosophy and my self-talk changed, it all became quite do-able. Thanks Mr King!
Remember, if 1,000 words, 5 days a week isn’t achievable for you right now, don’t sweat it. Choose what’s do-able for you – every writer no matter how time poor could do at least 500 words a week. Do you think you could do 1,000 words a week consistently? Give it a crack.
Carolyn Martinez is an author and editor. She likes good music, good wine and good company. Her latest pursuit to keep the creative vibes alive is learning Egyptian drumming.