I make no secret of the fact that I have a fantasy novel on the back-burner right now, but what I haven’t mentioned is that I’m struggling to find time to work on it. For me, writing a novel is an all-encompassing endeavour. I find myself disappearing into my imagined world, so it’s often difficult to balance writing and regular life.
With full-time jobs looming on the horizon, I recently decided to spend a week at my parent’s cabin near Lake Rosseau for an intensive writing retreat. In this post, I’d like to share some of the strategies I used to maximize my efficiency and give you some tips that I figured out through trial and error. Hopefully they’ll be helpful!
#1 — Brainstorm in Advance
Although I’m more than capable of quickly producing lots of writing, one thing I’ve always found impossible is brainstorming with a fixed timespan. True creativity comes to you on its own. It can’t be rushed. This is why I recommend doing all your major brainstorming in advance.
For me, this meant writing several pages of background on each of the major characters (and small paragraphs for the minor ones), drawing maps of the main locations, and plotting out the entire novel with the scenes jotted down on sticky notes. And these are just a few examples. This took several weeks—and it was only that quick because I’d been thinking about it for a while already. Make sure you have all the information you need as a backdrop to your story, before you start writing.
#2 — Schedule Your Week
Having a schedule or timetable is the best way to maximize your effectiveness once the writing actually starts. I recommend dividing your day up into time slots, with a target word count for each slot. Do a few practice runs and figure out how much you can reasonably produce in one hour (or whatever time increment you choose).
Also, give yourself designated break times and decide what you’re going to do during these breaks. I had some breaks set aside for meals, others for exercise. The point is to divert your attention for small stretches, so you don’t burn out. Cardio-intensive activities like swimming or running make good breaks, but something like yoga can also work. Taking a longer break after dinner to watch a movie or read a short story is also a great way to recharge your creative batteries! I tend to avoid reading novels while I’m writing, because I get distracted…
#3 — Figure Out Your Target Word Count
It’s always a good idea to go into the week with a target. Figure out what you can write in one time slot, then count up your slots and calculate a total. This is your aim for the week. I encourage you to round it up—it never hurts to be ambitious, but you should expect to fall short the first time. It takes practice to accurately gauge your productive capabilities and you’re unlikely to nail this right away. But if you overestimate, you won’t find yourself sitting around twiddling your thumbs!
I also found it helpful to ballpark the length of my novel in advance, using the word counts suggested in this article. Since I’d already planned out my entire storyline on sticky notes, I was able to figure out how many scenes would be in the book and how long the average scene would be (some will be longer, some shorter). You can worry about chapters and whatnot in later drafts. The point is to have a way to keep track of your progress, so you don’t feel like you’re lost at sea by the middle of the book.
#4 — Keep Writing
Any writer knows that sometimes you’re going to run into roadblocks—especially with a creative project. Maybe you discover that you need a scene that wasn’t originally planned. Maybe you realize that you’ve written something badly and you want to revise. Maybe you just can’t figure out how to finish a chapter as intended. Resist the urge to edit. Just keep going.
Personally, I find that writing and editing are two separate modes. Often I do both simultaneously, like when I’m working on a blog post. But if you’re writing a bigger piece, like a novel, this will only lead to a vicious cycle of re-editing. Remember: this is just the first draft. It doesn’t need to perfect. The time for editing will come. If you’re giving yourself a week to write, just stick to writing or you’ll slow yourself down.
Thanks for reading!