By Isabel Dennis-Muir

Ever since I committed to Nanowrimo in November last year I have discovered a whole new side to my writing life.  Before November I was promising myself endlessly that I would write, yet managing very successfully to fill my days and weeks with everything other than writing.  I know that getting easily distracted is a common theme among writers of all levels of experience, from newbys through to those authors who have already reached starry heights.  It’s probably also the case that there are as many top tips for getting those words on the page as there are writers.  But here is how it has been for me…

A strange thing occurred during November – as I made myself write religiously every day I found my mind racing ahead with ideas for sub-plots and developments for my story.  It was as though the mere act of holding a pencil in my hand and having a nice empty notebook in front of me was enough to get those creative juices flowing so fast that there was always something in mind that just needed to be put on the page.  I had started my first novel during the last few months of my MA and had managed to get about 18,000 words done, but not much had happened with it for most of last year.  I’d thought plenty about it, but hadn’t done more than that.  I will admit that I hadn’t planned the whole story, so I was never quite sure how the plot would play out, or how it was going to end.  But once I was in my Nanowrimo headspace I found the ideas coming thick and fast and, although I didn’t manage to reach the ideal target of 50,000 for the month, I managed around 1500 words every day.  The month ended, but my daily writing routine continued.  As a result, I had completed the whole novel (around 80,000 words) by Christmas.  Joy!  Of course, there is still plenty of editing to do and restructuring, once I’ve had feedback from two wonderful AuthorLab friends who are critiquing it for me.

A while ago I wrote a blog post which likened short story writing to marathon training.  Well, following on from the athletic theme I would suggest that once I reached the end of November my new fascination with regular writing could be likened to the buzz that some runners talk about.  A few of my friends have taken up running and found that once they start they just have to get out there every day – whatever the weather – because it gives them such a high.

This was pretty much the way I felt at the end of November.  Having kept up the momentum through to Christmas I didn’t want to stop.  What next then?  Early last year I published a short story anthology Ivory Vellum. (You can read one of the stories via the STORIES tab on this website.) My husband suggested that I could take each of the stories in the anthology and move them on a step further.  Several people who had read the stories had said they would like to know what happened next, so this was the perfect challenge.

In early January I started to look at each story to see how I could develop it.  I drafted the first two ‘sequels’, but when I reached the third story I began to see real possibilities for extending it into much more than a short story sequel.  Ideas started to flow and I realised that I had enough there for a second novel.  This time, though, I wanted to plan.  I use Scrivener, which is a wonderful piece of software for writers (take a look at it here).  I planned my rough structure in Scrivener and then got writing, once again aiming for around 1500 words a day.  Before long I realised I was about 18,000 words into a new novel, with my regular writing habit still paying dividends.  This second novel is a new genre for me (crime/suspense) which means that, as well as the usual research, I want to read as many other novels in this genre as I can to get a good feel for what works.

So now is when the juggling starts!  The chances are I will go down the indie publishing route for both my novels and for my second short story anthology.  So here are the balls that will need to be juggled over the coming weeks and months:

  • Research new novel
  • Write new novel
  • Continue to write short stories
  • Edit and complete first novel
  • Investigate marketing and promotion opportunities
  • Read other novels in new genre
  • Keep learning about all things writerly!

I am also enjoying supporting my colleagues by reading through their work and providing feedback.  Then there is all the rest of life to fit in, like paid work, family, friends, chores and socialising – oh and exercise!

There are many wonderful websites and blog posts that provide a wealth of advice to authors, suggesting how to structure their day or week to make the most of any writing opportunities.  Some suggest using apps or online calendars, others recommend good old-fashioned wall planners.  Each of us will have a preference – you just need to find what works best for you.  Whichever method I use the most important thing for me will be to get some new words down every day.  I know that those words won’t be perfect, but once they are on the page then at least I have something to work with.  I can’t begin the all-important editing process until I have that first draft under my belt.

Perhaps you are just starting out on your writing journey and are still discovering what works for you.  If you haven’t already tried it, then have a go at setting yourself a daily target and getting those words down, come hell or high water.  Try it for a month and see whether you get the bug!

Do you have some useful writing tips to share?  Let us know by adding a comment below.




2 thoughts on “Juggling

  1. This was such a useful blog, Isabel. You’ve read my mind! I am still like you pre-NANOWRIMO. I aspire to have your new habits and motivation. I can never participate in the November novel writing event because every year I have an annual report to write at that time for a client and it takes up all my time and is crucial to my income. That’s not to stop me from turning another month of the year into my own novel writing month; but I would lack the camaraderie of knowing so many others were doing the same. For me, getting to a daily writing habit, now that my big annual report writing project is done, seems to work best when I take myself away from my home office, as lovely as it is, because that is where I do my business writing and I am surrounded by the temptation to do household tasks at the same time. So I go to a cafe with my laptop and that seems to bring my muse right to me, especially if I turn off wifi. The only novel I’ve managed to write and complete also depended on having a writer buddy, who would check in with me daily and practice tough love with me if needed, to egg me on. From reading Gretchen Rubin’s excellent book, Better than Before, about creating and maintaining habits, I’ve learned I’m an Obliger who does better with external accountability. I will drop everything to help a family member or friend before I put myself and my own goals first. So I am going to ask for that support more than ever–and The Author Lab is a good place to find it. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for your comments – you might like to explore ‘Camp Nanowrimo’, which runs for the month of April. It is pretty much the same set up as the November process, but you can form a ‘cabin’ with writing buddies and then you all encourage each other to keep up with the daily writing habit and watch your word count grow! Just google Nanowrimo and you will find the info you need. I hope you find it helps.


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