Structured or Free-Form? Techniques to Help You Write at Your Peak

The process of writing a novel, I don’t need to tell you, is an arduous one. Sure, that first chapter may have almost materialised by itself, and you could be thinking that this author business is less a job than it is a paid holiday. But then you get a few chapters in, your plotline is as all over the place as a particularly distracted dog on the beach, and your initial enthusiasm has been converted into a lethargy, apathy and indifference about the whole business.

So goes many a novelist’s writing journey. From bright beginnings of endless promise, the realities of authorship will, at one point or another, hit you like a tonne of bricks. So how do you go about keeping the wind in your sails when the writing breeze isn’t blowing?

Prioritise Writing

If writing is last on your to-do list, you’ll never get to it. It’ll lay forlornly at the bottom, underneath ‘clean out the gutters’* and ‘polish the silverware’, until the day you die. If you’re serious about it, you’ll make time for it in place of things like odd jobs and leisure time. Just ensure that it doesn’t find itself above ‘pick the kids up from school’ or ‘give my deathly ill dog his medication’.

*Damonza recommends that you regularly clean out your gutters, particularly in fire-prone areas.

Identify Your Golden Hour

Most people will have a period of the day in which they’re at their most productive. It could be early in the morning. It could be late in the evening. It could be somewhere in the middle. Experiment with writing at different times in the day, and try to capitalise on this golden hour as much as you possibly can.

Making Writing a Habit

Like going to the gym or organising your work day, habit can make any potentially taxing task an integral part of your day. Forming a habit will mean that if you don’t write on a particular day, you can feel uneasy and eager to start typing. Writing will become its own reward.

To form yourself a healthy, non-Trainspotting writing addiction, follow this simple plan:

  •         Find that golden writing hour, and ensure that it’s set aside for putting pen to paper.
  •         Make a goal to write a certain number of words within that timeframe every day.
  •         Incentivise hitting that goal, with a little treat to yourself if the target is met.
  •         Write even if writing is the last thing you feel like doing (freewriting is a great option in this situation).

Surround Yourself with Inspiration

Do you find that nothing gets those fingers firing like the layered whimsy of Enya? Is nature your muse, the tweeting of birds and the swaying of branches offering up endless inspiration? Perhaps the combination of LSD and Disney Magic Eyes are more your style. No judgement here – different strokes for different folks.

Whatever floats your writing boat, immerse yourself in it during your writing sessions.

Remove All Distraction

Perhaps you’re the type that writes better by hermetically sealing yourself off from any sights and sounds rather than surrounding yourself with inspiration. Either way, it’s a good idea to remove any distractions that aren’t writing related; your phone, the TV, the dog.

More difficult is keeping yourself on the straight and narrow while you’re on your computer. You’ll likely need to do some form of research online while you’re writing. Next thing you know you’ve fallen down the YouTube rabbit hole and you’re watching a man eat 87 Spongebob stickers in an alley. Utilities like Write or Die can provide a fun way to challenge yourself to stay on task.

Go in with a Plan

While writing may feel like the ultimate in liquid, free-form and laissez-faire expression, the truth is that most writing jobs can be laid out as a sequence of doable tasks. Less sexy, I know. But as nice as whimsical and relaxed approach is, it’s not particularly conducive to gettin’ shit done.

Planning out these tasks is a sure-fire way to boost your writing productivity. You want some hot planning tips? I’ll give you some hot planning tips.

  •         Set achievable, measurable goals, and be sure to hit them.
  •         Divide your writing project up. Don’t think of it as a mountain to climb, but a series of steps.
  •         Create a game plan – an ordered set of tasks that directs your attention to the things that matter.
  •         Set firm dates for milestones. One of the best ways to do this is to set the due date, and work backwards to set each milestone completion date so that you meet the deadline.

Your mother has always said that you’re a unique and precious flower. The being the case, some of these techniques may work for you, others may not, and the ideal formula for peak writing productivity will change from author to author.

But those who work hard to find their formula will enjoy working more efficiently at completing their novel, leaving more time for them to clean their gutters for goodness sake they’re a serious fire hazard.

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