I get asked this question at least once a month on Tumblr, so I figure it might be time to write something on the topic.
In the last 28 months, I have written about 1.3 million words. That’s approximately 1.6k words a day, every day. Some of those are well-considered, heavily edited, 7th draft-type words, others are just words like I’m writing now: for fun. In that 28 months, I’ve released 3 long novel-length stories (at 130k, 260k, and 280k words each), I’m 80k words into my fourth story, and I’ve written dozens and dozens of one-shots. Sure, some of them are total crap (hopefully fun and entertaining crap!), but I think my track record for writing intimidating amounts of fiction is fairly well established.
So, people who’ve been following me for some time and know I also have two other fairly demanding jobs sometimes ask ‘How the fuck do you do that?’. And as much as I’d like to tell you that it’s a piece of cake, I do it in my sleep, I love my craft, yadda yadda, that’s not really the truth.
Here’s the raw truth: there are no short-cuts, it’s fucking hard work. There are tricks I use to make the hard work less painful, though. Here’s a few of them.
I treat my writing like a regular job
In Australia, people get 10 sick days a year. That means every other work day, you need to get out of bed and show up, even if you don’t feel like it. No one says, ‘I just don’t feel inspired to process these receipts’ or ‘I just feel like I’m not in the right headspace to run my staff pays today’, do they? That’s because you know those things need to be done and so you just do them. I treat my writing exactly the same way
Do I feel like writing about Min hating himself? Hell no! I’m in a great mood today. Do I need to write it in order to progress the chapter that’s due next week? Yes, I do. I just need to suck up my ‘I’m not motivated!’s and ‘I don’t feel like it!’s and just do it.
I sit in front of the computer. I open a Word document. I put my fingers to the keyboard and force myself to write, just like I’d force myself to do any job I needed to do.
You’ll be interested to know that despite sometimes needing to drag myself kicking and screaming to the keyboard, my readers remain completely unable to tell which chapters I hated and had to force myself to write.
I set myself hard deadlines
From my many years of writing (and reading!) fanfic, what I learnt is that people like stories that update frequently and on a regular schedule. If you update sporadically, you get messages asking what’s going on, when’s the next update, are you continuing, etc, etc. I also found that when I updated on a predictable schedule and often, I lost less readers per chapter. In fact, updating regularly made my readership steadily grow, regardless of the length of the story.
The incentive not to lose readers is a really strong one that compels me to update regularly, so every time I’m tempted to push out that deadline, I need to ask myself how many readers I want to lose. How many people will get out of the habit of reading this story and abandon it if I don’t update this week?
I also made tough promises in my Kickstarter that I would update every week (or advise where something came up) and that was part of the deliverables for my project. People gave me money based on this promise, which gives me very strong incentive not to let people down.
Here’s my update history on Flesh & Blood:
And because of that, here is what the readership does:
That’s the day and time I release new updates every week: 6% of my readership is waiting and refreshing the page for when I post a chapter. Not letting those people down is strong incentive to update on time!
Basically, I set things up and do everything possible so that people expect me to update at a particular time on a particular day. This way I feel more guilty and more uncomfortable about not living up to that expectation. Deadlines work really well to motivate me to focus, concentrate and get writing.
I break projects down into manageable portions
My stories are long. Writing 280k sounds like a very daunting exercise, doesn’t it? Well, it is. I still hold Under My Skin in my hands (which tests my biceps, seriously), and I can’t believe I wrote a book that long. But when I consider that I write 7-12k words a week on average – that’s 1k-1.6k words a day – it’s much easier to get my head around. 1k words a day is something that anyone, even someone without much experience at writing, is able to do.
I post a chapter a week, and over 9 months, this pulls together into a story. So 1k words today might be your novel tomorrow!
I write because I have something to say
And finally: I imagine it would be hard to write 1.3 million words of shit I didn’t care about. It’s much easier to motivate myself to hit the keyboard when I know there’s something important that I want to communicate with people. Transgender issues, lesbian issues, queer issues: I have things to say about these topics that I haven’t read anywhere else.
I’m writing because I wish these stories had been available for me to read when I was dealing with some tough identity issues, and I want them to be available to other people who are struggling.
So, what are you waiting for?
If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously interested in writing. Chances are you’re interested in writing because there’s this one story you’ve been thinking about starting, yeah? Well, this the universe giving you that sign you’ve been waiting for: write that story. Start now. Open that Word document, start planning it. Write it, publish it, and drop me a note to let me know when you’re finished if any of my tips helped you finally get there!