Best advice ever

I received the best writing question today from one of my Twitter followers. @ShortT318 wrote:

Ms. @Icess How do you slay dragons with your pen? How do I keep myself from stopping on writing a story or article?

I get this question often and I’m a bit of an expert in it. See, I also run into this problem—so many ideas and so little time. I start and then I move on to the next idea even though I hadn’t finished the first one. It’s a thing I think most writers do. It comes from having so much love for what you do and/or you are scared that you won’t get around to writing all the ideas that come to your head.

During my reporting days, that was always something I was never a fan of – the story ideas that never got done. I had lists upon lists and file folders sitting on my desk with ideas that were so good that it made me daydream of the movie that would be made of me writing it. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but you know what I mean. Good ideas. You want to work on them all the time.

But here’s the thing, @GoodKidRachetCity and other writers, you will always have the ideas, you will drown in them, but know that the best ones will always find a way to the light.

Ah, but I haven’t answer the question yet—how to finish your writing project? Here’s what I do and I hope it helps all my writers out there.

What is it that you are actually writing?

There are different strategies for different types of writing. For articles/some blogposts, I use the “hard write” technique if I’m finding myself sluggish and deadline is looming. For articles, after I’ve already reported, I start with the quotes. I chose the ones I really want or know need to be in my article, then I write the transitions, then the nut graph(s), and then the lede. After all that, I read it to make sure it makes sense. This is the revision part, the part when I make sure sentences are complete and make sense, words are spelled correctly, and that the article is structurally sound and is the appropriate word/length count. It’s called a hard write because that’s what it is, the down and dirty part of writing this thing, the hard part. After you do the hard write a couple of times, you’ll have a tool in your tool belt and a technique to get things done.

Time, time, time

Here’s something that works well for blog posts and some short stories (like super short) and maybe a chapter or two. I set the egg timer for a certain amount of time and just race against the clock to get the post done. This was lovely when I did my own NaNoBloMo last year, writing a new post every day for two weeks (which turned into a month quickly). In the morning, I’d set my eggtimer for 30 minutes and write the post. However, I wouldn’t revise it until my lunch hour. By then my revision for the post would go quickly because the heavy lifting was already done. Then I would post and add the needed items – photo, links, etc – when I came home at night if I didn’t already post it at lunch time.

This is a technique I’ve talked about before being helpful for National Novel Writing Month. It’s the same basic concept except with blog posts and that pesky chapter you need to gain traction on.

Collecting string

This is a phrase that is used by some of the old school newspaper writers (of which I kinda consider myself to be one, if you can imagine that). Essentially, it’s a way to write lots of projects at the same time while still turning in something for the daily paper.

This is how it works. You collect the information you need for a story and set it aside in a file folder, or file on your computer, etc. During this time you’re still writing other things but for the bigger project or the project you can’t get to yet, you are saving the information that you need as you come across it. In fact you can start writing or interviewing, meantime you’re still writing other things. All the while you are saving these bits, i.e. collecting string. Once you have enough string, you can dedicate some time to finally putting it together. (It’s usually during this time that reporters go to their editors with an amazing budget line to sell it to them and therefore getting that precious day to one week to finish it. )

Writers who aren’t daily newspaper writers can do the same. In fact, I’m doing it now. While I’m finishing the first part of my short story, I’m researching the second part and beginning the novel that will be published next year, which I’ve been collecting string on. So how does that break down? The short will be completed and in revision in the next week. A file in my Scrivener program and a Pinterest board is helping me keep part two organized as I do online research and did a quick trip to Saint Louis. Meanwhile my novel, which I had been collecting string on since before this short story and is half way done, is ready for some dedicated time and will get it in about a week. Yup, that’s a lot of balls in the air.

Just sit down and finish

Above all else, the best technique is to just sit down and finish the thing. Find pockets of time. For example, I’m writing this post while at the beauty salon, under the drier. My laptop is on my lap, iTunes are playing in my ear, and my fingers are flying away at the keyboard. I knew I was going to be under this thing for at least an hour (ugh!) so I made sure I had something to fill my time and help me achieve my writing goals.

At this point you may be saying you don’t have time to get this done. Here’s some suggestions – get up an hour early, stay up an hour later, use your lunch time/break time, turn off the TV, don’t accept every invitation to go out, schedule dedicated writing time, plan a trip away to get some writing done.

There you have it, @@ShortT318 and all who aspire to write. There are your tips to “slay dragons with your pen daily”. Hope this helps!

Other writers, what tips do you have to manage your writing projects?


New look, focus for Writingtoinsanity.comIcess Fernandez Rojas is a writer, blogger, teacher, and journalist. Her commentary has appeared in The Guardian and on Huffington Post Latino Voices. Her fiction has been published in literary journals/anthologies such as Minvera Rising and Soul’s Road. She’s working on her first book and teaches fiction writing classes. Contact her or sign up to know more.