Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Advice for Young Writers: Be Disciplined

So, I know I'm not really in any position to give advice - I'm not a published author, and I don't have much experience in the world of agents/querying. But I think this blog needs something more than me rambling about my personal life. Therefore, I've decided to do a weekly post with advice for aspiring writers, mainly teenagers.

Discipline is one of the most important assets a writer can have. For novelists in particular, being able to work long hours is really the only way to ever see a book through to completion. I write quickly; I can punch out a first draft in 2-3 months, writing for an average of three hours a day, and it is this level of discipline that has allowed me to finish so many manuscripts.

My advice is to find what works for you. Me, I'm a very organized person, so when I start a book I like to draw up a schedule for writing/revisions. I estimate how many words the manuscript will turn out to be, then plan to write 1,500 words a day six days a week. If I don't reach my goal I have to write more the next day. It may seem harsh, particularly when shouldering a school schedule full of AP and IB classes, but if I don't force myself to reach my goals the work never gets done.

In addition to scheduling, I use a reward system to help me focus on what I have to do. This usually involves either food or TV. Cream cheese frosting is my weak spot; I'll eat my way through an entire tub, particularly during the revision process. Rewrites can be a stressful, harrowing experience, and comfort food serves as a yummy (albeit unhealthy) way to kick my ass into gear. I'm also a huge fan of TV on DVD (Buffy, Grey's, Private Practice, Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, Bones, you name it) and once I get into a show, it's hard to stop watching (especially since our family got Netflix). I've tried to use this to my advantage: for every hour I write, I get to watch one episode of my latest TV favorite. Obviously this exact system isn't going to work for everyone. We all have different tastes, hobbies, and guilty pleasures, but the principle can be applied to pretty much anything. If you feel like you don't have the energy to write, give yourself a reward for finishing so many words/pages/hours.

Discipline is everything. You can be the most talented young author in the world, but that's not going to help if you can't put in the long hours required to finish a novel. It's hard. At times you want to rip your hair out or punch somebody in the face. But if you can push through, if you can force yourself to practice even when you don't feel like it, you'll eventually succeed. And trust me, the payoff will be worth it.

16 comments:

  1. Great advice. I wrote my first draft during my last 2 years of college. I created a schedule that worked around my full course load and my part-time job. I rewarded myself with Starbucks.

    Also, I'm glad I'm not the only one who eats frosting straight out of the container!

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  2. Oh I do it all the time. Once my metabolism slows down I'll be in trouble...

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  3. True, true. No matter what the process, the main thing is to go by Jane Yolen's advice: Butt in the chair, heart on the page.

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  4. This is very good advice, Kate!

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  5. But you've already accomplished more than most teenagers. Advise away! And what very good advice, Kate. Discipline has its purpose in just about everything - in writing, more so.

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  6. This is so inspiring. Thanks! BTW, when you write a novel, do you just hammer it out and write the first words that comes to your m ind or do you pause and think about what you're going to write? I'm just curious. Thanks.

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  7. Hi Anonymous,

    I'm definitely a planner when it comes to writing. I make extensive chapter-by-chapter outlines, character sketches, and notes before I even start the first draft, and I often spend a lot of time hammering out a paragraph until it sounds right. Still, I know a lot of authors who just pound out a draft before going back to edit. Different methods work for different people :).

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  8. Do you write while listening to music?

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  9. On occasion...I'm a huge multi-tasker, so sometimes I even watch TV while writing.

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  10. What happened to the weekly advice? :( I always love to read what you have to say on writing. It really helps.

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  11. Jen,

    Thanks! I've actually been really, really sick for the past two weeks, so I've pretty much spent all my spare time sleeping. Not to worry, the advice posts will be back soon! Thanks again for reading.

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  12. Kate,


    Aww, I hope you feel better!

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  13. Thanks! I am feeling much better this week :)

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  14. Kate, and I thought I was the only one who watched TV while writing. Especially when editing. Yuck, or when writing nonfiction, boring...


    Love your web site,

    Carolyn

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  15. Thanks for the reminder - you're really someone I could learn a lot from. I never write as much as I should, often because I get stuck with outlining. But this year I resolve to change. I really have to.

    Discipline, Nick, discipline.

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