So, the season is turning, the kids are back to school and the stationery sections in shops are looking particularly lovely and alluring… Yes, it’s the start of the autumn term and for many writers it’s accompanied by a rush of energy and a renewed desire to get back to their writing.
This drive to create afresh and to crack on with writing projects at the start of a new academic year is a wonderful, and highly positive thing. It most likely stems from childhood and all those years of back-to-school moments, as well as the onset of autumn. The death of summer makes us more introspective; the fading daylight and encroaching cold encourages us to seek the warm indoors and get cosy with our writing.
However, before you actually dive into a new writing project, just pause for a moment and have a think about what you want to achieve over the next few months. Careful planning, accompanied by writing down your goals on paper, can make a huge difference to the outcome of the project. And if you struggle to finish your writing projects, then it could help to ensure that you stay on track and get to The End.
“Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement. Think on paper and write them down!”
So, by all means treat yourself to some sparkly new stationery, but then crack it open and actually use it. Write down all that you’d like to achieve writing-wise in the run-up to Christmas (consider including NaNoWriMo in your plans too – it can be another helpful boost to get you across the first draft finishing line). If you look at your list and realize that you’re being either a bit too ambitious or vague, then either pare it down or become more precise in your goals. If you need/would like to earn some money from your writing then run a couple of cost/benefit calculations on each project you’re considering embarking on. It’ll help to eliminate the ones that won’t be of financial benefit. But if the question of whether to write for love or money isn’t a key concern then home in on the projects that you feel most passionately about; the idea being that the passion you feel for the project will help to drive and sustain you through the rather less romantic process and sometime tedious process of, you know, actually getting words down on the page.
After you’ve set your goals, break them down into manageable chunks. For example, if your goal is to write a first draft of an approximately 80,000 word novel before the manic Christmas season then if we say, roughly speaking, that there are 100 days in the coming term then you’ll have to write 800 words a day. Basically, the length of a short blog post. Totally doable. For some people that would only be about one hour’s worth of writing, for others, it may be closer to two, maybe three hours. For those of you who aren’t novel writing, but perhaps editing an already-written novel or writing short stories or poems or doing whatever other wonderful and weird project, you’ll be setting yourself slightly different goals.
Next comes the question of how to find that seemingly-impossible 1 – 2 hours per day. Early birds may well be happy to set the alarm clock an hour or two earlier; night owls might stay up that bit later to crack on with their block of writing. However, for those of us not willing to relinquish sleep, as well as being busy with the day job, looking after children, running a household or – shock horror – actually doing non-writing stuff, that means breaking down the two hours into two, three or four slivers. Train commutes, lunch breaks away from the office, waiting in cars to pick up kids from clubs, are all times in which you can increase your word count. Joanna Cannon wrote her acclaimed debut The Trouble With Goats and Sheep around her work as a psychiatrist. (Mostly in NHS car parks…)
If you’re feeling particularly in the back-to-school mode what may help to keep you focussed and on-track is a writing timetable. Get inspired by school timetables – remember all those tiny boxes that we had to fill with our assigned subjects? (‘PE’ and ‘RE’ were easy enough to fit in, but there was never enough room for ‘Geography’.) Why not do the same but for your writing? It’s easy enough to download a basic template and to fill it in with your daily “subjects”. You can go mad with the glitter pens and fill in your available slots of time with things like: ‘write 500 words of the novel’ or ‘edit chapter 2’ or ‘submit short story’ or ‘plan out essay’ depending on the kind and number of projects you have on the go.
But however you want to organize the next few months, the main thing is to make a note of your writing goals, figure out exactly what you want to do and make a realistic plan of how much you can achieve over the term. If you put in place that crucial piece to the finishing-creative-stuff puzzle and you ensure that writing becomes a daily habit, just like brushing your teeth, then at Christmas time you’ll be celebrating getting to The End as well as getting a chance to relax with the odd mince pie and mug of mulled wine.