All my life I have written stories. Well let me restate that, all my life I have thought about stories. For as far back as I can remember, I had all these stories mapped out in my head and I knew exactly how I wanted them to play out, but unfortunately I never wrote more than a couple thousand words for any of it. That is, until recently. In the last 4 months, I have written about half of my very first novel that will total 100,000+ words. And now that I am finally regularly writing I thought that I could maybe help the countless other would-be writers out there. So to the question at hand: How can you start writing? AND continue to write?
How many of you are familiar with the Prochaska and Di Clemente's transtheoretical stages of behavior change? This theory states that humans go through specific steps on their way to changing their behavior (i.e. writing). Now I suppose you are wondering why I’m even talking about this. The stages of behavioral change can be very easily applied to any behavior that a person wants to change and in our case this means writing. Not only does the theory describe the stages of change but it also shows how to move from one stage to the next. In layman’s terms, this model can show you how to get off your butt and start writing!
FIRST STAGE: NOT THINKING ABOUT WRITING
Definition: Pre-contemplation is just a fancy way of saying that someone is not thinking about changing their behavior (I.e. they’re not writing and not thinking about it either).
Most writers I know are not in this stage of behavior change (they at the very least they are thinking about writing). If you’re anything like me, your thoughts are never far from your stories. Most writers, I know, are in the second stage of change: contemplation.
SECOND STAGE: THINKING ABOUT WRITING
Definition: Contemplation is the stage where a person is thinking about changing their behavior (i.e. thinking about the stories they want to write, how they will plot them, who their characters are). The catch here is that a person can stay in this stage indefinitely, meaning that a person can think about writing ALL THEIR LIFE and NEVER actually write.
I don’t know about you, but that is freaking depressing. So how do you get out of that rut? YOU have to make the decision to make the change. You have to make an assessment of the costs and benefits of this behavior change (and the benefits have to outweigh the costs or you’ll never adopt the new behavior).
COSTS:Cost does not simply mean monetary demands, although that can factor in too. No the costs of adopting a new behavior have to deal with anything that a person has to give or sacrifice to change their behavior.
1. TIME – The largest cost to starting writing is TIME. Time, if you are like most people, you have it and don’t even know it. Let’s do some simple math. There are 24 hours in a day. On average a person works 8 hours and is recommended to sleep 8 hours (probably a lot less for most). Factor in about 2 hours for getting ready for work and commute you have six hours left. Let’s subtract another 2 hours for meals and cleaning (for those clean freaks out there). Let me just say that I am being VERY generous with the time allotments. Now we have 4 HOURS LEFT WITH NOTHING TO DO. These 4 hours has actually been accounted for by statisticians. Anybody care to guess what we, as Americans, do during this time? We watch TV, surf the internet, and basically piddle around doing nothing. I’m not going to be Fun-Nazi and say that you should use all 4 hours to write, but I think you could, at the very least spare 1 hour. This brings us to the only other cost to consider.
2. FEAR OF REJECTION - Fear can be a great motivator, but it can also be a great inhibitor. As a writer, I flux between thinking I’m the greatest writer of my generation to thinking that I am the most inept human being in all of creation. In truth, I live in the latter belief more often than not. How about you? Don’t think anybody will want to read your book? Think you are terrible story teller who should have never been taught to draw words on a page? Ok, well let’s take a step back. I don’t know about you but the some of the stories I think about have been with me for years. I have thought about every detail and cannot shake it from my mind. I don’t know about you, but if I can’t shake a story after 7 years then it’s about time to write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper. Who cares if no one is going to read it? If you want to write it, then write it! There are plenty of terrible books that surprisingly have found audiences (*cough* Sparkly Vampires *cough*). Don’t let self-doubt eat you up! Write that book you have been thinking about for years, before you go crazy ;-)
*Also, with the new opportunity to self publish it is virtually impossible to have your material rejected!!!
BENEFITS:1. FEAR OF AN UNFULFILLED LIFE – I’m going to get a bit morose for a moment, so please excuse me. The older I get the more people I know die. They die with unfulfilled dreams and expectations. How would it make you feel to die without ever having finished even one book? I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty freaking depressed. I think fear can be a pretty great motivator. In this case, I’m talking about the fear of wasting your life away! And if this starts you to writing then you will gain the next benefit.
2. PRIDE – Have some pride in yourself! How do you do that? By actually doing something, that’s how. Think about when you get older and look back on your life. What is going to make you prouder? That you finished the entire 6 seasons of Lost? Or that you wrote that story?
3. MONETARY GAIN – I think that most will agree with me when I say that if you are writing novels in the hopes of becoming wildly rich, then 9 out of 10 of you will be sorely mistaken. That being said, writing doesn’t cost much. I mean, sure you will have to spring for an editor, maybe some cover art, and there are ways of promotion that cost nothing at all, but in the whole scheme of it all, you are writing, in your leisure, at no cost to you except that you miss some of your 4 hours of media time. The new creation and ease of self publishing on global markets has all but ensured that your book is likely to sell at least a little. So while the cash flow may not be grand, it will still be there.
So do the benefits outweigh the costs? Yes? Well on to the next stage, which is often the most overlooked and is considered by many to be the most important stage.
THIRD STAGE: PREPARING TO WRITE
Definition: The most-overlook but highly important stage of mapping out how you will adopt the new behavior.
This stage is often the most overlooked and underestimated stage in changing your behavior. Often when a person decides that they want to change their behavior they just jump into it head-first. Now while I appreciate and understand the enthusiasm, this approach does not readily lead to you maintaining your new behavior (i.e. ignoring this step does not help you to continue to write).
So before you start, sit down and make a plan of what and when you want to write. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as determining what time and where you are going to write every day. (*Writing every day makes the seemingly insurmountable task of writing a novel manageable.*) To a more complicated plan, which is what I did.
What I did:
1. Mapped out my plot and bulleted the most important scenes that I know I want to be in the book.
2. Delegate which scenes I wanted to write first.
3. Determine what time and for how long I want to write for each day.
4. Determine how many words I am going to write each week or month. (*THIS IS EXTREMELY HELPFUL*)
Now the plan has been created the time for writing and story-crafting is upon us!
FOURTH STAGE: ACTUALLY WRITING
Definition: Engaging in the new behavior.
The fourth stage is action, but in a smart way. In other words, you need to make your writing into a habit. It is time to write and there a few points you should consider:
1. TURN OFF THAT MOVIE/TV SHOW/FACEBOOK/ETC. – If it is the time in the day you said you would write then turn off all distractions! And sit in front of that blank page, even if you don’t want to! Time for tough love! Sit yourself down in front of the page and placate yourself with the knowledge that it will only be for a short hour.
2. DON’T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION – Stop blaming writer’s block for your lack of writing! Write! Write anything! I’m guessing that you have an idea of what you want to happen in your plot. Right? Well start writing it down! Yes, it will probably be rough and not very eloquent at first, but God bless editing! This isn’t an essay test that you have to turn into a teacher. No this is simply putting your story on paper. So write!
3. READ – Read other books on your down time. Without realizing it you will start to see how others construct their stories. All of a sudden you’ll start having opinions of your own writing. You’ll see story constructs that you’ll love and hate. Either way, it will inspire you. (*Also, if you are writing for a specific genre, then read books out of that genre. See what is popular. See what sells!*)
4. TIME - Write everyday at the appointed time and don't filch! If you do this each day then eventually it will become a habit.
Now that you are writing, how do you make sure that you continue to do so? Well let’s move onto the next stage to see.
FIFTH STAGE: CONTINUING TO WRITE
Definition: Making a habit of the new behavior.
Now we are down to the nitty-gritty; the great mystery of how to continue to write. The following are the points that I keep me writing (and yes I will be repeating some things.)
1. HAVE A WORD COUNT GOAL – Whether it is weekly or monthly, have a word count goal. This will help you to not get overwhelmed in the onerous task of writing a novel. Yes, you may have only written 8,000 words this last month, but that is how much you wrote the month before and in a novel of 90,000 words you are a fifth of the way through!
2. REWARD or PUNISH YOURSELF – We are outcome oriented creatures. We respond to rewards and punishments in adopting new behaviors. If you have set a goal, but do not reinforce your behavior then that goal means nothing. Did you meet your half-way goal for your book? Yes? Then go out to eat! Buy yourself a gift! No? Then don’t join friends to go out on the town. Stay at home and write more.
3. BE ACCOUNTABLE – Find someone in your life that is willing to read your weekly/monthly installments. (Or even better find someone who will write with you (so that both of you are kept accountable to one another!)) Not only will this help you continue to write, but this can offer fresh eyes and perspectives to a story that may be growing old to you.
4. WRITE DIFFERENT PARTS – You don’t have to write a story from beginning to end. Instead, write the sections that inspire you the most at the moment. This way you can avoid growing stagnant through the more boring connecting parts of your story.
5. LOVE YOUR SUBJECT MATTER – This point is straight forward enough. If you want to write a novel, remember that is up to 100,000 words of material. You damn well better like what you are writing or be ready to just stop what you are doing now.
6. DON’T THINK ABOUT THE READER’S OPINION (at least not yet) - Remember that you as a writer are your own worst enemy. Stop questioning how others will view your writing and just keep writing. The point is to put the words on the page. After you have finished and when the editing has begun, then you can think of what your audience will think. Just get it done first!
7. THINK OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT - Just keep thinking of that finished book. Keep thinking of finishing your first freaking novel! Get encouraged! You can do it if you buckle down and do it!
AVOID THE MUCH FEARED SIXTH STEP: RELAPSE
The threat of relapsing into your previous behavior is ever present. That is why you have to maintain your writing constantly. YOU need to make it a habit: write every day (you have time!) and meet your word count goal. YOU and no one else can do this!!!