Today’s guest post is by Tara East.
Our lives are busy and they’re just getting busier. We’re desperate for tips about time management, scheduling, prioritization, and optimization. We want life hacks and shortcuts. Technology has eliminated some of the tedious domestic tasks that consumed our time and zapped our energy, yet we’re still complaining about being time poor and exhausted.
These days, we expect more from life and ourselves, but creatives can find this approach rather distressing.
A schedule is a great way to see the week ahead at a glance. And time blocking can help you set realistic goals and expectations, especially once you start allotting time to the things that matter: writing, work/study, exercise, and leisure.
But time management, tight scheduling, deadlines, and optimization tactics can quickly become problematic, because—let’s face it—there is nothing efficient about creating art.
While maintaining a weekly schedule may better your chances of completing big goals and reaching deadlines, it is also important that you hold these guidelines lightly.
After all, how else will the muse find you?
If you’ve been on the productivity hamster wheel for a while now, the idea of slowing down and taking your time may feel perplexing or even frustrating. But if you give yourself the permission to slow down and to daydream, you never know what literary gold your subconscious may dig up.
Give Yourself Permission to Wander
Think of a schedule as a trail map. It can lead you up the mountain, but it’s also important that you pay attention to your immediate surroundings. If you spot a narrow path through the bushes, give yourself permission to wander along that alternative route. Who knows? You may find another, even better view.
If you typically write following a strict outline, consider putting the outline in a drawer and freewriting awhile.
Maybe you have a character from a previous scene who you found really interesting and you’d like to spend a little more time with. Maybe there’s a romantic subplot you need to flesh out, even if it’s only for your understanding of how or why these two characters find each other attractive.
Not everything you produce has to be publishable, and not everything you produce is going to get published. So why not take some time to write a scene with a minor character who has piqued your interest. Sometimes these relaxed exercises can spark new ideas that do become relevant to the larger project.
Good art doesn’t have to take a long time, but it often does.
For some, writing is an act of perseverance and constant dissatisfaction. For others, it is joyful and energizing. The thing that connects these two points of view is discipline—because good art takes time.
Although you may studiously research and construct a careful outline before you start writing, the truth is we often don’t know what we are doing until we start actively engaging with the project.
People may not think that writing is a tactile act, but it is. Planning and outlining is helpful, but we often can’t “see” our story until we’re actually writing it.
Rather than following a strict outline, we can instead allow our feelings and our sense of what we are trying to accomplish to tow us toward the watery image contained in our mind’s eye. It is through the act of writing that this image gathers shape, constructing its own body, and, consequently, a will of its own.
Let the Story Take the Lead
It’s important to hold your outline and intentions for a novel lightly, because a story can have a mind of its own.
Some authors work tediously on an outline that they then follow to a T; others may mentally map out their entire plot ahead of time so that their writing sessions feel more like dictation rather than creation.
An alternative approach is to let the story come out as it wants to come out.
Outlines are useful and they can save you a lot of time, but if you’ve been a reader for a long time, then you already have an innate understanding of narrative structure.
Have confidence in your subconscious and in your story.
Sometimes it’s helpful to open your document and let the story tell you where it wants to go. Switch off your analytical mind and allow the next scene to occur organically.
When we create from a relaxed state, we often come up with better ideas or notice previously unseen connections. You may get the sudden idea to bring back a minor character from an earlier chapter, or a previously unseen plot hole may come to your attention.
If freewriting isn’t your style, you can always spend five minutes constructing a mini-outline prior to starting your writing session. That way, you have a general idea of where you’re going, but you’ve also allowed space for spontaneity.
It’s okay to take your time during the revision process.
Words that are easy to read are rarely easy to write. So take your time to think and write slowly.
Revise your manuscript in layers so that each pass has a specific purpose. Often, a first draft is primarily concerned with plot. Ask yourself:
- What are the story beats?
- What is happening here, to whom and why?
- Is this event moving the plot forward, showing character or adding flavor to the narrative?
Later revisions can then focus on other story elements such as character arcs, mood, theme, symbols, voice/style, tension, and pace.
Again, give yourself permission to approach this part of the writing process slowly. After all, there are few areas in life where we allow ourselves to be slow.
While the practice of slow writing is at odds with the current work culture, it is vital that creatives give themselves the permission to approach their art at a pace and within a time frame that suits both them and their current writing project.
Good art takes time, so don’t be afraid to slow down and meander. Chances are the final product will be all the better for it.
Tara East holds numerous academic degrees in journalism and creative writing. Her nonfiction pieces have appeared The Cusp, The Huffington Post, Queensland Writers Centre and The Artifice. Her fiction has been published in October Hill magazine and TEXT journal. In 2017, she was shortlisted for The New England Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Fiction.