The most important thing about the writing industry is finishing a piece. If you haven’t finished a piece, you don’t have a piece to sell, and that means that you’re not a writer by trade. Even Russell T. Davies, on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – Screenwriters Special, said that a writer is someone who’s already finished a piece and is working on their next piece. That’s me. I’ve already finished one (The S Word – Brunch of Heroes), and am working on my next one (Mind Over Matter – Gravity of the Situation). And here’s what I’ve learned from my experience about how to finish a piece:
This is especially important if you live with other people. Writing in a controlled environment is one of the most underrated elements of writing for a living.Write with the door closed. Tell others when you’re writing, so they know when not to disturb you. Find what background noise to need to write. Mark Gatiss has said he needs absolute silence to write, which is likely the case for other writers. This is often the case for me. If I’m listening to music, I can’t properly engage with what my characters need, and the music I’m listening to influences the tone of what I’m writing beyond what it should be. That said, when I’m blogging (like now), I do listen to music, because writing a blog post is a different psychological principle to writing a script. As I write this section, I’m listening to the greatest song ever written, Radio Ga Ga by Queen. In this controlled environment, find a setup that works. Don’t write on paper if you don’t like handwriting, and don’t write on a touchscreen if you prefer hard-keyboards. Write with a software that you’re comfortable with. I use Celtx Online for scripts and Google Docs for prose. Once you control your environment, you can begin writing to your fullest potential. Writing is like meditating – you need to enter the right/write frame of mind.
This is also especially important for writers who write for a living. Stephen King once said that a writer should treat writing like any other profession in order to give the writing the respect it deserves. You need to show-up. You need to clock in. You write for the story, the story doesn’t write for itself. I like to write for four hours, take an hour break, and write for another three hours. This means- ideally, at least – that I’ve written for seven hours, leaving me with nine hours for relaxation. That’s when I have time to write these posts, and kick back by gaming. Writing to a timed schedule is of great benefit, because when you’re writing against a countdown, the pressure’s higher, and you write more over time. And the more you’ve written, the more you can edit, and make better.
These being emails, texts, messages, notifications – anything that can take your attention away from the writing. When I’m writing, I switch my Skype to Do not Disturb, and minimise and mute the three tabs for my Facebook and two email accounts. What’s the point in setting-up a controlled environment and writing to a schedule if you’re just going to allow yourself to be distracted by less important things?
Don’t always write
Which sounds counterproductive, but if you’re closing yourself off to people, working to a fixed schedule, and blocking communication, you’re not really living. These things are important to the writing, but the schedule exists to give you time to also not write, which you deserve if you can stick to a schedule so devotedly. Finishing a piece doesn’t mean working on it constantly; it may seem that way, but you’ll burn-out. You need time to wind-down, and to let the plot bunnies do their thing in the back of your mind. Writing doesn’t just happen, you can’t write from nothing – you need to gather plot and characters, and the only place you’re going to get that is from reality or fiction somebody else wrote. Both of those things are off-limits when you’re writing, so you need time to come down. I recently hit a plot snag that I couldn’t solve, so rather than trying to think of a solution in that moment, I indulged myself in other things, and eventually it came to me. The writer in you doesn’t always need you. That’s what down time is for.