In 2006, I finished writing my fifth novel-length manuscript. This is before I went to Odyssey and before I graduated from Seton Hill. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to write so much. I do know I had fun and I learned–A LOT. I’m still doing both 🙂 Here is what I wrote down after I completed that fifth novel. More on that novel series later.

1. Set a schedule. For this book, I found myself writing starting at around 6 p.m. from Thursday-Sunday. Most nights consisted of four to five hour writing blocks and I usually went to bed around 11 p.m. If I was good, I got about 5,000 words in a night. Bad nights were 1,000. So, when people ask me how I finished writing this book so fast, think about the math…5,000 words x 4 nights =20,000 words a week. And there were some nights where I passed my goal. I found that by having a schedule, my body knew right away what day it was and what it had to do–kind of like how you always wake up at a certain time even on weekends or something. It has its own alarm.

2. Take a break. Sitting in front of my computer for five hours is not so much fun. I usually get up to use the bathroom, change the CD, make some tea, things like that. But, I don’t mean take a mental break. You’re writing. Remain in the story. I usually walk away from my computer and fall on my bed and stare at my ceiling as the story continues to breath inside my mind. Then I get recharged and go back to typing.

3. Listen. Writing is a very lonely act. Oh, so very lonely. So, don’t be surprised when you start talking to yourself…or your characters. When that happens, listen. They usually have something very important to tell you, and in the end, just thank them and move on in the story.

4. Be your number one fan. Who else is going to root for you? And see what I posted in #3–writing and solitude go hand in hand. So go ahead, squeal with glee when you write some snappy dialogue, when your story all of a sudden just seamlessly connects, and especially when you write the words: The End.

5. Reward yourself. Whenever I reach a certain goal, usually a word count, I do things to reward myself. I eat ice cream, buy something nice for myself, go see a movie, play in Photoshop, surf the internet, and I say a prayer of thanks because I really do feel blessed for being introduced to these characters and to their world. Hey, maybe that itself is a reward.

6. Have fun. Sometimes writing can be a tiresome task. You may not want to write today, but you need to in order to keep the story from going stale. So, make yourself actually look forward to sitting down and writing again. I usually end a section in the middle of the scene so when I go back I get right back in the situation. Like if I stop on Sunday and I’m not going to open up the document until Thursday, that’s three days where I hadn’t even looked at the story so when I go back, I do a read-through of what I wrote earlier and soon, I’m right back where I was last week.

7. The little things do count. One sentence, one gesture, one characteristic–if you’re proud of it, show it. Sometimes I’m just typing along and then all of a sudden this word or sentence just jumps out at me and I need to pause and read it again because I’m so proud of it. It’s hard to not get emotionally involved with the story, but when you realize your words are alive and affecting you in such a profound way, you know you’re doing your job as a writer. So, appreciate the big and little things that come your way.

8. Be prepared to be unprepared. Even if you think you have an idea on where the story is going, think again. The characters will want you to do something different. A new plot will emerge. And that idea you had at the start of the story will be gone or maybe it will want to change into something bigger and better. Go with it (it’s sometimes better to trust this instinct) but don’t forget that you’re the one in charge. Arm yourself with a pen and lots of notebook paper.

9. Lose yourself…for a moment. If you have a story to tell, you have to realize that story comes first. You have to say no to spending time with friends, you have to hang up on phone calls, disconnect from the internet, shut off the television. In my case, you may just lose a lot of sleep because even if you turn off the lights and the computer, the story/characters are still buzzing with life inside your head. So, hope that your loved ones understand you when you tell them you’re writing a book. They might not see you or talk to you for awhile, but it’s going to be worth it when you come out of isolation.

10. Learn. I know I said writing is a lonely act, but there are plenty of writers out there who understand what the writing process is all about. Learn from them. It wasn’t until I started writing this book that I started to search for resources. I’ve stumbled upon a lot of writing blogs and communities and they make me feel less alone I guess. Not only should you learn from others, but you must also learn from yourself. Writing forces you to look inside yourself and trust me, there are some things you would rather want to stay hidden, but it’s that choice to let yourself go that truly reveals the power in your writing. To put in simply: your writing will teach you something. Also, writing is a never-ending learning process. Yup, it is.