Award-winning novelist Megan Bradbury shares an action plan for aspiring writers, including tips for scheduling your writing time, working at your own pace, and feeding your imagination.
Schedule your writing time
Whether you plan to write every day or just for an hour or two every week, make sure you schedule your writing sessions ahead of time. Write them down in your calendar and stick to the times and dates you have set out. Protect this time. Don’t let anything encroach on it – not other work, family duties, or social commitments. You’ll find that once you start to protect your writing time, it will become second nature.
Prepare for this time
It’s important that when you finally get round to sitting down to write that you use the time you have as efficiently as possible. This means preparing for this time in advance. Consider beforehand what you will do and use any small units of time you have before the session to prepare for it. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have allocated. An hour, for instance, might be long enough to sketch out a scene, or edit a few pages, but most likely won’t be long enough to redraft a full story. Part of your preparation might involve research reading or preparing for research reading (organizing reading lists or notes, for instance). Whatever you intend to work on, make sure that you have completed all preparatory tasks so that when you sit down you are ready to go.
Work in a way that suits you
Writing is physically and emotionally demanding. You need to learn to pace yourself. It can be helpful to break down the process into manageable tasks. How you do this will depend upon your writing process. It’s usually helpful to separate writing sessions from editing sessions, for instance, and to think about which activity you have energy for. You might want to write during sessions when you have more energy, and review and edit work when you’re feeling less energetic or more contemplative (or vice versa). Think about what your physical needs are. Co-ordinating your writing tasks around your menstrual cycle, for instance, can be helpful. Whatever your cycle is, work with it. Don’t work to anyone else’s schedule. Think about your own individual needs.
‘Whatever your cycle is, work with it. Don’t work to anyone else’s schedule.’
Schedule a reader
Arrange for someone else to read your work at some point in the future. It might be a friend or family member, or another writer, or an agent. Having someone in place who is expecting to read your work can be a great motivator. It creates a sense that you are writing for somebody, not just for yourself. These intervals needn’t be frequent – you could aim, for example, to send something to this person by the end of the year, say. But having the thought of them in your mind while you work can help keep you motivated.
Read read read
Learning to read critically is a great way to sharpen your editorial skills whilst also keeping you motivated on your own project. This might be the writing of other writers you know, writers who need editorial help, or it may be published work, work that inspires you. Reading regularly, particularly challenging work that pushes the boundaries of things you would like to achieve, can keep you on track and inspire you to be bold and daring in whatever field you’re working in. I like to keep the bookshelf above my desk filled with authors who inspire me (Don DeLillo, Annie Ernaux, Clarice Lispector, Grace Paley, Lydia Davis, Jon Fosse, Fernanda Melchor). Think of this task as forming a support group for yourself. When you feel you are running out of steam, use other books as jumping off points for writing exercises. For example, pick a random book off the shelf, turn to a random page, and pick a random sentence. Write this sentence down. Use this as a prompt for a freewriting exercise. Write your way into a piece of work from here. Learn to look to other writers. Consider their books as tools. Use them.
Treat yourself as a professional
This can feel weird to begin with, but it’s important that you treat yourself and your work seriously. If it is serious to you, more than just a hobby, treat it like serious work. This means dedicating an area in your home or somewhere outside it (a café or library, for instance) as your regular writing spot. Having a regular writing place can help you to habituate your writing time and make you feel more organised. Treat writing time like work time. Shower first. Get dressed. Wear socks and shoes. Break for lunch.
Protect and feed your imagination
If it’s important to you to keep your writing and your ideas to yourself then do this. Don’t feel pressurized into discussing it with others if you don’t want to. This is the other side of treating yourself professionally. It’s okay for people not to know what you are doing, and it’s okay for you not to know. Stumbling in the dark and in secret is half the fun. Don’t feel like you must explain yourself to others. Feed your imagination by doing things that inspire you – exercise, see friends, watch and read interesting things, visit interesting places. Treat your imagination kindly. A writer’s mind needs to be fed.
If you’d like more advice from Megan don’t forget to sign up for 18 weeks of constructive feedback and development on her online Develop Your Fiction course, which is now open for new students.
Megan Bradbury was born in the United States and grew up in Britain. She studied at the University of East Anglia, graduating with an MA in Creative Writing in 2005. In 2012 she was awarded the Charles Pick Fellowship at UEA, and in 2013 she won an Escalator Literature Award and a Grant for the Arts to help fund the completion of her first novel, Everyone is Watching. The novel tells the story of New York City through the geniuses that have inhabited it – among them, Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edmund White. It was published by Picador in summer 2016.