Tip #1 - Time to Get Psychological
When I was writing my first novel (okay, it really didn't end up being novel length, and it took four years of high school to write, and it's crap - that's all beside the point, though) someone once told me that the first novel you write will have a lot of you in it - your emotions and desires. I listened to this seriously because I had great respect for the person who said it.
So, I looked closely at what I was writing, and with the new type of focus, I saw exactly what she meant. My writing was dark - i.e. everyone died (high school sucked, what can I say?), and I had in there the main female role over-coming and killing a woman that had made her entire life growing up miserable (if that doesn't sound like high school...), plus the notion of love that is so strong that one would rather die than live without the person they loved. Perfect angsty teenager, right? It amazed me that so much of myself was in my story.
This could also be considered to be along the "write what you know" line of thinking. I want to take this a step further, though. She had said first novel. I say, in everything a person writes, if you look at it close enough, you can pick it apart psychologically. When I stepped back to take a look at the thesis novel I recently completed, I could see a lot of my emotions in it. It has psychoses I'm still dealing with (hence I will not be specific). I write how I would like it to be (how I would like to be), even if I'm the exact opposite.
All of this analyzing can be a huge eye opener. You can learn things about yourself that you've kept buried, things you haven't wanted to admit about yourself. I know some people would rather not have the rude awakenings, but in some ways, I believe it's healthy to notice these things inside yourself, and your writing can help you see them.
If you have enough courage to face yourself, try this. Start out slow - take one of your first pieces of fiction. Try to remember who you were then and look deeply to see what you discover hidden between the lines about yourself. This doesn't hurt as much because if it's far in the past, you've likely already discovered those issues by now anyhow. Then, take something you've written more recently (not new because you aren't distant enough), and look at it with the same eyes as you did your old piece. What do you see about yourself within the pages? Remember, you can keep it all to yourself.
Tip #2 - Critiques = Invaluable
If you want to improve your writing, there is nothing more valuable than receiving feedback on your work. No, not something like "your writing sucks" or "this is great" - constructive criticism, tips and suggestions on how to improve in various areas of writing like characterization, plot, story, and even grammar.
A lot of critiquing is subjective. Not everyone will suggest the same things, but not every reader will read your story or novel and see it the same way. So, you'll need to pick through the comments and decide which ones you think will work the best. It's another good reason to get feedback from more than one person. Likely if everyone says to change a certain aspect, you better pay attention and change it!
Receiving feedback isn't the only way to see what you need to improve on, though. Critiquing for others is just as important. By noticing things in the work of others, it brings perspective to your own writing.
Many times when I'm critiquing, I find myself giving feedback on the things that I am working on or things I have finally learned to fix in my own writing. And sometimes when I notice a bump in someone else's work, it's the first time I realize I've been making the same mistake.
No matter how much you write, how many times you put words to paper and spin stories, nothing will ever be perfect. I don't think anyone ever grows out of needing feedback from other writers. You will improve, though, and you'll be able to look back at an old piece of writing and say, "I've gotten so much better!"
The sky's the limit, right? What limit? ;) Critique, ask for critiques, and know that you are doing so to shine and sparkle up your writing a little more each time.
Tip #3 - Accountability
Now, I know not everyone is a writer, but this may be helpful to non-writers as well, especially those who have careers that are more solitary and need a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation to keep you on track.
For the most part, writing is a solitary endeavor. Not all the time. I mean, there are the wild parties at the writing conventions. (I know I've had a few crazy nights at In Your Write Mind with my writer friends.) But the biggest chunk of time spent tending to the business of writing is your butt in your chair, typing out thrilling tales. And you're alone. So alone. Unless you count the characters in your head and on the page, but if you start believing they're real, that's a topic for a different writing tip.
When you're on your own, especially if you don't currently have publication deadlines threatening you, it can be hard to focus, to stay motivated and productive. Making your own deadlines or bribing yourself are good attempts at keeping yourself in line, but they don't work for everyone.
Fear not, there is something else that may help.
Though us writers spend most of our time working in solitude, one of the great things is that other writers know what we're going through. They're going through the same thing. And writers are a great bunch who are willing to band together to support each other! You see it with all the writer forums and groups that spring up all over the place. Most other writers are welcoming and supportive of other writers (and if you find some who aren't, turn tail and run -- you'll easily find others who are).
And these fellow writers can help with accountability, keeping you on track. I feel this works best in small groups. What I do follows -- you may need to adjust for your own preferences.
Now, big forums like Kboards, which I frequent, definitely have support, but it's sometimes hard to keep the accountability going with such a large group of writers. This is why I love Writing Quest and my two fellow SHU Writing Popular Fiction grads. These are smaller groups, and even if Writing Quest ever grew to larger proportions, the focus of the group is goals (and cheering each other on).
For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know I've been running Writing Quest for some time. It started out as monthly events on Facebook, but now it's Facebook group. At the beginning of each month, we list our monthly goals. We can check in throughout the month, but some people also check in only at the end of the month. Sometimes putting your goals out there to a group spur you to be productive so you can come back at the end of the month and declare your success.
OK, sometimes a group still isn't personal enough to get you in line and working diligently. This is also why I don't know where I'd be without my two WPF cohorts, J. Gunnar Grey and Melanie Card. Because of them, I have kept on task more often than not.
What we like to do is e-mail each other and check in -- see what we're up to, what we've gotten done recently, and what our plans are for the next few days ahead. Now, we don't e-mail every day, but usually at least once or twice a week (OK, sometimes we e-mail daily or even more than once in a day, but that's usually when we're having a lively discussion about something or another about writing or publishing).
This checking in on a consistent basis is helpful because it makes me want to have something to report. I hate the messages that start out, "Well, I got nothing done all week." It makes me feel guilty and unproductive. I want to feel as productive as they are (well, almost -- my production is no where near at their level, but I have a toddler to blame for that).
And the funny thing is, even when I think I haven't gotten that much done, when I type it up in an e-mail or a post to Writing Quest, I realize I actually got a lot more done than I thought. It's encouraging to see your accomplishments, however little, put down in words!
So, if you want to find a way to be accountable, find a couple of other like-minded writers willing to do a mini-group e-mail exchange with you. Or join a small group focused on writing goals. Remember, any writer is welcome over at Writing Quest, so feel free to send a request to join the group!
Tip #4 - Self-Care
Almost every writer has asked this question at one time or another: "How do I find the time to write?" Most writers hope there's some secret that the successful writers they know and love will share with them.
And no, I'm not about to tell you where to find the time to get words down -- that honestly varies depending on the individual. But for those who do answer this question, it tends to boil down to one thing. Sacrifice.
Now, sacrifice could cover a lot of tasks. Me, I tend to sacrifice doing more things with my kids and cleaning the house on a regular basis. I feel guilty about the first, and I internally struggle between frustration and "I don't give a crap" with the latter.
Some people though, they sacrifice sleep, exercise, and relaxation. If they want to get an hour of writing in each day, they get up before the rest of the house wakes, or stay up late after everyone else is asleep. Or instead of unwinding for an hour at the end of the day by watching TV, they hop from the day job to their writing job.
That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Many of us might be able to function just fine with one less hour of sleep or not having quite as much down time as we usually do.
The problem is when that sacrificing becomes excessive. And all concerns for self-care are tossed out the window.
Unfortunately, the current atmosphere in indie publishing only drives writers to sacrifice more, since releasing books on a consistent basis is the best way to gain readers and make a living (and I'm talking at least one book per month). This rapid release definitely works, but to keep it up, you have to hit a certain word count each month. And to do that, you have to sacrifice even more sleep, more down time, and possibly even a lot of your physical activity.
I've read posts where people are working a full-time day job and trying to rapid release. They're sleeping less hours than fingers on a single hand. They give themselves no time to take a break and recharge their mind and body. To keep up with their word counts they're wringing themselves dry.
OK, I know there are people that can keep up with such schedules and thrive on little sleep and minimal relaxation time. Good for them -- they are few and far between.
In most cases, though, the writers sacrificing any time they don't see as worthwhile (including sleep) for a long period of time will start to feel the effects. They'll hit a wall. And in all likelihood, that wall will be physical and mental strain, even injury.
Along with that, it could even lead to burn out, where you just can't write anymore because you've fried your brain. I'm always scared of this one, even at my slower writing pace.
I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing. Believe me, I'm not one to climb on my high horse over healthy living. I need to exercise more (like way more) and eat better. Sometimes I stay up way too late, not because of writing, but because of games or TV. I suck at this whole balance thing, as I've discussed many times before.
But I try to be aware of the self-care I know I need to work on. This also includes realizing what kind of balance is right for me. Some people don't need a lot of down time to unwind. Heck, for some people writing is unwinding.
For me, though, I need a bit of extra time to relax. I have to schedule it in everyday, or I'm going to get myself in trouble. The days I go full tilt, getting tons of tasks done, house, writing, or otherwise, without taking time to breathe and relax with games or TV (or reading, of course) feel awesomely productive. If I keep that up for a few days in a row, though, I ram into a nasty steel wall and I'm out for the count several days in a row with a productivity concussion.
Physical and mental health for a writer is insanely important because if we push our bodies too far, they'll break down. And then how will we be able to write anymore?
I know, I know, sometimes we need to sacrifice to find any time to write. Just make sure once in a while you're taking a step back to reassess how much you're actually sacrificing. Self-care is just as important as the writing itself, so we can keep writing.
You can't write if you're dead.