Looking back over the last year, it feels like I haven’t written anything at all. I started NaNoWriMo last year, but my heart wasn’t in it. The story I was going to write, I wrote anyway and it has over 50,000 words right now. In the meantime, I’ve written three stories of between 5,000 and 20,000 words; probably twenty different papers from 3,000 to 5,000 words; hundreds of discussion posts; ten to fifteen poems; and a one-act play. Not to mention the ancillary writing I do and this blog. And when I consider that I love to rewrite over and over until I get it right, I must’ve written over a million words in the last year. That’s a crazy number when I think about it.
How to write more
So how did I do it? And why do I do a better job of writing at work than at home? And how can I do a better job of writing at home?
I know the main reason is my phone. Over time, I tried to do all of my school work at home on my laptop. I just felt like it wouldn’t come through as professional if I posted stuff from my phone because I could see the awful stuff my classmates posted with their phones. These were grown people posting on university discussion boards with Facebook grammar (“u” instead of “you”; “4” and “2” for “for” and “to”). I was horrified.
But then I started writing notes in my phone and emailing them to myself and posting them when I got home. I would write tons and tons of things and when I got it home, most of it was good enough to post as is. Then, I found out that the school’s website had a mobile app. This was with six months left to get my degree. I know.
Use every tool available
So then I would go straight from my phone to the mobile app. I was writing whole papers on my phone while at work. The novel I mentioned earlier was written entirely on my phone, using an app called A Novel Idea (which is apparently no longer available). It was particularly useful for rewrites because it’s so hard to edit on a phone. So if I didn’t like something, I would just write the whole thing over again. I know it sounds wasteful, but for me it’s been incredibly freeing. It’s rare that one attempt is vastly better than the others. It usually ends up being a combination of several. So when I get home I pull out the laptop and splice two or three different pieces together and edit from there. It’s really quite useful.
Know the limitations of technology
There was a lot I couldn’t do on my phone. Research papers have very specific formats and the Works Cited page was impossible to do, but I could do almost everything else on my phone. Far more than I realized at first. The key, I realized, was to just keep opening new notes on my phone and titling them properly so I could find them later.
As Alton Brown says: “Organization will set you free.”
It can be difficult, but as I become more proficient on my phone, I’ve learned that I can create separate folders for specific notes and that they’re organized by when they were last modified. So, it can be difficult to navigate, but not impossible.
There are a few other things I’ve noticed that have helped me improve my writing output over the last year. Obviously, having to write for school forces one to write something, even if it’s not the novel project one wants to write. But you’re still writing, exercising that part of your brain that is learning how to string words together in an interesting and cohesive way. But the other thing that has really helped is to keep a Daily Writing folder on my phone and to try to write in it every day. The idea comes from John Dufresne’s book The Lie That Tells the Truth. I believe I’ve mentioned it before and, again, I want to recommend it to all aspiring writers out there. It’s full of advice on making your writing better and exercises that keep you writing.
Daily Writing is nothing more than setting a time to write every day, giving yourself a timer, and writing until the bell goes off. Again my phone is helpful for this for many reasons. First, it has an alarm and a timer. So it can remind me to write and time how long I’m supposed to go. I don’t use them all the time, but I do use the timer if I feel I need it. But the other way my phone helps is that I keep all of my Daily Writing in its own folder, so I can go back and look at how consistent I’ve been. It can be depressing at times to see that I’ve gone months without writing, but it also helps when I see that on my days off from my real job, when I should be most productive, I’m rarely doing my Daily Writing.
Knowing that, I focus on not turning on the TV or getting online, and knock out my Daily Writing first thing when I wake up. I also use the Daily Writing to plan my writing task for that day. I write what I’m going to write about and try to come up with a synopsis for it. Sometimes it’s a blog post, sometimes it’s a chapter or scene from a current project, sometimes is editing and revision. Sometimes I just vent about a shitty day, but that’s okay, too.
Writing every day is about more than producing high quality content, it’s about exercising that muscle and trying to honor that commitment as much as you can. I’m not a drill sergeant who’s going to tell you that if you don’t do it every day you’re not a writer, but I will tell you that the more you write, the easier it gets and the better your writing will ultimately be.
So don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day, a week, or a month. What happens if you get a call in the middle of the night that a family member is ill and you have to suspend everything in our life? Is that a good reason to say “Guess I’m not a writer anymore”? Of course not. Just start a new streak. Find something to write about every single day. Whether it’s as mundane as what you had for dinner last night or as critical as the closing scene of your most recent screenplay, make a plan and commit to it. For at least that one day. And then, try again tomorrow.