How to Write Without Losing Your Mind

Over the past couple of years I’ve been blessed enough to go to some amazing schools and hear some amazing writers talk about all the amazing things they do.

And at every panel/talk/lecture, someone always raises their hand and asks something like this: “What’s your process like? How do you suggest we go about being writers?”

And every single time, the answer is the same. There is no set process. Do what works for you.

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That can be a little…overwhelming, because you’re thinking they’re going to give you some sort of advice equivalent of Felix Felicis and instead you get a lot of follow your heart stuff.

Welp, I must be doing something wrong, because I’m eating pizza and staring at my screen and nothing has written itself, yet.

I think there are definitive rules for writing. You just pick the ones that work and leave the ones that don’t.

I’ve been pondering my process and the rules I’ve set for myself. I am also learning to take a mother frickin’ chill pill, ’cause turns out thinking things like “I have to pee but I will not get up until this scene is edited” is unhealthy.

And then these ponderings slowly became my definitive list of How to Write Without Losing Your Mind. Thought I’d share, since writers tend to need their minds.

1) Set reasonable goals.

On my bulletin board above my desk right now, I have a list of scenes. Next to each scene is a date by which that scene needs to be edited, polished, and done. On days where I know I have more time – like days when Ross is home and I don’t have school – I am more ambitious. On days where I’m swamped, I’m easier on myself.

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(And yes, that is a picture of the Avengers telling me to write. Because when Thor tells you to do something YOU DO IT).

Thanks to the advice from my dear friend B.R. Sawrey (if you love high fantasy awesomeness, check out her book, The Trees They Grow, on Amazon – totally worth it), I now write my books in a linear fashion, which means I have a pretty clear path through the editing thicket.

My original goal date was October 1st, because YAY OCTOBER! The leaves change and therefore it is time for a change…or something like that. The problem? It required that I binge-write.

And I never do well with binge-writing. It’s a lot of manic typing mixed with

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and

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with just a hint of

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and I never quite make it.

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Then, I feel like a failure and want to set the manuscript in a drawer and not look at it for a while.

If you set reasonable goals, you give yourself the chance to succeed. Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. If you pace yourself, you’ll make it. If not, you’ll wind up in the hospital.

Note: The metaphor ended after “not a sprint”. I’m very serious about the hospital.

My new deadline is during the first week of October. I’m feeling pretty good about it.

2) Stick to those goals.

Ah, the hard part. That goal sheet was thooper dooper fun to make, but sometimes you just don’t feel like it. Stephen King talks about this in his book, On Writing (If you want to be a writer and have not read this book – READ THIS BOOK. Stephen King freaks me out on a fundamental level, but this books seriously changed my life).

Writing is work. Writing is seeing your whole family sit down to watch a movie you love and knowing you can’t join in. Writing is having a friend invite you out and then doing this face

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because you can’t go. Writing is being sleepy and waking up anyway. Writing is passion bridled in a specific direction for a specific purpose. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it won’t happen if you’re waiting for the right mood.

Set a time. Ass in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Words on page.

Nothing feels better than putting the time in and watching the story unfold. It’s magic, seriously. But once you’ve hit the word count?

3) Be done when you’re done.

This rule is for moms, especially. Or people with really, really needy pets. Or people who want to keep their friends/jobs/any ambitions outside of writing.

As I mentioned in Rule #1, it’s easy to get caught up in the thought that, as a writer, your career more or less rests on your own limits. If you want to crank five novels in a year? You totally can.

I can write a rough draft in three months. Edits usually take another three weeks. This round of edits has taken three months by itself, and that is driving.me.crazy.

It might be tempting to spend all day writing. Only emerge at night to slink over to the nearest Circle K for some microwavable Mac & Cheese and some of that cheap coffee that probably used to be industrial-grade jet fuel. Get pale skin and let the neighbors talk. When you’re on the NTY Bestseller’s list, all your previously demonstrated psychosis will simply be described as “quirky”.

But I can’t live like that.

It’s hard to shut down, sometimes. But then I realize my daughter is standing on her own and will take her first step any day now. She can now rock out to Taylor Swift, so we now have something concrete to bond over. I need to be here. I need to be present.

The whole point of writing is that I’d like to make it a long-term thing. And I don’t want my kids growing up with a mother that routinely disappears for weeks at a time only to re-emerge wearing the same pajamas and covered in Cheetoh dust.

So I finish my writing goal for the day, and then I click out.

A calling like writing is always worth answering, but not all writing days are fun. Take time to have fun. Go for a walk. Take the kids to the park. Go get a Pumpkin Spice Latte and enjoy the autumn breeze (or, if you’re in California, make it an iced PSL, huddle near the AC, and try not to pass out from heat stroke).

Relax. Have fun. And –

4) Read.

Read a LOT. Read books in your genre; it will help keep you sharp and remind you of why you write what you do. That means I’ve been reading through some pretty kick-ass YA books. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken are two titles that have recently stolen my heart.

Read books not in your genre. While this is a good bit of advice that I stand by, I keep telling myself that’s what I’m doing when I read my assigned reading for school.

But I’ll be real – it’s a lie. Those books have not stolen my heart. They’ve stolen my time, actually. GIVE IT BACK, because I’d like to give it to other kick-ass non-YA things, like City of Thieves by David Benioff and High as the Horses’ Bridles by the esteemed Scott Cheshire.

Reading keeps you hungry and it keeps you fed. Do it while you write… it’ll show.

That’s all I’ve got so far, but I’ll keep you posted on any other gems I think of along the way – and feel free to share yours!

(I still can’t think of any way to wear anything other than sweatpants while working. Problem? Not a problem? Maybe some sort of achievement, now that I think about it?)

Keep fighting the good fight.

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