Every night I cook dinner for my family.
Apart from the two nights I had away with my husband for our 20th anniversary a few months ago, I’ve been cooking dinner for my family every night for about the last 5,840 nights. And every night has gone roughly along the same lines; I spend ages working hard, chopping, preparing and cooking. I serve it up on the plate. We eat, and it’s gone in about 13 minutes flat.
So much time! So much effort! So much energy! And all to see it disappear with hardly another thought.
Writing is like cooking in many ways – it takes a long time to do. Like many of us, I’ve had times where I’ve agonized for three hours on just three paragraphs, getting it perfect.
“Would you read this?” we ask someone. “I’m just not sure about the second word in the fourth sentence, and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor.”
Our reader takes a quick look and hands it back. “Yeah, looks okay to me.”
Chew, swallow, move on.
I’ve been mentoring a talented teenage writer for the past year over Skype. She writes, I read and comment, and she rewrites and improves. It’s a fun relationship.
A few months ago she got frustrated. “I’ve got all these ideas, and not much time, and because everything takes so long to do, I don’t end up finishing anything.”
I know the feeling. If only we had more time, we say. But the fact is that we don’t. Life crowds in and swallows up those precious writing hours. “It’s not going to change,” I told her. “The only way out of it is to learn to write quicker. You’ve got to produce more in a shorter time.”
Some writers will be horrified to hear this. “What about quality?” they will argue. “What about the second word in the fourth sentence and the juxtaposition of evil and good in the third metaphor? How can I write if the muse has not struck?”
Let me say this: learning to write more quickly, at the same or better level of quality, is possible. It’s possible in all other areas of life, so why not writing?
When I cook dinner, I’m a bit of a ditherer. The reason it takes me a long time is because half the time I’m still cleaning the kitchen from lunch time, or I’m checking facebook, or I’m making a shopping list. My mind is frequently very much elsewhere. I'm well known to be *that* mother who burns the dinner because she's still writing emails.
And then I watched Masterchef. Those guys produce three course banquets in less time than it takes me to cut up a bowl of salad. They think, they grab ingredients and they multitask so it works. The whole dish comes together within the ridiculous time slot.
These people aren’t freaks of nature (although they obviously ended up with talents for food and flavour that I just don’t have.) What they’ve learned is how to organise themselves, how to manage tasks, and how to keep going and how to solve problems that pop up as they go.
They cook fast because they’ve learned how. And their quality doesn’t suffer.
We writers can write fast if we learn how. And our quality doesn’t have to suffer either.
Here’s how I’ve doubled my writing output over the past year.
1. Set aside the time. Dedicate it entirely to writing.
2. Turn off Facebook and all the other distractions.
3. Have a good ergonomic setup so your body stays comfortable.
4. Plan your writing before you start. I always know what I’ll be focusing on that day, with a reasonably detailed idea of where my piece is going (although I’m open to things the characters might do on their own)
5. Tell your inner editor to sit down. Their turn comes later. It’s writing time right now. Editing comes after that. They can have a nap and relax.
6. If you get to a bit you can’t write, don’t stop. Just bunny hop over it and go on to the next bit. You can come back later.
7. Just write it. Accept that you’re not a bad writer, or a terrible person if you write a draft that’s not superb. A bad first draft is better than no first draft.
8. Practice this at least twice a week for two months and see how much quicker you get.
9. Set yourself a deadline to finish your draft and do the maths about how many writing sessions you’ll have, and how many words you’ll need to do to get there.
10. Just do it.
Cecily Paterson is the author of three novels for young teen girls, and an award-winning memoir, Love Tears & Autism. She is a freelance editor and writer and has just published the best-selling Meditations Bible colouring book by Lorien Atwood. www.cecilypaterson.com