There is no one correct way to write a story. Great fiction has been written in million dollar offices on fancy computers, in fast food restaurants on notebooks, on iPhones in the subway, on a roll of prison toilet paper. As long as you have a writing tool and a bit of space, you can write.
But most of us have the added bonus of choices when it comes to where and how we work. Finding the optimal setting and schedule to get your writing done can make the whole creative process easier and more productive. Every author has to discover the methods and setup that work best for them, and although there are no hard rules, we can talk about some of the ways you can try to improve your process.
Organization & Inspiration
Declutter your mind, your computer’s desktop, your actual desktop, and your writing process. You want to make it as easy as possible on yourself to sit down and start writing. That means limiting your distractions, finding ways to increase your focus, and organizing your ideas so that you always have story concepts ready to be worked on.
Look for inspiration everywhere! You know that phone in your pocket? It’s got apps where you can record written notes, audio, and images. Use it. Every day. Wake up from a wild dream? Write it down. Overhear a stranger on the street say something bizarre? Write it down. Think up a silly character name? Write it down. Come across an inspiring bit of nature or architecture? Take a picture. Save it all. Every scrap. You never know which little ideas will later spark a major epiphany.
Create a folder on your computer expressly for storing these random ideas. Later on, when you crash into a creative wall in the middle of writing a story, check out your ‘ideas folder’ for inspiration.
Pens and Processors
These days, almost all authors use a computer, but there are still those who find it easier to scratch out their notes, outlines, or early drafts by hand. (I personally can’t do this. For one thing, it takes so much longer for me than typing. For another, my handwriting is so bad it would make a doctor blush. I can’t even read it half the time.) But if you love that paper and pen, go for it! Just know that any final drafts need to be typed up on a computer which is connected to the internet. I would assume this goes without saying, but many publisher websites still include a section in their submission guidelines begging authors to stop sending handwritten manuscripts or the only copy of a story, so apparently somebody somewhere is still trying to do it.
Depending on your schedule and personality, you might do your writing anywhere and everywhere you can: the kitchen counter, the bus, the breakroom at work, the International Space Station, etc. But most authors benefit from having one specific location where they do most of their work.
Take pride in your work station. It’s your kingdom of creativity. Try and find a place that you can make your own. Keep it clean and experiment with what you include there. Some people need a blank desk facing a blank wall to stop their minds from wandering. Others benefit from having art, action figures, plants, scented candles, etc. Find the setup that inspires you and keeps you sane.
But here’s the caveat: trying to find the perfect setup to avoid distraction...that can be a distraction in and of itself. If you’re constantly rearranging furniture and experimenting with your office on a weekly basis, stop. Just keep it simple. It’s a stand for your laptop, not a Wes Anderson movie set.
Plenty of authors revel at being able to work in a bathrobe, their pj’s, their birthday suit. If this works for you, great! You can write in a leotard and top hat and nobody’s going to judge you (...except for maybe your family, roommates, and the neighbors outside). But for a lot of authors, myself included, it actually helps to treat your writing as a normal job.
Get up with the alarm, shower, get dressed in nice clothes, comb your hair, eat some breakfast, and then head off to work...even if ‘work’ is the living room couch.
Want your fiction to be taken seriously? Then treat the process of creating it seriously.
Writing is an art that requires creativity and passion, a craft which requires training and practice, and a business that requires patience, research, and a whole lot of hard work. You are an entrepreneur. You are your own boss, so be a good boss. Don’t beat up your employee, but do be strict with them. Be smart with your decisions. Plan wisely. Find motivation. Work hard.
Find the time of day which is most productive for you. Some authors write first thing in the morning. Others, late into the night. Pay attention to your energy level and the quality and quantity of the work you produce at different times.
Sometimes, an author needs to have a big chunk of hours to really get into writing. But it’s true that writing in smaller chunks can be just as productive, or even more productive. It can go a little like this:
Got only one free hour to write today? Then you better plan out the story in your head. Get yourself excited. Get ready. Get set. Go go go!
Got five hours free this afternoon? No hurry. Maybe start out with a little facebook time. Some online shopping. Now onto research for the story. And that leads you to a Wikipedia page you’ve never seen before. And another. And it’s kinda interesting. And...crap.
However long you have to write, don’t waste it. Set goals which are ambitious but realistic. Feel proud when you meet those goals. Take breaks only if it helps your process. And try and warm up before you actually start. It can take a while to get into the zone, but if you’ve already been thinking about the story, planning the prose in your head, or listening to music to get you pumped for the scene, you’ll be ready and eager to get typing when the time comes.
If you can, I recommend trying to finish each of your writing sessions like this: complete the scene that you’ve been working on, but then also start the next scene. Maybe it’s just typing out the first line or a list of ideas, but leave yourself something—anything!—so that the next time you sit down to write, you’ll be excited and won’t be starting from scratch.