The answer to this question is different for every author, and it probably varies for every book. But at its core, there are certain things that become ingrained that enable us to produce book after book. So what works for me?
Music. Earbuds to be exact. I spent over twelve years working as an education and training consultant in very random environments. In order to concentrate, I’d put on my headphones and write. I’d forgotten about this when I started my first book. Then one day, after six months of struggling while sitting at the kitchen table, my husband showed me Pandora and gave me some earbuds. It was literally like nirvana for me. Everything clicked, and my mind went, “Oh, we’re supposed to write now.” I’d found my forgotten muse. I now have a soundtrack for every book I write.
Deadlines. Whether it’s self-inflicted or contract driven, I’m way more productive if I have a set date to finish the manuscript. I have a spreadsheet that I track daily word count against goal and diligently track my writing every day. Once I have a due date in that spreadsheet, I can always get the book done on time even if I’m only sending it out on query.
Character Docs. I have to sketch out my characters—backgrounds, arcs, worries, motivation, etc—before I start writing. The depth of these documents varies by book, but I’ve found the more I know the characters before I begin, the easier it is to create the story. The plot can flux as I write, but the characters remain pretty solid or the story won’t hold up in the end.
Reading. Like Christi Barth said in her post last week, Reading Is Just As Important As Writing. For me it’s essential. I gave up almost all television the year I started my first book. I read every night before I got to sleep and usually more during the day. On average, I read four to five books a week. I have to feed my passion in order to write it.
Sounding Boards. This usually comes in the form of trusted friends – my critique partners and beta readers. Sometimes I just need to bounce ideas around to find the solution to a plot problem or the hiccup that has stalled the story. It happens to everyone and having people to talk it through are invaluable to my process.
Those are the most important things for me, well, outside of simply putting my butt in the chair and typing. I’m a stickler on wanting every word to count, so I’m not a writers who can draft 200K words in order to end up with a 100K book. I hate deleting scenes (but will), so there are days it takes twelve hours to write 2K, but other days I accomplish that in 2 hours.
I’m also a linear writer. I have to write from beginning to end without skipping scenes which is why I need my sounding boards when I get stuck. My brain won’t let me go around a problem so I have to fix it before I can move one.
It’s important to know what works for you. Excuses are easier to find than motivation, so knowing what makes you productive will keep the books coming.