Since I’m up against a deadline today, I thought I’d take a break from heavy writer stuff and talk about some of the stupid tricks I use on a day to day basis.
1) Backing up my work – mailing things to myself
As someone who has lost 2 computers now, I have a horrible and well earned phobia of losing work to technical failures. My solution? Gmail. Every morning when I’ve done my writing/edits for the day, I mail my latest version to myself at my gmail address. Gmail lets me assign behaviors to incoming mail, so I have it set up that all mail from myself with an attachment and the subject “backup” is automatically marked as opened and shoved into its own folder, so they don’t clutter my inbox. Not only does this let me use Google’s billions of dollars in infrastructure and backup to store years (about 4 now) of daily versions of my novels, but they’re available from anywhere and I can search for the name of the attachment, thus finding any novel I’ve mailed to myself in the past. This is AMAZINGLY handy. Gmail, it’s free, smart, and easy, I can not recommend it enough as a backup system or as a mail client.
(Also, if you’re worried about your mail getting hacked, you can just do what I also do and keep a secret gmail address only used for backing up work. Hey, they’re free, get tons.)
2) Writing by event, not wordcount
I used to be a word count fanatic. Video games have taught me that there is no greater pleasure in life than watching my numbers go higher and higher. Shooting for a high, round number was a great motivation for me, but then I started hitting numbers over and over again, and the shine wore off. Also, I was no longer thinking of my novels in terms of numbers, I was thinking about them in terms of events. So that’s how I started writing. Every morning I’d sit down and say “I will write until x happens” or “I will write until y is complete,” and then I’d do it, or not. Sometimes the story would change and I’d have to pick a new goal, or sometimes I’d just quit in frustration. Still, writing until you finish a scene can be a more organic approach and encourage you to use only the words you need. I switch between word count and scene as I need to, whatever motivates me most at the time (sometimes it just feels awesome to call it a day when you hit 50k).
3) Remembering that writing is not a performance art
I have a post card above my desk with the following: “Writing is Not A Performance Art,” and I try to look at it at least once a day. I tend to get caught up in details when I write, like, did I word this scene correctly? Would Character A really be such a jerk to Character B? Have I been spelling “waved” as “waived” for the last 80,000 words? (Yes) When sticks like these occur, I pull back, break away, and remind myself again: writing is not a performance art. No one is watching me, no one is reading over my shoulders. No one ever has to see anything I don’t want them to see. It doesn’t matter if this scene is stupid, unless I tell someone, no one ever has to know it existed. If I can’t get it now, I’ll make a note to fix it later and move on. Who knows, I might not even use it. I might find a better way later in the book. On the first draft, grammar, spelling, even coherency are not as important as getting the thing down. You can always fix it later, or trash it. Any worrying over details at this point will probably be wasted work.
Writing is not live action performace, it’s all post production editing and special effects.