How to Write Plenty in 2020

We’re a couple weeks in, and it’s still hard to believe: It’s 2020! I’m still writing 2010 on the checks I hope no one cashes.

I hope last year held many blessings for you, and I hope the coming year will be even better. Maybe you met your writing goals, hopes, and dreams in 2019. But even if you didn’t, you can still make this coming year a great one. And one way to help that happen will be to write—and to write plenty. How? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Free yourself to write poorly.

Perfectionism has ruined many writers. We should all strive for excellence; but trying to get a story, article, or book perfect—especially in the early stages—is an invitation to frustration, even disaster. If you try to write perfect prose, you’ll probably spin your wheels, get stuck, even crash into a concrete abutment of self-doubt. Did I take the metaphor too far? Big deal, I got it written, didn’t I? So, make it your goal this year to write rotten first drafts. As David Sedaris said, “Write something that stinks.” Just write. And write. Set yourself free to write plenty of bad first drafts in 2020.

  1. Abandon your writing.

One of my earliest editors told me, “You can never finish a piece of writing; you must abandon it.” True. As I say, we should all strive for excellence; but if you’re one of those writers who continues to revise long after the life has been sucked out of your piece, figure out a way to end the process. Not before thorough critique and careful revision, of course, but how many times are you going to return to an article, story, or book before you let it go? Is it a number? Is it a date? Whatever it is, abandon it (into a drawer, into someone else’s hands, etc.); and move on to the next idea.

  1. Cast lots of bread on the waters.

You recognize the reference to Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast your bread upon the waters: for you will find it after many days” (ESV). The phrase “Cast your bread upon the waters” was probably an Arabic proverb for what looked like wasteful expenditure, similar to our modern proverbs about “throwing your money down a rat hole” or “throwing good money after bad.” But I think the author of Ecclesiastes turned the old proverb on its head, saying, go ahead and be generous, maybe even uncomfortably generous, when you see a need, because in the wisdom and purpose of God it will return to you some day, somehow, when you are in need. I suggest you do something similar with your writing in 2020: Get it out there. Share it in a critique group. Submit it for professional critique at a writers conference. Enter a contest. Start a blog or a podcast. Submit something for publication. Do it. Do it over and over again. Start the invaluable process of learning from critique, editing, rejection, maybe even acceptance.

We writers can often be our own worst enemies. We suffer not only from analysis paralysis but also from the perfidy of perfectionism, the fear of rejection, and the stasis of erasis. Okay, I went too far on that last one. But it’s staying in this post. Like you, I’m learning. I’m striving to be better. And I hope, pray, and plan to write plenty in 2020.

 

26 Responses to How to Write Plenty in 2020

  1. Avatar
    BK Jackson January 15, 2020 at 5:40 am #

    All excellent advice. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson January 15, 2020 at 7:40 am #

    I love this advice. I have moved on. Maybe one day the four novels in my files will be resurrected, but for now, they are in the slush pile. New year, new story, new goals. Let’s make this happen in 2020!

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 15, 2020 at 7:54 am #

    If you want to write a lot,
    become the inner scribe you feel
    then give the whole thing all you’ve got
    like a hamster in a wheel
    that’s hooked up to the power-grid
    to light the city, mile-on-mile
    until his brain is duly rid
    of muse’s shy beguiling smile
    so that when the words are spent
    he can slow for rodent-food
    and see where all his verbiage went
    and if it did the world some good
    or if it was perhaps a curse
    that calls for running in reverse.

  4. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks January 15, 2020 at 8:00 am #

    Yes, I started doing this. I spent a decade working on two huge YA novels and grew stagnant with the years of revision. Now, I make myself write a fresh and new and terrible first draft of a new novel (or two novellas) for NaNoWriMo. That way I have plenty of projects to revise (18 manuscripts now and counting, ha) during the rest of the year. And that fast draft in November is always invigorating!

  5. Avatar
    Carla Gade January 15, 2020 at 8:40 am #

    Your wit and wisdom is a great encouragement!

  6. Avatar
    Linda Landis January 15, 2020 at 8:49 am #

    Oh , Bob-Bob. You definitely didn’t go too far. Glad you took your own advice and left it. That last one was too cute to boot. Anyway … gotta go now because I’m suffering from all the above. Off to get that bread outta my head. Just needed a little encouragement to cast it. 😀

  7. Avatar
    Debby Kratovil January 15, 2020 at 9:59 am #

    Excellent advice! The key to writing is to just WRITE: the good, the bad and the ugly. And it’s ok to write with a pencil/pen and paper; just because it’s old school doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Thanks, Bob, for those specific items in #3 above. If you hide a light under a bushel, no one can feel the warmth or see where you’re going!

  8. Avatar
    Donna Joppie January 15, 2020 at 10:38 am #

    Great advice. I’m in the process of editing my second book. First book presented to agents, but was not picked up. I have found that writing is a continual learning process. I can’t be overwhelmed or defeated if something doesn’t work. I chose to consider it a chance to improve and learn from my mistakes.

    God is good.

  9. Avatar
    Jane Ellen Reid January 15, 2020 at 10:55 am #

    Thank you for your timely advice at the start of this new year.

  10. Avatar
    Marlene W Anderson January 15, 2020 at 1:31 pm #

    Great words of wisdom. I think we are so afraid of doing it wrong that we never get around to getting it right. thanks.

  11. Avatar
    Teresa M. Wilson January 15, 2020 at 3:20 pm #

    Hello!
    I am enjoying this read but I wonder do you have anything for someone who has no problem with writing but needs to get them out there, not keep it to themselves? Maybe step by step encouragement to writing cover letters, honing skills in proposals, and maybe the difference between writing to an agent or a publishing company?
    Thank you for your time!
    Teresa M. Wilson

  12. Avatar
    Ann L Coker January 15, 2020 at 3:23 pm #

    Thanks. Your words have pushed (encouraged) me to finish the last three entries in my JBP book. Perhaps I’ve been afraid to see it to completion and then find out I’ll need to start over. And I’m also one of those who edits my work to pieces.

  13. Avatar
    Jilliann January 15, 2020 at 3:39 pm #

    Analysis paralysis and perfidy of perfectionism (ach!)… two things I’ve been striving to overcome. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and the nudge to let loose and write more, lots more, in 2020!

  14. Avatar
    Andrew Lambdin January 15, 2020 at 3:49 pm #

    I am almost ready to submit my book-length manuscript. One lesson I have learned is that next time, I will type my dialogue without slavishly placing every jot, tittle, and quotation mark at the precise position. It destroys flow, especially if you are trying to mimic conversation. Now I realize I can go back in the first rewrite and take care of that business, after the flow has been established.

  15. Avatar
    greps@whidbey.com January 15, 2020 at 5:14 pm #

    Ohhhhh, this is ever so helpful!! THANK YOU !!
    I feel like I have been set free from the prison of perfectionism.

  16. Avatar
    brenda@brendayoder.com January 15, 2020 at 5:45 pm #

    Great words, great encouragement. I’m thankful for you!

  17. Avatar
    tracikenworth731@gmail.com January 15, 2020 at 7:02 pm #

    Great advice! Spent most of my early years doing the revision thing. I finally moved on. Health got in the way last year but I’m back to cranking things out.

  18. Avatar
    Sarah Neisen January 15, 2020 at 7:35 pm #

    The manuscript I’m currently writing and editing was abandoned for some time. I would force myself to write, but what showed up on the page clearly lacked inspiration. I shifted my focus to devotional writing and found success through various outlets which encouraged me. It also motivated me to come back, after much prayer, and tackle the bible study again. God has perfect timing in everything. I met the individual who is mentoring me during my break. While I may cry a bit on the inside when she reviews my writing it’s certainly more polished than before.

  19. Avatar
    Jennifer Rothnie January 16, 2020 at 12:33 am #

    Perfectionism has been a huge problem for me in writing over the years, especially with projects I care more about. At one point, I realized I was spending a half-hour on many single sentences to research and craft the word-choice. It was nuts!

    Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot of tricks to circumvent that and just write. Line editing and proof-reading and many minor research elements can wait for revision. Now my new record is 60,000+ words in a month (more if I count all the other projects I worked on) or 10,000+ words on a day where I get enough free time to write.

    Some of my favorite tricks to use:
    – if a research element is minor (background stuff, will not effect plot of the book) I just take a best guess then put a * by it in the document. On revision, I can ctrl+f to search for the asterisks and research those points then.
    – If I am unsure about wordchoice, I just mark with a ^. I can search for those on revision. This keeps me from spending 20 minutes at a time hemming and hawing over how to word something. I find that when I sit down to do an edit session, if I’m just doing that and not writing new content, it is actually easier/faster to decide, as well.
    – For side character names I don’t know or titles I’m not sure about, I put TK. Not sure where I heard about this one, but no word/name is likely to have TK in it, so it is another thing easy to search.
    – If I really need to put in notes, I use [notes] so I can easily see where the notes are in the text and can search for them later.
    – If I get stuck, rather than stare at a blank page I do 5 or ten minuts of brainstorm free-writing. I’ll just start typing really fast about what I want to talk about, what the main dilemma is, any possible solutions, etc. Most of the time, this will get me through the block.
    – If I am still stuck, I’ll go take a break instead of staring at the blank screen. If I’m sitting down to write, I want to be writing and not ‘thinking’ about what I am going to write.
    – I repeatedly consider what the purpose of my book/project is, especially during times where I fill burned out.

    Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of time to write since I have three kids. The little ‘free time’ I have is usually midday or late night when I am too tired to do much writing. But I get more done now in 5-10 minute chunks than I used to get done in hours of free-time, because I just (for the most part) write.

    • Avatar
      Paula Geister January 16, 2020 at 10:01 pm #

      Jennifer, I think you just wrote a blog post. Share that, for crying out loud. As Bob said, “Get it out there.” If you cast that bread on the waters, you’ll certainly find it again. Bonus: God sees it and smiles.

  20. Avatar
    Susan Gregory January 16, 2020 at 6:29 am #

    Bob, that’s exactly what I needed to read today. After one “go” and two “no’s”, the stasis of erasis is rampant.

  21. Avatar
    David January 16, 2020 at 6:48 am #

    Thank you Bob. Brilliant. Written for me. Fits like a glove. Keep up the good work. God Bless

  22. Avatar
    Lois Freeman Easley January 16, 2020 at 7:14 am #

    I really needed this post. Thank you!

  23. Avatar
    Peggy Booher January 16, 2020 at 1:14 pm #

    Bob,

    Thanks very much for this post. I can especially relate to perfectionism being a problem, and causing me to “crash into an abutment of self-doubt”. Self-doubt can cause a person to give up before he or she really gets started. I didn’t write much for years because of it. One day God spoke to me through friends, “You have things to say, and you need to say them.” He gave me the courage to write. Posts like this add to that courage.

  24. Avatar
    M. R. Shupp January 18, 2020 at 1:38 pm #

    “Free yourself to write poorly.”

    Isn’t this so hard to do? But with a goal to finish my first draft by the end of January, it’s been something I’ve been pushing to do. Starting to round the corner to the end of the novel, and I have 13 days left. Here’s to writing poorly to finish that draft!

  25. Avatar
    Jane Duquette January 21, 2020 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for reminding us. Not that we haven’t heard it before, but we are a forgetful people. Reminders encourage us to press on toward the mark.
    Blessings!
    Jane

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