28 Nov Embrace the chaos of writing
I’m deep into writing a company autobiography about the Kensington Colleges at the moment. The deadline is fast approaching and there’s still too much to do.
When you have a big writing project it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here are some techniques and tools I find useful to keep floating and stay (roughly) on track.
Write as you research. This is an absolute MUST.
If I’d left the writing to the end I’d be doing all-nighters between now and Christmas. I have a few long days ahead but my word count is rising.
Make systems for your work
- Use mindmaps to give you the overview
- Use spreadsheets to drill down to the fine detail
- Use Scrivener to combine all your writing and research in one project.
Make sure that you when you add new material you cross-reference.
For example: This project requires me to interview dozens of people, compile their stories & sift through photos and memorabilia. Every time I get a new email I update my spreadsheet. It’s time consuming but I know will be quicker in the long run.
Create codes for yourself. Mine are pretty basic: ‘TD’ for ‘To Do’, ‘Y’ for an interview I’ve done. I’ll add these letters to my file names so when I’ve completed one section I don’t go back to it.
- Separate your active days when you sort material, do follow-up phone calls and send emails to your inward writing days.
I’m much more effective if I create an entire writing day (ideally 2 or 3 days in a row to get big chunks written) rather than squeeze it in amongst other admin work.
When you are working on a project where you are constantly getting new material it’s hard to put written sections ‘to bed’. My solution is to write as much as I can and then make a list of new information. I will only look at this at the end once the whole manuscript is written.
This means I write a full first draft of the whole narrative. It’s messy. There are questions and queries and sections in bold that I know I’ll move around later.
Then once I’ve done the whole thing (or three-quarters) I will do the edit and add extra snippets. You often don’t know what’s needed for that final gloss until you’ve seen the whole shape of the narrative.
Accept and embrace the chaos.
In writing there are times when the story seems too big to fit. This is normal and many writers face it. Keep chipping away and you’l find the clear blue line that Ben Okri talks about which will lead you through to the other side.
Lastly, have regular breaks. Stretch. Walk. Go to the gym. Try to avoid RSI (which I am currently getting) with an occasional massage.
And know that the holidays are coming soon….
How do you embrace the writing chaos?