Writing stamina

When I tell people I have written over 200,000 words of fiction, I am often asked how I ever managed to keep going, over the 10 years it has taken to get here. In all honesty, I don’t know. Call it an obsession, a writing addiction… perhaps that’s the nearest I can get to explaining the fundamental need to keep writing, adding more and more. Refining what has already been created.

I didn’t exactly start that way. I had more modest ideas, I role-played a lot, initially my ideas needed to cover the scope of a short story or ‘adventure’. Perhaps a couple of weeks’ worth of gaming. Gradually these stories needed to link up and make sense over a longer period of time as the characters and world developed, so the epic story themes started emerging. A stable (and somewhat demanding!) group of gamers helped me keep one eye on the next part of the story. What happens next, where do we go from here? What if? So you could say role-playing is good practice for developing that internal discipline and stamina that a writer needs to see their ideas through to fruition.

When I started writing Warlords of The Dreaming God though, I had to rely on completely internal drivers to make it happen. At first, it was an uphill battle, like breaking the inertia of some juggernaut, coaxing it into motion. I was equipped only with my Big Idea and an unfailing belief that I was going to write this book. I seem to quote Lao Tzu frequently, but it seemed such a colossal task that I kept in mind that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Gradually it became easier, ideas sparked other ideas, the characters took on a life of their own and started making their own decisions – because they do, you know, if you breathe enough life into them.

So my suggestions for anyone thinking about writing a book, or who is part-way in but struggling with the scale of the venture:

  1. Self belief is the fuel which will see you through. If you want to write, write. You may not be Tolkien or Robert Jordan, you may never even be published, but let no-one tell you that you cannot or should not write your book.
  2. The scale of your ambition is irrelevant, don’t be daunted by this vast saga you have in your head. You CAN do this.
  3. Start small. Writing projects are always bigger than they first appear. Think marathon, not sprint. Break things into smaller pieces, like individual chapters, characters, the background for a setting in your book. Inventing a list of names for your characters, which you can add to whenever a random idea for a name comes to you. 
  4. Procrastination is your enemy. Do it now. Not tomorrow, or next month, or when you have redecorated your entire house in a year’s time.
  5. Remove distractions. Turn off the television. Put your mobile on silent and put it out of view. Put on music which inspires you. Agree with your partner/family that you need a bit of quiet time. Ignore chores and other worries, they will still be there later. Right now is Writing Time, and goddamn it you need to write.
  6. Routine is your ally. Like going to the gym, what might seem painful at first becomes something you don’t even think about if you keep the routine going. It keeps the wheels of creative thought well oiled, and reminds others in your life, that you are indeed, a writer.
  7. Time and space to write are oxygen to you. Protect both the way you would your fresh, cold pint of beer which someone else has their eyes on. Seriously, make whatever compromises are required for your daily life, but regular time and space to write (however small) are non-negotiable.
  8. If you are running out of steam, diagnose what the problem is. See my tips on handling writer’s block.
  9. If you have too many conflicting priorities and have no choice but to put your writing on hold, then fair enough, but that’s a sad day. It’s difficult to climb the hill again. Try reducing the hours/frequency before abandoning writing altogether.
  10. Last, and very importantly, remember that your book won’t spring full formed into wonderful magnificence. Writing a novel is a war of attrition with your own mind. Everyone’s writing sucks at first. Every writer reviews their work later and knows it can be improved. That’s the job of a writer, to find rough gems and polish them till they gleam. So go get your rag and polish like your life depended on it. You work will thank you. Hell, you will even thank yourself when you take a step back and marvel at what your self-determination achieved.

About Scott Foley

Scott Foley is a British fantasy writer based in Manchester. He is author of Knight of Aslath and the Dreaming God Chronicle. Brought up on a steady diet of Tolkien, roleplaying games and a never-ending fascination with the question ‘what if?’, writing fantasy novels seemed the only sensible and worthwhile thing to do with his life. Knight of Aslath is his first novel, and he is currently working on the sequel Warlords of the Dreaming God. Both novels form the beginning of the Dreaming God Chronicle and are set in the fantasy world of Teth-Kiran. Knight of Aslath is available on Amazon, and you can find out more about Scott's work at: http://www.scottfoleybooks.com