Experience and Imagination

Writers need experience and imagination.

When I say “experience,” I mean actually going out and doing things, meeting new people, or learning new skills. If you have ever gone fishing, for example, then you will be able to write more believably about fishing than the writer who knows about fishing through research only*.

As important as experience is, however, you also need to set aside time to reflect on your experiences in order to draw out the details that will make your stories that much richer. This is where imagination comes in, helping us transform the facts, details, and memories of our lives into interesting stories that other people will want to read and maybe even pay real money for.

Because the fact is, living an interesting life is no guarantee that you’ll write interesting stories. You need to learn how to write and reflect, as I wrote earlier. You need to learn how to turn your experiences into fuel for interesting stories and in order to do that, you need to make a regular writing schedule.

The exact balance between experience and imagination is difficult to achieve and varies from writer to writer. My suggestion is to set aside a certain time every day for writing so that you will always get at least some writing done, even if you live a very active life (if you need some help with that, you might want to read this blog post of mine I wrote back in November of last year on the subject).

*This not a slam against research. You can’t experience everything you write about, after all. I say experience is preferable; however, if you are unable to learn about the subject you’re writing about firsthand, then research is the next best thing.

How important is experience for writers? How do you achieve the balance between experience and imagination? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

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Write Every Day (and how to deal with procrastination)

For the past several years now I have set aside time each day solely devoted to my writing. The time and length have changed over the years, but I still keep writing every day. Currently I write for two hours in the morning; or, if I am working on a finished story, I spend those two hours editing/rewriting what I already have done.

Writing every day is how I get my work done. If I did not write daily, I am certain I would probably not be even half as good a writer as I am now. At least I would have less experience, and experience is possibly the most important commodity a writer can have. Only experience can tell you, with absolute certainty, what does and does not work for you; nothing else is nearly as true or honest as experience. Remember that.

For NaNoWriMo, writing every day is particularly important if you hope to meet the 50k limit. It’s possible to finish NaNoWriMo without writing every day, I suppose, but keep in mind that every day you miss is another 1,667 words you’ll have to write in order to catch up. That can add up quickly; miss three days and you’ll have 5,001 words to write, which is about a tenth of 50,000. If you’re a fast writer you might be able to catch up quickly, but even then, you’d have to work far harder than the writer who keeps up with his daily word count.

Even if you’re the kind of writer who doesn’t write every day — and there are some writers who are like that, though I don’t understand how they get anything done that way — you should consider writing every day for NaNo at least. It doesn’t need to be two hours, like I do. Just find a good time for you to write at and make sure you can always be there to write.

If you decide to start a daily writing schedule — and you should if you ever want to get anything done — then you have to deal with distractions. The Internet is a particularly bad one; there are so many interesting things to do on it, so many cool blogs and web articles to read. It’s even worse because using the Internet can make us feel like we’re doing something related to our work, even though we’re usually slacking off (unless you’re doing some research, although research I think should generally be done outside your writing time unless it is a fact you need to know right away).

I know the distracting nature of the Internet well because I still struggle with it myself. I have found that a good way to deal with the Internet is to check your social media, email, and other things before you write. Do it quickly, don’t spend too much time on any one site, and then when you are done, start writing. It’s not perfect (there is always something new to do or read on the Internet, after all, and it’s easy to think “Just one more website” after I’ve checked out my usual things), but my mind is a lot more willing to focus on my writing when I have dealt with some of my more pressing Internet business.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to defeat procrastination once and for all. All writers — from the masters who have dozens of novels under their belts to amateurs just starting out — must struggle with it their entire lives. Experienced writers probably have an easier time avoiding procrastination than amateurs, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the professionals never have to deal with it. They just know how to handle it better than the rest of us (usually, sometimes, maybe).

As with nearly everything else in writing, go with what works for you. Ultimately, you and you alone know how you can deal with your procrastination. All I can do is offer some ideas that will hopefully help you.

What do you think? How do you keep your attention on your work during your writing time? Know of any good articles, books, or writing resources to help the procrastinating/easily distracted writer?

-Tim