Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 7, 2020

No-Nonsense Writing Tips From Nora Roberts

by Jenny Hansen

It's been a while since I posted a "Top Writing Success Tips" post here at WITS. Previously I've offered tips from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Maya Angelou. Since I don't think any of us can ever have too much writing wisdom, I've gathered a few stellar tips from a writer I respect a hell of a lot -- Nora Roberts.

Even if you don't read romance, mysteries, or YA (she writes all three), she has tons of wisdom to offer. She is an "Every Damn Day" writer who has earned her place on the bestseller charts with a diligent work ethic that boggles the mind.

Nora Roberts' Top Bits of Writing Wisdom

In an article last spring, titled Here's How I Work, La Nora distilled her writing advice down to these three things (language alert):

Stop making excuses and write.
Stop whining and write.
Stop fucking around and write.

She ended this section with: "I take my own advice." Here are some of my thoughts on her advice.

1. Stop Making Excuses

I am the champ at excuses when it comes to writing, so believe me I am not pointing fingers here. I love that a New York Times bestselling author has such a refreshingly no-nonsense point of view.

We own this. Our writing, our dreams, our stories. We don't always own our time -- we have families and jobs and bills. But we can own our writing. We can give our writing dreams top billing.

Sometimes we simply aren't able to do as much as we'd like. We have kids and parents and jobs that need our focus. Heck, last year every bit of my life force was focused on surviving to this year's January 1. To put it in perspective -- as bad as this pandemic has sucked, it hasn't been as excruciatingly difficult for me as 2019.

This time last year, I told my BFF: "Some years you are the dog, and some years you are the fire hydrant." (Whichever one you are right now, it passes. I promise.)

Last year I didn't write much, by choice. I couldn't bear for the most joyful thing in my life to be tainted by drudgery and depression. This year, my energy (and therefore my writing desire) is back, and I've eased back into the joyful end of the writing pool.

Whether you are the dog or the fire hydrant, whether you are writing scads of pages or none...our writing is a gift and a choice. Own it. Do as much as you are able, without excuses.

2. Stop whining and write.

Nora Roberts works for 6-8 hours on the writing and works out for 90 minutes every day. Although she's more disciplined than the half the writers I meet, there's a lot to be said for routine. Routine can pull a writer through some hard times. Nora prizes her routine but she also credits the Catholic nuns she was schooled by - she says they taught her to just put her head down and do the work.

Our own Laura Drake is similar. Up at the butt-crack of dawn to write, a few hours on Facebook, more time for the online classes she teaches, time with her hubby and early to bed to do it all again.

Setting a routine, and putting your head down to do the work, is a winning combination to finishing books. It also gets you past the scenes when the writing is hard (aka when you want to whine).

As you might know from reading my Bikini Wax Theory of Writing, writing is not always a Disney frolic through the pages for me. I tend to write humorous books with really tough story themes. Tough themes equal tough writing. But those are the stories that come to me, so those are the stories I write.

3. Stop effing around and write.

Many writers are easily distractable. *raises hand* They get caught up on social media, the internet, the laundry pile. There's a lot to be said for just getting your writing done and out of the way first thing in the day.

If your elusive quiet time doesn't happen until the end of the day, you might have to wait until then to get your writing done. I knew one writer who was a full-time newspaper reporter, who finished her entire first book at the lunch table in the courtyard outside her offices.

Let's revisit the "make a routine" advice up above. No matter what time of day your brain clicks into high gear, building a routine around that time. Steven Kotler calls this state "Flow" and defines it as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

Figure out your "flow" time, stop dinking around, and write. That linked Kotler article offers many examples of what "flow" looks like, and how to get that state of creativity.

Further Reading

Here are a few more posts I came across in my research:

Which tip resonated with you? What no-nonsense tip keeps you going in your own writing life? Tell us all about it down in the comments!

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About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

24 comments on “No-Nonsense Writing Tips From Nora Roberts”

  1. For me, 'Stop effing around and write' is the one I identified with the most. Through this lockdown I managed to get into a routine of writing before work. This allowed me to finish the first draft of a story I've been thinking about for years but I'm slowly dropping out of my routine for no real reason. Maybe it's because I'm now editing a different story and the idea of editing is putting me off but I do need to 'Stop effing around and write/edit!'

    1. LOL. We ALL need to stop effing around and write, John! We need to print some t-shirts. 🙂

      But seriously, that you got yourself into a routine for a while is fantastic, and it proves to you that you can do it again. First drafts have to percolate, so finish your edits during that time and then get back to it. You're making forward progress on your dreams, man!

  2. Consistency is good. Building a routine around my time flow will be my plan for tomorrow.
    If I can rid myself of the emotional baggage in my study.

    1. Get that emotional baggage out of the study, Goldy! Out, out, out. Your spirit will feel so much lighter when you do, and that will show on the page. 🙂

  3. Some years the fire hydrant... LOL! Some days, too. Yet, fire hydrants are life savers when we need them. As are words. So I guess we just put up with the dogs, knowing that we're doing a good thing. AND stop effing around!

  4. I finished my "not quite my normal book" which I'd started pre-pandemic. (It's up for pre-order), and I've started the next, one in more familiar territory with more familiar characters. It's moving slowly, but that's because I've had to stop to deal with things like edits, formatting, cover art, etc., for the new release. I find I'm easily distracted, but online chatting via Hangouts with one of my crit partners helps us both know we're not the only ones slogging.

    1. I'm so glad you finished that book, Terry! Feel free to come back and share the link, or at least the title. 🙂

      I'm a huge fan of accountability partners. There's an app called FocusMates that is gaining popularity because of that, and I see a lot more people doing virtual meetups where they mute and block video for 20-40-60 minute sets of writing sprints or productivity work. It's awesome.

    1. I will absolutely pray for you! You are in a business sector that is being hit hard by this pandemic and I want Baer House Inn to live on and thrive. I've still got to come visit. 🙂

  5. What is this thing you call routine? LOL.

    Incorporating meditation and exercise into the day is assisting with focus. I've had far too many "look, there's a squirrel" days.

    I'm not ready to embrace Nora's schedule, but aspire to better than I have been doing. I can only move forward from where I am and do my best to keep heading in that direction.

    I believe with all my heart that 2021 will be a much better year for all of us.

    1. LOL. I'm happy with TWO hours of writing time a day, Ellen. That woman deserves her success with her 6-8 hours a day. She is a writing machine!

  6. Yes...get your ass in the chair, bub, and stay the hell off the 'net. Routines and word counts, yes? Thanks for administering the nudge this time, Jenny.

  7. Wow! I can relate to all 3, Jenny! Since Covid, I started working on my story every day at 1 p.m. and now that routine is so ingrained that I get antsy and irritable and whiny if 1 p.m. rolls around and I'm not at my computer. Now if only I could approach exercising the same way. Oh yeah, Nora rocks!

    1. She DOES rock! Virtual classes are the way I've gotten back into exercising Barb. There is literally no excuse if you can do it right in the living room. The hubs and I both do it, and just ignore each other so we can get through it.

      The trainer calls it High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), but anyone watching us would say, "Oh, so they just throw themselves around the living room. That looks like fun..."

  8. I'm only answering this now because, for a change, I haven't been e-ing around. I set a self-imposed deadline of last Friday to finish the editing pass on Stealing Light. My hours/day shot up to the eight hour range (I actually went over that last Thursday). I made it. That, though, isn't the point I want to make. Well, not exactly.

    I report my hours to an on-line group, WritingChallenge, and always I receive praise for editing 3-5 hours/day. I appreciate the comments because they're expressed out of kindness. Internally, though, I'm seething—at myself. I haven't worked since March. Sure, there was some time spent dealing with the shock of a pandemic that'd kill me faster than a bus at high speed, but what about since? Why am I not getting in at least 8 hours of work/day. It's simple. I've been e-fing around.

    All that said, I think I'm back on track. Maybe it was starting yoga two months ago. I don't know. My hours started climbing after that. I do know that I finished work on Stealing Light after 11PM on Friday and at midnight I started reviewing the ReVision Map notes I made last November for Protecting the Pneuma Key. Yesterday, I caught up laundry and cleaning and performed more preliminary work before launching into Pneuma Key. I still managed almost 6 hours. I WILL maintain that at a minimum.

    This is probably why I'm not in a critique group. I had people telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, when instead I wanted to be pushed. Of course, I knew they were telling me that because that was what they wanted to hear. I indulged them. No one was productive. The group broke up.

    This advice will go up on my wall, my computer, and anywhere else I can think to put it. It ranks with the all the advice I got from Ray Bradbury that was instrumental in igniting my writing in the first place. Thank you. Thank you so much! This was what I needed when I needed it.

  9. Love this! It doesn't seem like routine can help that much . . . but it does! Sometimes the small things, the things we hear every day, are the things we need to listen to a little better 🙂

  10. Stop Whining and Write! I love it! I had to come to terms with that notion last December. I decided that if I want to get it done, I have to write. It’s my escape. The work won’t write itself. I feel like an even bigger fraud if I talk about being a writer and not write anything. So...I write. I really like the routine as well. Very helpful.

  11. Aw, Jenny, your post couldn't come at a better time.
    I took off a week for R n R and found a healthy balance connecting with fam.

    Back to 'owning my writing' and building a routine around my peak writing time!

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