Having complete a couple of novels and started a couple more, as well as teaching quite a few classes where some people finish writing that first draft and others don’t, I’ve been pondering what you need to do to actually get the job done. I’m talking actions here – not motivation. An absolute passion for writing (and reading) and a steely determination to get over the finish line no matter what, are the prerequisites for writing any book. But what actions can you take to follow through on your initial motivation?
1. Set up a Writing Schedule
Work out roughly how many words you want to write, how many hours a day or week you can devote to it, and plan. You might like to work on a word count system – 5,000 words a week for example – or you might prefer to work by the clock, devoting a certain number of hours per day to your writing.
2. Have a Dedicated Writing Space
If you have an office or study, that’s perfect. Otherwise find a spot in your bedroom or some other quiet place in your house where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure the desk or table top is clear, you have space for your computer, pens and paper at the ready and a few inspirational items like photos or candles or affirmations visible. Keep this space clear at all times so you can sit and write without having to do a major clean up first.
3. Write Fast
Anyone who is familiar with Nano (National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November each year www.nanowrimo.org) knows that it is possible to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s how I wrote my second novel. You don’t need to wait for November. Pick any month and start writing. Work out how many words you need to do a day and just write. Not only will you get your word count up fast but you’ll find that the pressure to write in a set time helps create new ideas, plot lines you would never dream up if you had years to think of them, and writing that flows even if it does take bizarre twists and turns in places. Get the words down and revise later.
4. Stay up or Stay Home Until You Reach Your Daily Quota
Easier said than done, I know, but that draft isn’t going to write itself. If you’re lucky enough to have a few days at home without work commitments don’t move your butt from that chair until you’ve done your 1700 words or two hours or whatever daily goal you’ve set for yourself. If your day gets busy or you do have a day job stay up that extra hour or two – or turn off the TV – so the writing gets done.
5. Reward Yourself
Once you’ve reached your writing goal for the day, live a little. Buy yourself that coffee or magazine, sit in the sunshine with a book for half an hour, go for a walk, anything you love to do but always feel too guilty about. Giving yourself that reward will motivate you to reach your goal and get back in the chair the next day.
6. Refuse to Listen to Your Inner Editor
This goes hand in hand with writing quickly. You don’t have time to get into a conversation with that internal critic who keeps telling you your writing is crap, your characters lame and your plot ridiculous. Write quickly and when that nagging starts just remember that what you are doing is writing a first draft. It will be edited and revised (over and over) later. Your job right now is just to get the words down on paper.
7. Get Yourself Some Writing Buddies
Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Often the people you are closest to aren’t that interested in your new character or your great novel idea. But other writers will be. Join your local Writer’s Centre or look for classes at Community Colleges, go to conferences, festivals – anywhere like-minded people might hang out. Once you have a network of writers to run ideas by, get feedback from and inspire each other you’ll be even more motivated to get that book finished.
8. Find a Few Good Books on Writing
Ok, I confess, I’m a writing book junkie. My bookshelves are loaded with books on all aspects of writing, from getting ideas, to character development to writing a best-seller. And this can be a trap – it’s easy to spend all your time reading about or talking about writing and not actually doing any. A few books that really click with your writing philosophy, provide solutions to specific problems or motivate you to write are worth their weight in gold. There are plenty out there – just google books on writing or similar and you’ll find them. I’ll be doing a weekly review on these sorts of books on my website starting with ideas and inspirations (go to www.justwrite.net.au) This week’s is on The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood.
9. Be Careful about Sharing Your Draft Writing
It’s easy to get excited when you feel you’ve written something brilliant and rush to show it to your partner, your children or a close friend. Or even to try submitting it somewhere. There are a few problems here:
a) It might not be as brilliant as you first think (because it is a draft)
b) Your chosen reader might be critical – you don’t need criticism at this stage, you just need to get that draft written. Any suggestion that your work isn’t Miles Franklin material will spur on your inner critic to new heights and could completely stall your writing project.
c) Your reader might give you no feedback at all or might say “That’s great” or might even tell you your work is sensational. Whatever he/she says you will undoubtedly read something else into the words and once again your old friend the critic will be whispering nasty words inside your head.
The thing is, a draft is a draft – an unedited, unrevised piece of writing. A starting point. When you’re at the next stage of your project and your aim is to improve, then it’s ok to share. But choose wisely!
Writing is a process and drafting is just a part of it. If you remind yourself that there will be plenty of opportunity to polish your manuscript later and allow yourself to enjoy creating new characters, descriptions, plot-lines and more, it will show in your writing and you might be surprised to find that there won’t be as much drastic revision needed as you first thought.
I’m sure there are plenty more great ideas out there on how to get that first draft finished.
Would love to hear your thoughts and tips.