Writing Workshop IV

The First Draft

So many people love the idea of writing a book. They corner you at a dinner party over the dessert table and tell you they have a spectacular million-dollar idea, the next bestseller that is going to top the charts and land them the deal of a lifetime. They tell you it’s going to be AMAZING! They have the characters, the plot, the world-building, the mind-blowing ending, all planned out. And it does sound amazing. But I would hazard to say 90% of the time, when you ask them how the book is coming a month, a year, even two later, they come back with, “I just never got around to it”, or “I got distracted”, or “I just couldn’t get the momentum going”.

Unfortunately, this is a problem many people face. You see, having that spark of inspiration is wonderful, but when it comes to sitting down and getting that first draft written…well, that’s another story. Writing a book takes stamina. It’s an endurance sport, not a race. So today I thought I’d take a bit of time to talk about some tips and tricks I use that have helped me persevere while running the gruelling but hugely gratifying marathon of book writing.

  1. Nothing is scarier than a blank page

Nothing gets in your way like staring at a blank white screen. For many, it’s enough to derail the whole project before you’ve even started. So how do I work around this? I return to my good old friend, the book plan. When I write my book plan, I write out each scene in a half-baked hodge-podge of mangled sentences that have flown out of my fingers in a breathless stream of consciousness. It’s not pretty, but then, it’s not meant to be pretty. It’s meant to bring the scene I envisioned back into focus, and with it, all the inspiration and feeling behind the scene that I want to capture, and when I actually want to write out that scene, I copy and paste that section of the plan to the top of the page. That way, I never actually start on a blank page. You’d be surprised how much it helps just having something there other than a blinking cursor.

2. Set the mood

Get your cup of tea (because it always starts with tea!) or any drink of choice, select a playlist of mood music, find a place to write that inspires you, or create a Pinterest pin board for your book that will get your mind in the zone, and for Christ’s sake, remove as many distractions as possible. You do not need your social media browsers open on your computer while you’re writing. It’s just too easy to click on the next tab and lose the next hour that you’d promised to writing to the endless black hole that is internet browsing (Imgur anyone?)

3. Your first draft is going to be shit…and that’s okay.

First drafts are meant to be rough. I think people can get disheartened by the quality of their writing, or decide that their story isn’t turning out just exactly so and throw in the towel before the game has even begun. First drafts are just that: drafts. There is no place for perfectionism while writing them. I always liked the analogy of a sandbox: the first draft is all about filling your sandbox with sand. Leave the castle building to the second, third, forth and fifth drafts, and don’t pause or get hung up on whether or not you used the exact right word to describe Character A’s eyes, or if the flow between scenes feels a bit choppy. Just keep swimming, my friend. We’ll fix it later.

4. Set small goals

I am hugely goal-oriented. I like to keep track of how many words I’ve written in a day, and I keep them logged in an Excel spreadsheet that graphs my progress and calculates an estimated completion date based on my average daily word count. Is this overkill? Perhaps. I blame my husband, the engineer, who LOVES Excel. However, it’s a useful tool for me. It keeps me motivated to hit my target day after day (after day after day), and it’s easier for me to hit 1,500 words a day than it is to conceptualize writing a 80-100 thousand word manuscript. If 1,500 words sounds daunting, start with less. Hell, set a goal of a couple hundred words a day. The number doesn’t matter. What matters most is that it’s achievable, so that when you do hit that target, you feel a sense of accomplishment, of pride, of satisfaction, and that feeling will keep you coming back to hit that same goal the next day and the day after that. And if you ever feel like it will simply take too much time, remind yourself that the time will pass regardless, and even if it takes a year or two, or three, you’ll have accomplished something wonderful at the end.

5. Find a writing partner

Like going to the gym to workout, writing is easier when you have someone to do it with, because nothing deters avoidance quite like another person holding you accountable to your promises (even if they are only to yourself). Also, having a writing partner is great when you hit roadblocks and need an extra mind to bounce ideas off of.

Writing a book is no small feat, but oftentimes, the biggest obstacle getting in our way is ourselves. Hopefully these tips will help you overcome your hangups, and get you on the path to writing that next bestseller!

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