Wednesday, May 27, 2009

To The Unpublished Writers: Today Is The Day!

Back on January 1st, you may have made a resolution. In the spirit of a new year, you may have created an entire list of resolutions for 2009. Your list might have read: Lose ten pounds, quit smoking for good, be nicer to people who bug me, finally write that novel.

Here’s the thing. Scores of folks make weight loss or a new exercise routine one of their resolutions, but by February, most have slipped or given up altogether. The gym I attend was jam-packed in January. I remember overhearing a woman on the treadmill beside me say to her friend, “I give the fresh meat two weeks. We’ll have the gym to ourselves by February.” Unfortunately, her snide remark could also apply to a long-term goal like writing a novel.

Like good health, writing takes discipline. I know you’ve got a job, kids, a house, pets, in-laws, and an inbox filled with time-consuming emails. Me too! But if you want to do this thing – be a writer, that is – you’ve got to get started. You’ve got to work like you’re ALREADY published. Give yourself a year to write a book and start now. Seriously, mark it on your calendar. Today is the day!

I’ve heard many different stories about how what writers accomplish each day. Some write 1,000-2,000 words and some try to knock off three pages. I try to complete a task such as a highly descriptive scene, a long section of dialogue, the editing of a single chapter, or the plotting of the next one. I don’t outline the whole book and will suggest that you don’t either. Map out three chapters and start hammering away on the keyboard. Once you’ve written fifty pages, map out three more.

If you can’t write every day then don’t, but it’s easier to write a page a day than seven pages on a Sunday night. Think of it as eating sensible meals instead of binging. You’ll feel better if you crank out something each day. I write in the mornings because my mental abilities start declining after five p.m. Try to find your good time to write and if that silly job interferes with your ideal time then beg, borrow, or steal minutes away each week to devote to your project. And save the editing until the chapter is done. Don’t second-guess your writing as it streams forth or you’ll stifle the creative flow.

Lastly, get a separate calendar for your writing project. Give yourself a few weeks to sketch your characters and plot out those first three chapters. Then, mark your calendar with some goals. Let’s say that you’ll have fifty pages done by the first of August. If you succeed, then celebrate on that day with a huge cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake. Why not, you’re not still on that diet, are you?


G.M. Malliet said...

This really is inspirational. I still remember how hard it was to write anything without a "real" deadline. So you have to make up your own.

Look at it this way: A year will pass anyway, more quickly than any of us can foresee now. Would you rather have a completed novel at the end of that year, or not?

Is there something else you want more?

Cricket McRae said...

Terrific post -- and a nice reminder, too. Even if you have written a novel or more, there's always the next one...

Also remember that time may pass differently during the book writing process, tending to start out slowly, and then gain momentum as the project progresses.

Alan Orloff said...

You've hit upon the golden rule of writing: Just Do It.

Having a schedule (and a little discipline) is at least as important as anything else when it comes to writing--talent, creativity, proper punctuation.

Everyone has excuses. Not everyone has finished manuscripts--but they could, if they stopped with the excuses.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I completely agree with your advice about outlining--it can make the project seem overwhelming, especially for a first-time novelist. Making short outlines for the chapter you're about to start writing is so much easier.

Great advice and an interesting post.

Mystery Writing is Murder