For most of us, writing can't always be our top priority in terms of time management. We have jobs, school, family, social obligations, grocery shopping, errands, and a ton of other stuff that has to be done, but that chips away at the time we'd rather spend writing.
It's hard to find time to think about stories, let alone write them, in the swirl of daily life. One of the most frequent questions I've gotten since the publication of my novel, The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn, is, “How did you find time to write a novel?”
It's easier said than done, but, as with most big projects, the answer is, “A little at a time.” I set a ridiculously low daily word count for myself: 250 words a day.
Why such a low count?
Because even on days when I was busy, tired, uninspired, or unsure what to do next in the story, I could write 250 words. If I had a bad day at it and the writing wasn't coming out well, I could always tell myself, “So what? If it stinks, I'll just delete 250 words tomorrow.
Not much lost.” And sometimes, because I wasn't worried about losing 250 not-the-right-words, I ended up writing a really good scene! If I had extra time or got on a roll, I went above my word count (sometimes by 10 or 20 times) and felt all the more pumped up because it was so far beyond my daily goal…which meant I'd write more the next day, too.
The thing is, 250 words a day doesn't seem like much, but it adds up – especially because of those days when you do go over. Even if you only got your 250 in, that's over 90,000 words in one year. That's a pretty solid novel length!
Think about it – even if you took weekends off, you could still get a 65,000 word draft in a year. Still feel like you can't find the time to write a book? Worried about hitting a patch of writer's block that will throw everything off?
Personally, I found that writing consistently, every day (or at least every weekday), reduced writer's block to near-nonexistence.
For one thing, it's easier to maintain a good habit than to start one. For another, you think about your story every day, not just on days when you're inspired.
And maybe most importantly, you gradually stop being intimidated by the blank pages ahead of you – it's reassuring to know that you're getting there a little at a time, that you don't have to devote hours per day to get the work done, and that you don't need to worry about getting it perfect on the first try.
When I did get stuck, there were plenty of tricks I used to un-stick myself. Talk to another writer: bounce crazy ideas off each other and have fun talking shop.
Go back a few pages and see if you boxed yourself in without realizing it when you made a decision in the story. Jump ahead to get away from a scene you're not sure how to get through – or just “sketch” the scene without the details, such as, “Bob yelled. Fred yelled back. Frank clobbered them both with a [random item] until they both shut up.
A donkey [?] walking past the window made them all realize that their quarrel was really about their father.” You can fill in the details – the specific dialogue, random item, etc. – later on without stopping your flow to fret over what Frank hit his brothers with…which really isn't the point, right?
Do writing exercises to get ideas, strengthen the plot, or get to know your characters better.
Listen to songs your characters would like. Pick 3 directions you could go with the scene you're working on; try them out and see which one takes off.
Daydream, and don't just visualize the story – really put yourself into it by including sounds, smells, tactile details, and tastes going on in the scene.
Even if you don't have room to describe all of them, it can help get your brain going – and push you to include more vivid, less cliché details that will stand out to the reader.
Granted, there will always be editing to contend with once you have your one-year (or less!) draft.
But, as many authors who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, when writers are challenged to crank out a 50,000 word rough draft within the month of November) can attest to, it's better to get the rough draft down on paper and then worry about editing than it is to try to switch back and forth between the creative process of writing a story and the self-disciplinary process of editing it.
I took about a year and a half to finish editing Erica Flynn, because I took breaks between drafts in order to get some distance and perspective (and others' input and opinions) before plunging back in. Technically, I suppose I finished editing it last October (seven months after its original release) when the second edition was released. So, in its eighth and finally final draft, it is, at last, the book I want it to be.
The bottom line is: write every day without fearing the rough draft, edit later and with gusto, and enjoy your process!
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