When we start writing we’re all dewy eyed, super keen, and ready to knuckle down for some serious work. All too quickly the reality sets in, pessimism kicks you in the stomach, and things don’t look so rosy. Here are some tips to stay productive and get your book written.
The majority of potential authors start off with a great idea for a story but don’t follow through once they realise the hard work that would go into fleshing it out into a fully blown book. Their problem normally is that don’t approach the project with any structure, without a plan, and all gung-ho. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.
1Outline your story
It’s very easy when writing to go ‘off book’ taking tangents that might lead nowhere, a terrible waste of your time, and something that could derail your work. The way to combat this is to outline your book.
Set a roadmap for your story. A plan of action that will keep you on track, allowing you to concentrate on telling it. It helps you know what to write next. You need to think about the six Ws: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
Once you’ve got that down, put it into a brief synopsis. Expand it out into a paragraph or two so that you can check that it begins to make some sense as a cohesive story.
You can then start to flesh it out, develop your characters, scenes, and overall plot.
2Schedule your time
Now you know what you’re going to be writing about, you need to sit down and actually write it. It can be hard to find the time, there always seems to be something else that can be done. To combat this you need to set aside some quality time to get down to work.
You could pencil in a couple of hours two or three times a week, maybe in the evenings, to focus on your work. Or, one day a week, or even a whole weekend a month, whatever works best for you.
Your schedule doesn’t need to be hard and fast, if you’re feeling good you could write for longer or more often, or if you have prior commitments you could reschedule a day, but once you have something in place you are more likely to stick to it and get down to work.
Even if you find yourself simply sitting at your desk, thinking about the story, it all counts and helps you progress.
A bad day’s work is still better than not working at all. Whatever you put down on paper can be reworked or tweaked to make it better when you come back to revisit it.
3Don’t edit on the fly
Don’t edit your work as you go. It can slow down your writing rhythm and get you caught up in the technical side of writing. Just get your story down on paper. Once it’s there you can tidy it up, shape it, rework it, but if you haven’t finished getting it all down in the first place you won’t really know how best to edit.
If you were building a house, you wouldn’t paint the walls and lay the carpet before you’ve put on the roof and installed the windows.
Having goals means you can feel a sense of achievement for having reached them, it makes you feel better, and therefore more likely to write. They have to be measurable and attainable, don’t set the bar too high or you set yourself up for failure.
A goal could be to write a certain number of words or pages a day, or a certain number of chapters per week. You could encourage yourself to try a new plot technique or develop a new character.
Philip Pullman famously wrote three pages a day, which equates to about 1100 words. If he got them done early he could spend the rest of the day doing other things, otherwise he would sit at his desk in his shed until they were done. He would then write the first sentence of his fourth page so that he didn’t have a blank piece of paper facing him in the morning.
Tied in with goals, you need to give yourself a time limit on when to achieve them. You could realistically plan when your book could be finished before you’ve even started writing, but it would be better to break it down into smaller chunks.
Anthony Trollope would write 3000 words every day between 5.30 and 8.30am, before he set off for his job at the Post Office. He kept his watch in front of him so he could achieve 250 words each quarter-hour.
Obviously, you wouldn’t have to be that regimented, but it shows the importance of deadlines and sticking to them.
You’ve achieved your goals, you’ve met your deadlines, no one else is going to pat you on the back, so you need to reward yourself.
This could be something simple like half an hour of television after completing one of your daily goals, or a trip to the cinema for hitting your weekly targets. You could get tickets to a football match at the end of the week for having written so many words, or a city-break for hitting your chapter deadline.
You know what you like, so choose rewards that will keep you motivated and give you something to look forward to. Scale them from small daily rewards up to a big special treat for finishing your book.
Know when to stop. Don’t be a slave driver to yourself. Take a five minute break from your desk every hour, make yourself a cup of coffee. Take a day or two off in the week, giving yourself time to reset before embarking on the next week’s work.
Don’t count breaks as not working, they’re invaluable for giving you a chance to reflect upon what you’ve achieved already, and will motivate you to carry on with the next stage.
If you don’t take breaks you could end up resenting your book and not finishing.
8Don’t give up
Above all, don’t give up. None of this is set in stone, your schedule, goals, deadlines, outline, can all be reworked as you see fit. Don’t see yourself as a failure if things don’t go according to plan. Keep on going, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
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