Today’s guest post is by Mandy Kilinskis, who writes content for Quality Logo Products and their promo blog. By night, she continues working on her YA fantasy novel and spends way too much time on Twitter.
Many people have “write a novel” on their bucket list. But most of us don’t write fiction for our full-time jobs. Last time I was here, I shared how while writing full-time for my company, I brainstormed characters, location, and plot for my novel.
But brainstorming is just the beginning. As any writer will tell you, the real magic happens when you do the work and start writing.
Of course, this is easier said than done. With the plethora of distractions of home, work, and life in general, writing a novel is hard work.
But while it’s hard work, it’s not impossible work. Here’s how I took to the keyboard and pounded out all 85,000 words of the first draft of my novel.
1. Give Yourself a Deadline
I started my novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I knew that I would need to write more than that for a complete novel, but as I am a horrible procrastinator, I needed a deadline and a sense of urgency.
Whether you NaNo or not, I still firmly believe in a deadline; and I like the aggressiveness of the 50,000 words/30 days ratio. So I researched the average word counts of my genre and retooled the timeframe. I decided to shoot for about 90,000 words for my fantasy novel, which came out to 54 days to write a draft.
I fell off the wagon around the holidays, but once I picked back up, a total time of 54 days was spot-on.
2. Tell Friends/Family to Hold You Accountable
Writing a book isn’t a casual undertaking. So I made sure that everyone I was close to knew about it. I told my parents, brother, friends, and immediate colleagues that I was planning to write a book and I would appreciate their support.
I did this A) to make sure that people understood why I was about to become a social recluse and B) to build a network of supporters that would keep me on track.
If I texted my friends about plans for the weekend, they would ask me how many words I had written today. If I wandered away from my computer for a snack, my mother was quick to ask me if I was finished for the day.
Was it a little grating after a while? Sure, but it inspired me to reach my word count for the day.
3. Reward Yourself
Fun fact: I’m a total TV junkie. I knew that if I attempted to write around my TV schedule, I would never finish. So instead, I made sure that my DVR was set up to record everything I watch, and I wouldn’t allow myself to watch anything until I reached my word count.
No matter how you pass time at home, you have to put it all on the backburner. Family commitments are important, of course, but Facebook games, TV, and your evening Reddit visits all have to wait. Watching that episode of Castle will feel even sweeter with 2,000 words under your belt.
(Beej’s Note: I concur! Castle is fantastic palette-cleansing reward TV. I use it for just this, myself!)
4. Keep Your Progress Visual
As gratifying as it is to see your word count go up, you’re going to need something extra to keep track of your long-term progress and motivate you to continue. This could be a percentage bar, a countdown, or even a calendar with Xs through the days you sit down and write. And if at all possible, put up this progress indicator at work.
For me, I had a ton of visual progress trackers. I set up a small white board where I would record how many words I wrote the night before. I placed a countdown on my cubicle with my word count goal on a sticky note and every day I would change it to reflect the new lower total. I used a progress bar at home.
Having the visual motivators at work got me pumped to get home and write. They also prompted my coworkers to ask me about my progress and shame me into reporting in.
5. Write Everyday…
This is one of the tricks to becoming a great writer, and it’s never more important than when you’re trying to finish a long narrative.
There will be many days when you get home and you just want to space out. But don’t. Spacing out feels great at the time, but makes it even harder to jump back in the next day. Even if you can only squeeze in half an hour before work, or hand-write during your lunch, that’s still a dent in your word count.
6. …But Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Don’t
It’s inevitable: you will have a day when you just don’t have time to write. You know, the day when work, volunteering, your daughter’s recital, and a party for your brother’s birthday all seem to fall on the same day.
If you’re out all day without a chance to write and then come home exhausted, do not try and crank out a cool thousand words before bed. Just go to bed.
Even with your deadline looming, it’s worth taking the break. One night I came home after being out from 6 am to midnight and wrote a little before bed. As I’ve been editing now, I’ve had to rewrite the majority of these passages. You’ll have rewrites and edits no matter what, but don’t waste your time or energy by writing down things that will be scrapped entirely.
7. Transfer Devices
My personal desktop at home is distracting. I can go wherever I want on the internet and open whatever files I please. So while sometimes I needed to close my browsers and just focus on my Word document, I found it easier to work at a different computer in the house.
When I use a device that’s communal or not specifically mine, I treat it differently. I stick to my email and the word processor. I feel weird checking Facebook or Twitter on my mother’s desktop. Getting out of my comfort zone and eliminating these distractions helps me write more than I ever do in my room.
8. Get the Hell Out of the House
But what worked even better than moving to another device in my house was getting out of my house entirely. My local library hosted NaNo writing “parties,” so two Saturdays during November I packed up a laptop and headed there to write for three hours.
The quiet atmosphere eased me, the slow internet deterred me, and the lack of distractions focused me into writing about five thousand words on each visit.
If the dead quiet of the library isn’t for you, then head to your local coffee shop or park. Live in an apartment complex? Try the lobby. If for some reason you just can’t leave the house, at least change your location. Moving from my bedroom to the kitchen table does wonders for my productivity.
These steps might sound a little daunting, and yes, you will disappear from society for a while; and yes, you will be sacrificing a lot of personal time at night and on the weekends; but after a month or two of solid hard work, you’ll have a finished draft of your novel.
And trust me, that feeling of triumph is more than worth the journey.
Have you used any of these techniques before? What other practices do you use in your writing process?
Awesome post, Mandy! I know from hearing about your writing experiences and others, that the level of dedication needed isn’t for the faint of heart. I know I could never attempt to do NaNoWriMo so I give big props to anyone who can!
Thanks, Amy! It was a long, long process, but definitely worth it.
Thanks again for sticking with me through NaNo this past November. I appreciate you asking me about my progress and letting me report it each day. It made a huge difference! 🙂
I can see how accountability would make a big difference, especially during NaNoWriMo! That’s probably part of my problem now…I have no one to bitch at me if I don’t meet a quota. 🙁
Unfortunately, my laptop is on the fritz and it’s tough to move my desktop computer to a different location, so I’ve been keeping a notebook full of handwritten notes instead. That seems to be working a little better, so hopefully I can keep it up.
Thanks for another post full of quality writing tips! It’s super helpful.
That’s one reason I post goals posts occasionally, so that my readers can keep me accountable if I screw up (or start to).
Awesome advice across the board. And the tips are totally applicable to any kind of goal you want to reach: focus on willpower, put supports in place in case your willpower fails, and don’t stress yourself so much that you want to throw in the towel altogether (but push yourself as reasonably close as possible). Your results alone show how powerful those strategies can be!
Thanks, Jana. And you’re absolutely right: a lot of these strategies are great for any kind of goal that you want to meet. Removing distractions and setting up a support group was key for me, and the next time I take on a huge undertaking, I’ll be sure to do it again.
For me, it’s the distractions, too. When I’m writing, I have to leave my phone in the other room and turn off the wireless. I set myself a time when I can turn it back on, but I completely close myself off. If my wife is at home, I ask her not to bother me because I can’t work if I get even the tiniest bit distracted. It works, though–I finished 2 first drafts earlier this year in just an hour a day by locking myself away for an hour a day.
I try to do pretty much all of these things when writing, to various degrees of success. The one thing that’s tough for me is telling other people that I’m writing and asking them to hold me accountable. I tend to be very private about the things I’m writing; if I do tell anyone, it’s only a select handful of people close to me. I should probably ask those select few to badger me a little more, though, as lately I’ve been dragging my feet and falling behind on word count … This article has me pumped to go home and kick out some words, though. Thanks for that! 🙂
I imagine that you are far from alone when it comes to sharing the fact that you are writing. Not everyone is nearly so outgoing as I am about my writing habits.
But as it takes a lot for me to drum up internal motivation, I wanted to make sure that I had external motivation, too. And if that helps you, tell that small group to harass you. 🙂
Now get home and beat out those words!
While I’ll never attempt to write a novel (can you imagine how many times I’d have to read the thing out-loud before I’d allow myself to advance to the next page?!?!?), I agree, a change of scenery can do WONDERS for one’s creativity.
Being that I’ve been working in the same industry for the better 1/2 of my life I sometimes get stuck when my job requires creativity.
What do I do? Sit with my laptop on the toilet. Bring my laptop outside and start a fire. Prepare my creative while in the hot tub (Apple laptops are amazingly resilient).
Regardless… These new and sometimes awkward places (imagine a power cord running underneath the bathroom door) often result in new/fresh ideas I’d normally miss if I were to remain at my desk all day.
When I did my first as-a-reader readthrough of BIRTHRIGHT, I was pleasantly surprised at how different it felt from going page-by-page and doing edits and revision, actually. Even though I’ve read the thing dozens of times, I was able to disconnect and see it as a story when I tried. That amazed me.
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