Even later to the party with this one, but I thought I'd show up with the bottle of wine and savoury snacks anyway, if that's okay with everyone
I've been writing for well over twenty years, and while in that time I've managed to finish stuff like short stories and song lyrics, I'd previously never managed to complete any of the multitude of novels I've started...
(Daamn, wish I hadn't written that 'cos now my brain's working out the maths and doing the 'loser' symbol at me..!)
... but this year, FINALLY, I managed to complete a First Draft of my 'latest.' The very first! I even got to type 'The End' and everything! And I'm now knee-deep in Draft Two - and so far, no urge to quit yet. (Mainly I think because, after getting this
far, I'd be quite prepared to punch myself in my own face if I even DARED to suggest to myself that I might give up on it now.)
But the reason it's worked this time around is because I've changed my attitude to writing - and I firmly believe this is the only way someone like me could ever hope to Get The Stuff Done. Obviously I don't claim to have found The Secret or anything daft like that; I just thought I'd share what I did in the hope it might be of some help - to you and to anyone else out there...
I had to face facts: I'm a bit of a lazy so-and-so. I'm quite capable of doing something hard that makes my brain hurt and drags my self-belief through the cowpats of indifference - if I absolutely have
to. But f I don't
have to, if it's purely optional
... my tendency is to go do something else instead (and sometimes chocolate gets involved in the decision-making process too.) Hence my never managing to finish something as giant and complicated as a novel. So, if I really, truly wanted to get a novel published before I grew old and died, I had to treat the task like a real, proper job, not just something to do for fun/creative fulfilment/stoking my dream of being a novelist someday. Which meant I had to keep regular hours, clocking in and out and putting in the piecework, for at least five days of every week - whether I felt like 'working' or not
Step 1 - I made an agreement with myself on what my 'working hours' per week would be. I chose hours rather than something like word count because it was a more tangible target to track; even with the worst case of writers' block in the world an hour is still an hour. The key is to set a target that doesn't rely so much on you having a 'good writing day' to be achievable - at least at first. I went with a minimum of five days a week working two hours = ten hours a week. The short, two-hour bursts seem to work much better for me than trying to fit my ten hours into one or two marathon sessions; it keeps the work fresher in my mind by seeing it more regularly, and because I'm also a parent that's about all I can realistically promise to myself anyway.
Step 2 - I tracked my progress. Calendars work if you don't like computer-y-based stuff, but I went down the geeky route and created my calendar with an excel spreadsheet. I used it for my 'working hours' each week - just like a proper timesheet in an ordinary job - and dutifully filled it in at the end of every session. Very nerdy, yes - but doing this made it real for me. I could really see the effort I was putting in each day, week, month... and once you start seeing that as hard evidence you can actually look at, it spurs you on to keep going (and guilts you into maintaining it when you start to feel the urge to slack off, bwah ha haaa...
Step 3 - I wrote out a contract for myself. Like a proper work contract, I made sure it stated my 'working hours' and 'duties' very clearly - but I also added some 'kick up the bum' paragraphs as well, stating exactly why I was committing to the contract in the first place (listing all the dreams/ambitions that made me want to get this novel finished and - maybe someday - published) and anything else suitably motivational. I printed out a copy to pin up over my computer, and made sure the digital copy of it was on my desktop - so that, either way, I could always see it.
Step 4: ongoing - I keep showing up at the page/computer, on my allocated working days for my allocated working hours, as if I'm showing up for a real job. Yes, I can have 'sick days' and book 'time off' just like a real job - but I treat it exactly that way, like work. (I.e. if I 'take a week off' I don't beat myself up about it - most employees are entitled to some sick/holiday leave - but I don't abuse the privilege any more than I could in a real job.) And if, at the end of a session, I end up with a pile of rubbish - or even nothing at all - to show for my efforts - I try not to stress about it
. I just make sure I show up for the next working day - and the next, and the next... So I let myself write drivel, let myself spend the entire session writing stuff I know
, even as I write it, that I won't be keeping a single word of
when I get to the editing stage. I let myself write stuff I HATE. MUCH better that than crying off a session because 'I can't think of anything to write so it'll be a waste of time anyway and oh look, 'The Voice' is on now...'
This probably all sounds a bit bootcamp-ish, and I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking "blow that for a game of soldiers, that sucks all the fun out of writing!" All I can say is, it's worked for me and (so far) it continues to keep working. It might work for others too.
The important thing is making the commitment, training your mind to think of those dedicated hours of each dedicated day as Writing Time. Do that, and in time the sessions of writing bilge will become rarer and rarer. Before you know it, you've got so far through the process of writing your novel - and you KNOW you have, because you can look at your timesheet and SEE how many hours you've already put into it - that you'll power on through and WANT to finish it. Even if that means taking the original story in a new direction - or alternatively, adding in some new angles to it - which brings me neatly on to...
...Don't just discard all those abandoned WIPs you never finished, Washington. Sometimes unfinished novels don't work because they're really only PARTS of stories, that need other things to drive them on. You might find that, like pieces of a jigsaw, you could fit two three of those separate works together to create a brand new whole that COULD work.
Keep the faith - I'll be waving those motivational pom-poms for you!