The first week of 2018 started off with a bang (literally and figuratively speaking). I finally finished my latest project, which is now in publication stage. Launching a new book is always exciting, and when you finally see it in print, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of your book in your hands. That feeling never subsides, no matter how many books you write.
But before you can celebrate the release of a new book, you have to finish writing it.
I read posts in writing forums all the time from writers who have difficulty finishing the book they’re writing. They have so many ideas and start a ton of projects, but have a hard time finishing any of them. It takes discipline and pushing your internal editor aside to get it done.
An informational meeting I attended recently focused on that exact topic. During this meeting, I jotted down a list of rules to follow that I think will help struggling writers finish their first draft. If this is you, I hope you will find this information useful.
- Ditch the negativity. You can’t go into writing with the attitude that you won’t finish or it’s too hard or no one will like your work. Ignore your inner demons and write.
- Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Start by getting your ideas on paper. Anne Lamott said, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Your first draft is supposed to be messy. Just get it written.
- Send your internal editor on vacation. I know it’s tempting to edit your work as you go. Believe me, I do it too. But if your goal is finish the manuscript, stop worrying about it being perfect and get the words on paper. You can leave a sticky note or a quick sentence to remind yourself where you left off, but NO EDITING ALLOWED! Go back and fine tune it later.
- Lock yourself in your room and put a do not disturb sign on the door. I don’t mean this literally. I simply mean to tell your family and friends that you love them then give yourself that alone time to write without distractions. Get off social media and turn off the TV. Absorb yourself in your ideas.
- Pre-plan. Have your story map, outline, character sketches, etc…ready before you start.
- Believe in the magic. Go in with the idea that your plan will work. Stick to the rules and stay positive (see rule number 1).
- Recruit a cheering squad. Set up a support system and make yourself accountable to other people. Only choose people who will motivate you.
- Create a great writing space. Clear the clutter, get comfortable, and have everything you need accessible.
- Feed your brain. Eat protein and high energy food. Stock up on those protein bars and have them handy.
- Take a break. Stop and stretch every 45 minutes. Get the blood pumping. Take a quick bathroom break, walk a few laps around the room, or stretch for a minute or two. Then go right back to writing.
- Set yourself up for success. Every time you push yourself, you create new neurological pathways in your brain. When you constantly stay in your story, you will get better and faster, and your story will become tighter. Set daily writing goals and stick to them, then reward yourself.
- It’s ok to get stuck. If you do get stuck, move away from the computer for a minute (see rule number 10). Concentrate on a scene with a particular character. Write a placeholder and move on to the next scene or chapter. Leave headers for each chapter then add details. Make notes of what you’d like to see happen. Time yourself – give yourself 20 minutes of hands on the keyboard. You’ll soon find yourself writing for much longer than that. Refer back to your map, outline, or other pre-writing notes. If all else fails, ask a friend to help brainstorm.
- Celebrate success. Yay! You did it! Now crack open that bottle of wine and celebrate. You worked hard, and you deserve it.
Now that your draft is finished, walk away from the keyboard for a few days before you go in to clean up the mess. Cleaning up the mess is an entirely different blog post.
You can do this! Just keep writing.