Writing a whole book - 95,000 words, 300 plus pages - is that simple. You choose writing over other things. That might be instead of sleeping in or replying to email or cleaning a closet. Maybe you send the husband to the zoo with the kids and decide to skip it this time because after all you went to the playground yesterday and hey you can write three more pages while they're all out. I'm by no means a motivation or planning expert, but after fourteen years tinkering with Shooting Stars, I started writing Warrior's Hilt in January 2009 and today, July 31, I have 290 pages. I am on track to be finished September 1 and polished in time to enter the Golden Heart. Here's what I've learned.
- Plan your writing realistically in weekly chunks. I use a 3-column Word document with three months of Wednesday and Saturday dates on the left. The middle column contains blank lines for pages achieved each date and a pre-printed weekly page goal. On the right I note expected events (my week to blog, vacation, camping) that add or subtract writing time. I vary my page goals based on the week. On the road for vacation, 5 pages. A so-called regular week, 15 pages. Both kids at camp 9 am to noon for a whole week, 30 pages (didn't quite make that but it was a great goal).
- Print the plan and put it on the fridge. Forget weight loss, I want to write. I track pages achieved on the fridge instead of wasting computer time opening the chart. Not only does seeing my goals all the time keep me aware, I'm accountable to anyone who looks at the fridge.
I've had failures. The week my laptop died I wrote nothing and I'm still catching up. I grew distracted the whole month of May and let my writing priorities drift. They slipped so far I had to revise my accountability chart from an August 1 deadline to September 1, and that's why I ended up with a 30 page goal one week and waaay too many 20 page weeks. But now I'm past the hump (see Monday's entry for the rhino). That's how normal slow people run marathons and that's how you raise kids and that's how you mow the grass. You keep going.
- Write anything, even crap. This is Cherry Adair's view of writing and I believe in it. You can edit the crap out of anything but a blank page. If I can't figure out a transition from a chunk of dialog to the next action sequence, I [add transition here] and move forward. Brackets and speed are my friends.
In this system, do not under any circumstances agonize over phrasing. Maybe spend time choosing one word, but you can put a [boring word] in brackets and come back later to jazz it up. When I write what I know to be a cliche, I add [cl] after it to remind me to freshen during editing.
Two months ago I described three scenes in Warrior's Hilt as [go to his tuscan castle - dinner - bad guys invade]. I wanted to move to the morning after the fight scene, which I could see clearly at that moment, but I think moving linearly is important to character development and manuscript integrity.
By this week I was one hundred pages past that point, stuck at the final part of a snow mobile chase. I couldn't tackle that frigid mess in Seattle's hundred degree heat, so I flipped back to my Tuscan castle brackets and it all flowed, the fight scene with tipped over candles lighting a tapestry on fire, the dining room's historic weapon collection, the hero's anger that the heroine didn't follow his commands.
In sum: make a realistic accountability calendar, print and post it visibly, write fast and sloppy to move forward. You will have a rough draft faster than you imagine and you will be able to edit, polish, tweak and fiddle as necessary - with a new calendar or you'll be at it fourteen years like I was.
Do you have a different system that works for you to get your writing done? I'm always interested in tips and tricks to squeeze more writing out of a day, so please post here. And I promise to post my dialog editing comments when I get my page count back to green-light status.