For most people, the biggest barrier to publication, is actually sitting down to write a book. Writing a book is hard work and it takes time. The vast majority of people who claim they want to be writers—they tell every one they meet about their awesome idea for a novel—will never actually take the time and effort necessary to sit down and type 80,000 to 100,000 words.
You are never going to publish a book you don’t write. Agents aren’t going to track you down and beg you for a story you haven’t started yet, let alone finished. Having an idea is great, but it get’s you zero points in the publishing world. You need have the discipline to sit down at the keyboard and hammer out a novel.
There are going to be a bunch of things that get in the way of that goal. You’ve got your job, kids, bills that have to be paid, a marriage that’s falling apart, Brakes that need to be replaced, the list goes on and on. It’s easy to find excuses and hard to find the time to actually write.
Here are five indispensable tips to help you start and actually finish a first draft:
- Write every day. No exceptions.
Some people keep waiting for inspiration to strike like a bolt out of the blue. On that fabled day, when the heavens part and the hallelujah choir starts singing, they’ll sit down and it will flow out of them without any effort.
That’s wishful thinking at it’s finest. Imagine for a moment you hire a contractor to build a house. You go to the construction site and the contractor is sitting in a swing playing catch with his dog. He tells you he’s waiting for inspiration before he actually starts the building process.
People that are waiting for inspiration, will never actually write a book. They probably don’t want to write a book. They like the idea of being a published author, but they don’t actually like the grunt work of sitting down in front of the computer day in and day out to write a novel.
If you want to finish a novel, you need to write every day, no exceptions. How much? Start with a goal of 1,000 words. Even writing a 1,000 words a day, it will take you about three months to finish your first draft. That’s a quarter of the year gone before you’ve put out the rough draft of your novel and you’ll need to edit to perfection. So stop procrastinating and write.
- Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.
New and inexperienced writers tend to deliberate over their first draft. They spend far too much time worried about whether they are using the right syntax and if they accurately described the main character’s particular shade of hazel eyes. They are concerned that they didn’t clearly illustrate to the reader the main character’s childhood trauma and how that effected their decision to go into Law when they really wanted to study Animal Husbandry. Man oh man, don’t get me started.
This is a waste of valuable time. First drafts are bad. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you the same. First drafts suck. That’s what editing is for.
Writers who waste time trying to find the right words on the first draft, suffer from the delusion that they are some sort of rare and literary genius and they don’t need more than one draft to get it right. They’ll write it once, type ‘The End’ and send it off to Doubleday. It will be on the NY Times Bestseller list the first week and the author will sit back and watch the royalty checks roll in.
Come on back to reality.
A novel needs a second and a third draft—possibly a fourth and fifth, maybe a sixth draft. Maybe more. Depends on how well your outline was crafted. (You did write and outline, right?) You are going to be editing the novel anyway. After you have written that all important first draft, you can spend all the time you want fine tuning the sentence structure until the novel sings. Right now all you should be concerned with is getting the story down on paper so that you have something to shape latter.
Don’t worry about getting the words right.
Worry about getting the words written.
- Write in sequential order
I frequently meet amateurs who tell me they don’t write the book from beginning to end. They work on whatever scene is fresh in their mind, the part of the story they are “feeling” right now.
These would-be authors have fallen victim to a lesser version of waiting on inspiration. They are inspired to write, but only the parts they are excited about.
There are two reasons this is a catastrophic idea.
First, novels are long and complicated stories, often totaling over 300 pages. That’s a lot to keep track of, especially if you are going backwards and forwards in the novel’s time line. If you think you can bounce around inside the story, writing parts as they come to you, and have a coherent novel when you’re done, you’re in for a big surprise. What you’ll likely have is a complete mess that will require many, many more drafts just to put it in some kind of readable order.
Second, if there are parts in your story that you, as the author, are uninspired to write, your reader probably won’t have much fun reading those parts. If you find writing a scene to be dull and uninspiring, the scene is probably lacking conflict. Try ratcheting up the tension.
Beyond that, it comes down to discipline. Sit down and start writing from chapter one and keep going in order until you get the finale. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache when it comes time to do a second draft. Trust me.
- Eliminate distractions
This sounds simple, but it is one of the best things you can do if you are serious about writing fiction. We live in a high-tech, fast pace world where distractions abound. It’s not bad enough that you have well-meaning family and friends constantly interrupting you, today’s writer also has to compete with the cellphone, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix marathons. The siren song of the internet is one of the biggest productivity killers.
When you sit down to write, lock the door, silence your cellphone and turn off your computer’s Wi-Fi.
People are addicted to technology. You are addicted to technology. Don’t believe me? Power off your cellphone and leave it off for a week. Just thinking about that probably made your eye twitch.
You probably have bull-crap excuses like, ‘What if I miss an important call or text?’. What message is so important that it can’t wait an hour or two? Are you an emergency room surgeon and someone is going to die if you don’t pick up right away? If the answer is no, then drop the excuses and get to work. I promise the picture text from your BFF of her, TOTALLY YUMMY SUSHI DINNER! will be waiting for you when you finish writing.
Resist the urge to open google for a quick bit of research. It won’t be quick. I know. I’ve been there and done that. You’ll open a tab to check on the migratory instincts of the South African Swallow and three hours later you’ll realize that you haven’t done any writing, but you did learn that some celebrity died and a friend of a friend who you only know through Facebook is having a baby and naming it, Moonlight. No amount of funny animal gifs is worth letting your novel sit for another year. And how many LOL cats do you need in your life anyway? Ask yourself this question; when you are lying on your death bed, are you going to be disappointed because you didn’t spend enough time on Facebook and Youtube? Or are you going to be kicking yourself because you didn’t write that novel?
Shut off your access to the internet and you’ll be amazed how much you get done. Any research you need for the novel can, and should, be saved until the second draft. Write the book first. Then you can go back and check on which particular brand of tire came factory installed the ‘67 Fastback.
As to the other people in the house, pull out a gun and threaten to shoot them the next time they interrupt your writing. Sure, they get upset and frightened the first couple of times but after a while, like Pavlov’s Dog, they can be trained.
- Slow down.
When you sit down to write, slow down your finger speed on the keys. You might be scratching your head. Isn’t the idea to finished the novel as fast as possible? Yes, and you can write faster by slowing down on the keys. The Army has a saying, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. A little paradoxical, I know. This advice is going to seem counterintuitive, but stay with me.
I found, in my own writing, that I spent a fair amount of time hitting the backspace button. For every line I type, I would press the backspace button at least three or four times. The reason was my typing speed. I had jumbled a word or words because my fingers were moving over the keyboard faster than I can accurately type. To eliminate the amount of time I spend pressing the backspace key, I decided to do an experiment. For one week I would slow my typing down by fractions until I could type at least three lines without having to delete. The result, my output actually increased.
Now, this is tough when the ideas are flowing and you want to get it all onto the page as fast as possible to keep up with the voice inside your head, but it will save you a lot of time in the end.
In addition, I also turn off the spellchecker while I’m writing a first draft. If I spot the spelling mistake while I’m writing, I have permission to fix it. It I don’t, well, trusty spellchecker will get it on the second draft. That’s what subsequent drafts are for.
There you have it. Sit down everyday to write a crappy first draft. Write it in sequential order, eliminate distractions, and slow down on the keys. If you do that religiously for three months, you’ll have a first draft. I can’t promise it will be any good, but it will at the very least you will prove to yourself that you are capable of writing a book.