This summer I want to finish the first draft of Onyx Eyes. It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay, but if I can finish the story, I’ll have something to edit and eventually publish. Here are ten things I'll keep in mind to help me prepare, to stay focused, and to finish this project.
TIP #1: Get Organized
I’ve already put in a lot of time preparing, plotting, and developing my characters and world. I do have everything in a notebook that I’ll keep on my desk as I write so I won’t have to go scrambling for facts. Figure out what you absolutely must know before sitting down to write because you don’t want to have to stop to research or brainstorm.
Tip #2: Set Goals
Before you start writing, set some goals and stick to them. My goal is to finish my first draft. I’m shooting for an 80,000-word book, and I already have about 30,000 of that done. That leaves me 50,000 to write. I can easily do that in ten weeks at 1000-words a day. I can usually write 2000 words or more a day, but I like having a smaller goal since it’s summer and I know there will be lots of distractions. So I need to write a minimum of 5000 words a week to reach my goal. Here is my formula:
50,000 words ÷ 10 weeks = 5000 words per week
5000 words ÷ 5 days = 1000 words per day
I also need to choose a “finish by” date that I can circle on my calendar. I want to have my first draft completed by August 31, 2018.
Tip #3: Make Time To Write & Prepare
I’m the most productive first thing in the morning, so I’m planning to get up and write each day before I do anything else. I’ll probably glance at my email first, just to make sure there is nothing important that needs an immediate answer, then email will be turned off, and I’ll be writing.
Whatever works for you, whenever you can, carve out time in your schedule to write. You must make this a priority if you’re going to reach your goal.
I’ll also be sure to gather everything I need. That means my notebook, story map, story calendar, timeline, character charts, and a bottle of water. This will keep me from having to get up again and again.
Tip #4: Resist the Urge to Edit
When trying to complete a rough draft, it's important to remember the words “complete” and “rough.” It’s not meant to be pretty. It’s not meant to be read by anyone yet. This is just you, the creator, throwing words on a page. You will fix them later. I promise.
Once you hit your stride and realize the beginning is going to need to change, you might really want to start over. Don’t do it. Resist the urge to edit.
Tip #5: Just Keep Writing
The point each day is to reach your daily word count goal. So if you get stuck, you need to find some way to get your word count in for the day. You could skip the troublesome scene and write a different scene. You could go back and describe something you neglected. Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing (say this in Dory’s voice from Finding Nemo) until you meet your goal. Once those words are in, then you can take time to figure out what’s wrong so that when you sit down again you can get through that troublesome scene.
Tip #6: Leave Notes
If you don’t know what a character looks like or can’t remember the name of a place, or if you got a new idea or need to change something you've already written, insert comments in Microsoft Word and write yourself notes. Then you can come back later and fix things. This frees up your mind from the worry of possibly forgetting and doesn't waste time that should be spend getting that word count in.
Tip #7: Avoid Distractions
I once cleaned my bathroom to get away from having to finish a rewrite. I get it. Writing can be so much fun. The best job ever. But some days, you just don't want to! But if you’re going to succeed, you need to learn how to get that work done, even when you don’t feel like it. So stay offline. Get away from people who want to gab. Put your phone on silent or even Do Not Disturb.
I do make one exception when I'm sick of writing or editing. I sometimes bribe myself with mini rewards. If I write/edit ten pages, I get a snack or I get to read a chapter of the novel I'm reading, etc. These types of mini rewards motivate me when I’m desperate to do anything but write.
Tip #8: Get a Team
Writing is a solitary endeavor, which is why it’s important to have writing friends who understand that. Gather a team of people who can hold you accountable to your goals and encourage you along the way. I don’t recommend showing anyone chapters of your work-in-progress until you’re done because feedback at this point will likely only derail you. Then you’ll start worrying about what that person said instead of writing. Right now you simply need people to cheer you on and hold you accountable to your goal.
Tip #9: Word War
Word wars or sprints are timed writing challenges. You can war with yourself or others. The goal is to race and type a lot of words in a predetermined amount of time. When you’re working on something as time-consuming as a novel, a little friendly competition can increase motivation and productivity.
Tip #10: Pace Yourself
Be sure to take breaks or you might burnout. A novel is long and a lot of work, so pace yourself. This is a marathon. Don’t try and write ten hours a day, seven days a week. Don’t forget food and water. Take breaks. It's good for your body to get up out of your chair and stretch/walk at least once an hour. Also, take one or two days off each week from the project to rest your body and mind. Do something fun. Get outside. Breathe fresh air. Go on walks. Do some yard work.
Writing a novel takes discipline, but you don't need to be a slave to your goal. Yes, this is really hard work, but it’s also supposed to be fun.
So have fun!
This was my last regular post of the spring. We're off next week, then we'll be back with summer panels, and this year we have special guests each week joining us. We're excited for you to hear from some other published authors besides the three of us.
I'll be sure to report back at the end of the summer as to how I did on my goal to finish Onyx Eyes.
This post was adapted from my freebie mini ebook: How to Finish a First Draft, which you can read by clicking here.