(or How To Be Your Own Drill Sergeant...)
The first book I ever wrote took 1.5 years to complete. The first draft, that is. Yes, I had two kids under two at the time, and it was a 260,000-word historical family saga monstrosity when I was "finished," but still - it was not so much a deliberate process as a meandering into the starved creative corners of my brain.
Basically, I had no idea what I was doing.
I thought about this a lot when I set out to write my fifth novel this year - how things change. Almost nine years have passed since then, years I've spent writing more words, reading craft books, soaking up what I can from those ahead of me on this journey, and learning about what kind of writer I am. I have found a home in the PitchWars community, found fabulous critique partners, insightful sounding boards, and friends who know what it's like to live with characters exerting themselves inside your head at any given time. And slowly, but surely, I've admitted to myself that writing a book wasn't just a one-off for me - I am a Writer. Period. Putting words on paper is what I do.
Except... when I don't.
See, in spite of having learned a lot over the years, like many other writers I'm a procrastination maven. Especially when I don't have a deadline.
You know who usually doesn't have a lot of those?
A writer in the query trenches.
Knowing this, the best thing that ever happened for my writing aside from PitchWars was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those just starting out, NaNo is a shiny beacon of accountability where for one month (November) you pledge to write 50,000 words. I stumbled upon it in 2016 and it was like catnip to my deadline-starved writer self. At that point I hadn't written a word in over two years because I was scared and because no one cared. Well, I cared, but I needed that external incentive to get over myself and just write.
So, I did. 50,000 words in a month, the remaining 35,000 in the two months that followed. Ta da! A new book. NaNo was the lightbulb above my head. With community support and a daily word counter ticking closer to the goal, I was more productive than I'd ever been. I always knew I could write a lot of words (ahem 1 - first book, ahem 2 - master's thesis), but to write them with momentum and without getting stuck editing along the way...? A deadline was the key. Almost a year later I got into PitchWars, and in addition to being the best learning experience ever, it also served to cement this insight about myself. Say it with me...
And now I'm finally getting to the point. Nano is one month a year. PitchWars is a mentor program where a limited number of entries are chosen. What about the rest of the time? How would I stay productive?
The first key for me was an online accountability program (I use Pacemaker, but there are others, too) where you can mimic NaNo and set daily goals for yourself and even form groups. The second key was to set an end date not too far away, and the third key to get friends to kick me in the butt to get started already! This year, I had visitors coming into town late March so I knew I wanted to be done by then. Counting backwards that gave me 8 weeks. I wasn't sure that was going to work, but when I did the math, I realized it was basically NaNo's daily word count and went for it.
It worked! After eight weeks, there it was - a shiny new first draft!
Process in summation:
1. Set (realistic) end date
2. Plug word count into accountability platform for a daily progress meter
3. Join a community of writers or ask friends to check in on your progress
4. Find your ideal time of day and how long to write at a time. Then do it!
5. No editing as you go!
6. Marvel at the growing word count
7. Celebrate when you're done (and a little along the way just because)
What worked for me, may not work for you, BUT if you have a tendency to procrastinate when drifting about on your own, why not try it?
What's your writing process and how did you discover what works for you?