We writers seem to be in a rush to cross the finish line. Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid someone else will have our idea and write it first – better. That’s a legitimate fear. However, fear isn’t the only component that detracts a writer from completing their first draft. More than talent, completing a novel takes discipline, and this means: making writing a priority that co-exists harmoniously alongside many of life’s other priorities.
Years ago, an author that I worked for held 90-day workshops. And at the time, I thought it was brilliant to give yourself a deadline. 3 months sounded…well…attainable. But within those 90 days, I realized that there was too much time to procrastinate and doubt yourself. To shelf the project and never look back.
Time, I realized, was merely a facet of my writing success and not success itself
It wasn’t until 2015 that I completed NaNoWriMo’s 30-day writing challenge and my first draft to my first novel. While the deadline was reasonable, there was so much more to completing that first draft other than time. Time, I realized, was merely a facet of my writing success and not success itself. These challenges may, on the surface, be about time, but in reality, they are about the ability to harness focus in a fast-paced society.
Mantra: Time does not work against you, nor does time work for you. Time, however, can be managed if you are willing to manage your personal time.
Before Writing Preparations
As a college professor, part of my job is preparing students for timed-writing. A timed novel is no different when you think about it. The only real difference is: students only have 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete an essay, and depending on your goal, that’s how much time you have to complete your novel. However, the preparation for both of these projects is the same.
Outline Characters, Plot and Conflict
Having a detailed outline means having more time to write the actual narrative. It also gives you the creative freedom to write in a non-linear fashion. Writing can get boring, but as long as we know what events happen within the timeline, we can cater to our boredom by writing the scenes we want to first.
But outlining your work, is not a weakness.
Part of the misconception with outlining is that it’s “for suckers.” Writers, student-writers and professional ones, think having an outline stipples creativity. This “stippling” is then considered a weakness. But outlining your work, is not a weakness.
Our preconception of the greats is: they didn’t write outlines. They wrote and made great novels in a short period of time, and are now considered classic writers. We want to be those people, and therefore, we need to mimic their writing process.
This is romanticizing bad work ethic. In fact, it’s lazy writing.
They were less stressed about their work because they knew where there writing was going, and they could enjoy creating their unique visions.
When I taught a 5-week middle school creative writing workshop, I made them outline: plots, characters, and conflict. The students who used the story map and fused together these essential elements, out-wrote their peers who did not create one. And you know what? They had more fun. They were less stressed about their work because they knew where there writing was going, and they could enjoy creating their unique visions. Yes, in 5-weeks, and over the summer, I helped 40 students generate over 200 pages worth of writing all because we spent our first week together outlining.
So before you sit down at your writing station, get to know your main characters. Ask yourself: what is the conflict? And then PLOT the steps it will take to resolve that conflict.
Set a Daily Writing Goal
My students have 1 hour to write, and 20 minutes to edit. Despite that I have broken down the writing for them in this way, it is still up to them to figure out how long they want to spend on writing the: introduction paragraph, the counterargument, the body paragraphs with research, and the conclusion paragraph. All of these components are vital to having a well-rounded, and complete essay. This means, a student could divide the hour by the minute:
- 5 Mins for Intro
- 10 Mins Counter
- 45 Mins for Body Paragraphs with research
- 20 Mins for editing
- 10 Mins Grammar
- 10 Mins Essay Organization
Do you see how specific you can manage your time? Breaking time down into the smallest possible increments will help you remain focused.
Similarly, you need to decide how you are going to divide your writing month by: day and by hours within the day, and weeks.
…you need to decide how you are going to divide your writing month by: day and by hours within the day.
I have completed both of my novels by breaking down my hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly goals to:
- 2 hours of writing per day
- 2,000 words per day (1,000 words per hour)
- 14,000 words per week
- 3,000 words Saturday and Sunday
- 2,000 words M-TH
- 50-60,000 words per month
Of course, you can arrange your word count (per day) to whatever works best for you. For me, this allows me to write between classes, and before bed. Because I’ve arranged my schedule this way, I can still binge on Netflix, walk my dog, do laundry, and grade papers, all without being overwhelmed.
There really is no such thing as not having time to write. You just need to schedule your time, and always plan on life happening. This means, prepare for unforeseen events, and a way to catch up should they occur.
There really is no such thing as not having time to write.
In the case, I was behind on grading, and thus, lost a week. So, during the following week, I didn’t necessarily double up my word count everyday, just on some days where I was less busier than others. And after that, I went to being on track with my writing!
Minimize External and Internal Distractions
Part of time management, is knowing how we react to our environment and our own thoughts. If we don’t know how we work, then we will never get our work done. Self reflection is key to discipline.
If we don’t know how we work, then we will never get our work done.
My students struggle with reading – retaining the information, and strengthening their reading rates. To help them understand their study habits, I make them list what is distracting them before working. By identifying their distractions, they can either minimize them, or eliminate them completely.
External distractions happen outside of ourselves. For instance, there is a rowdy game of neighborhood basketball taking place directly outside of my front window. And…I can’t work with noise. I will either begin to eavesdrop, or I will begin cleaning – something which doesn’t take too much concentration. But…this is not an excuse for not writing. I can do one of two things: remove myself from the situation and write somewhere else within my home, or plan to write after sundown. Again, I am not suggesting to not write at all, but rather allow myself to set aside time when things are less chaotic. Once there is silence, I will then begin completing my word count for the day.
External distractions happen outside of ourselves…Internal distractions happen within our minds.
Internal distractions happen within our minds. These thoughts can range from something complex like self-doubt, or to something primal like: I’m hungry. I try to identify those thoughts before I sit down. If I’m hungry, I’ll bring a piece of take to my writing space, or I have a bag of chocolate stuffed in drawer to quell my craving. If I’m upset, I will identify that I am upset, but allow writing to distract me from those feelings. This is my time, and no person, however important they are to me, is going to take away from “me time.”
Knowing these things about my work ethic allow me to curate a writing space where I am physically and mentally present. And you need this to write efficiently. Thus, go where you’re comfortable. Sometimes a cafe is perfect because the distractions of home are behind you, and there’s always a delicious chocolate muffin and caffeine nearby.
While writing prompts and books using Hemingway’s 90-day model can generate ideas, outlining, time management, and minimizing internal and external distractions are the key to meeting your time-writing goal.
It takes a lot of practice, and patience, but self-discovery does not come easy. Writing is a skill that needs daily practice. However, once you find the rhythm, novel writing, or any writing, doesn’t become so daunting. In fact, it does become more fun.
However, once you find the rhythm, novel writing, or any writing, doesn’t become so daunting. In fact, it does become more fun.
And as a rule of thumb: if you don’t get this time-writing thing down the first time, don’t beat yourself up. Try again! Take into account why you failed, and learn from it. Don’t force yourself to work harder, or for longer periods of time. That only creates unnecessary tension, and will leave you no room to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. You have plenty of time to create your unique vision, and you don’t have to be a selfish recluse, or a drunk to be a writer.
I failed NaNoWriMo the first time, but the second time? I came in with a plan, and some snacks, and now I have two novels – one on the way towards self-publication, and the other being pitched to agents.
“It’s only a matter of time…”