How does your journey begin?
Okay! So, you want to write a book. Let’s get started. How? Well… first you plan everything. Brainstorm and scribble out all your ideas for characters, world-building, and the conflict. Next, you outline the plot, then expand it into a more detailed outline, and then you write a rough draft of all the scenes. After that, you move on to revising … and revising again. Once you think you’ve done all you can do on your own, you find someone to critique and a professional to edit your work, then comes the formatting and the cover design, and then on to … querying and publishing. Oh, my goodness. Now I see. That’s much too big a bite for anyone to chew. I feel like I’m gonna choke! Let’s break it down into manageable mouthfuls, shall we?
Every journey begins with a single step. And which step is always the hardest? The next step. Especially when all the steps appear huge and formidable, like the terraces of a ziggurat. What can you do? Allow me to help. I’ve already broken down the writing process into stages for you.
- Revising … until you believe you’re done (but don’t take twenty years like me)
- Consult with a critique group, a professional editor, beta readers, etc.
- Revise again based on critique and editor comments
- Um, aren’t we finished, yet?
First things first
Now, just focus on the first step–planning–and forget about all the following stages. Break the planning part down into even smaller steps, such as brainstorming, outlining, whatever method works best for you. Rinse and repeat until you have simple, actionable items you can complete on a daily basis and check off a list. Write down your plan and keep it where you can easily see and reference it. Research has shown that writing down goals increases the chance you will remember them, follow through with your plans, and achieve them.
Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance
I addressed the planning process in greater detail in last week’s article. However, you may feel as if you still don’t know where to begin. Let’s compare the process to baking a cake or assembling a meal if that helps you move forward. Preparing to write a book can be very similar to following a recipe. Make a list of all the ingredients you need for a story, such as characters, point of view, setting, plot, etc. And then plan to work on one of these elements at a time.
For example: today, I will write a brief biography for my main character(s) and tomorrow I will do the same for the supporting characters. The better you know your characters, the easier it will be to write their perspective in a compelling way. Next, build your world and figure out the setting, and then hammer out the main plot points, and so on and so forth. Do this in whatever order makes the most sense for you. Perhaps you have an idea for a fantastic new world and want to map out the setting before the characters. That’s okay; just keep moving forward.
Avoid the Pit Trap of Procrastination
Once you have all your elements in place, it’s time to begin the drafting part of the process. So, start writing! Whoa, wait a minute. Me–write a whole book? Maybe I’ll pull a Scarlett O’Hara and deal with it tomorrow…
If the scale of the task still freaks you out, then refer to the strategy I described for the planning phase. Break down the writing process into manageable steps you can accomplish on a regular, if not daily, basis. Perhaps you’ll write five hundred words a day. Maybe the plan is to hammer out twenty or thirty pages per week. It depends on what method you choose and what works best for you during this season of your life. I suggest trying Allie Pleiter’s Chunky Method to figure out your ideal writing session length.
Set your writing goals based on your schedule right now; small enough to be actionable and large enough to challenge you into stretching further. If you find you can write more, then do so. If you have a bad day and can’t write at all, don’t sweat it. Get back on the horse as soon as you can. You shouldn’t skip several days in a row or a week. The key is to write consistently and form a habit of writing (more on this later). If you discipline yourself to keep moving forward, you’ll complete the first draft before you know it!
And remember–this is only the first draft. It doesn’t need to be amazing and mind-blowingly eloquent. You don’t have to show it to anyone, ever, because you will revise and improve it. Your first draft should be “good enough” to convey the bare bones of your story. Nothing more.
Next week, I will introduce you to my personal demon. Its name is Perfectionism. In the meantime, keep writing! And if you have any questions, observations, or suggestions for topics, then drop them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.