Here’s how to get it down on paper and out the door:
1. Outline first. To write fast, it is a good idea to have some sort of structure in mind before you sit down to write. Beginners need outlines (even rough outlines will do) so no time is wasted having to recover from 50 pages of dead-end writing. Plots need twists. Things need to come together and make sense. Outlines help you keep on track and save time in the long run. (Yes, of course, you can deviate from your outline when you find your characters are taking you down a certain unexpected path. Your creativity is not restricted by outlining. It’s enhanced because you have structure upon which you can hang your narrative.)
Real life Example:
I wrote an incredibly long apocalyptic thriller that was way complex. My outline consisted of five pages, one sentence to a line. Each line answered one question: What happens next? Your outline need not be exhaustive and set up with Roman numerals like they taught you in school. In fact, if it’s too detailed, it will feel like a straitjacket and will take too much time to build. Mind map it. Free associate. Then go.
2. Don’t edit as you go. Let it go and let it flow. Writing the first draft quickly gets you to the revision stage fast. It’s important to write fast for a simple reason. By the time you’re done with writing any book , you’re going to be a little sick of it. (No shame in this. The next book is always more interesting than the middle you’re slogging through as you tackle a tough plot point.)
The danger is that you tinker forever. Perfectionism can allow you to keep your masterpiece hidden away in a drawer for the rest of your life. Writers never finish revisions. They just stop because they can’t face it anymore. Save revisions for follow-up drafts. There is no time to indulge your inner critic when you’re in first-draft mode.
Don’t succumb to the lure of perfectionism and taking it slow. Writing fast allows you to keep up your enthusiasm for the project over the long haul.
3. Reconnaissance saves time. Recon is your list of characters and their traits. Keep track of your characters with a rough sketch. For most characters, you probably won’t need more than a paragraph for name, eye colour, occupation, and most important, what does each character want? If two characters sound too much alike, or serve the same purpose, they are better as one character. I discovered this very thing in my latest manuscript when the english teacher and the drama teacher could be one person.
If two characters can be one person, they should be one person.
Make up your Recon sketches at the beginning, not halfway through. By page two-hundred I was at a loss as to the name of the drama teacher from the first chapter and had to backtrack. That was a waste of time and energy I could have poured into the draft. Not knowing such things at once is like a disorganized desk. You can waste years of your life looking for misplaced things. Life is too short for that, especially if you want to get published before you die.
4. Set a deadline. Make it. Short deadlines are better than long deadlines. Take one luxurious deadline and cut it in half. That’s still a realistic deadline. Now shave off 20% of the time you’ve allowed yourself for the first draft. Now you have pressure. Refer to yesterday’s time management post (below) to figure out how you’re going to make that crazy deadline. You can achieve it and, with that achievement, your enthusiasm and confidence will grow. Very few things are as satisfying as typing The End on a draft.
5. Report to someone. Dieting works if you don’t keep your accountability to yourself. It’s the same with writing. Got a big project you want to complete? Make your word counts or page counts known. Tell people you know and respect what youre trying to do and that will help keep your resolve from day to day.
6. Compete with someone. Choose a writer you trust and respect. By the end of the week, one of you will have written more words. Loser buys Sunday brunch. Go to work on that first draft as if it’s a race—it is. The more you write, the better. This tool will get you where you want to be. A writing buddy will motivate you to productivity you wouldn’t have otherwise. (And really, do this one challenge and you’ll both win.)
7. Learn to type properly. I got through journalism school without ever learning how to type correctly. When I get lazy I fall back on my own system of spidering my fingers across the keys inefficiently. That is sub optimum. Productivity is king. Publishers and agents evaluate their risk and return on investment partially on how prolific you are. (And see yesterday’s post below for more on keyboarding. I’ve retrained myself and my speed and accuracy almost doubled in just a few lessons.)
8. Commit. I attended two writing conference this year. At the next conference in 2011, I’ll meet up with the friends and contacts I made. I’ll have a manuscript to sell and a new manuscript I’m working on. Are you still talking about the same book you were working on two years ago? You’re not alone, but honestly? That’s a bad sign. Get it done.
9. Be consistent in your commitment. Are you still waiting for The Muse? The Muse is a fantasy only amateurs indulge. Save that claptrap for the book tour interviews. Writing sometimes feels like work, especially in the moments before you actually get your ass in that chair and start doing it.
10. Move on. Not every book you write is destined for publication. When you fail to compose quickly, your enthusiasm for the project will likely sag over time. That’s a sign you need a fresh perspective, and probably a new book to write.
Every time a famous author dies, a novel they weren’t proud of surfaces. It’s a “trunk book” and that’s where it should have stayed. Its goals were not realized during the author’s lifetime and sometimes an adoring son or daughter (or greedy publisher) pushes the sad coda into print. If you find you can’t commit and compose quickly, that’s a sour sign that you just aren’t interested enough to complete the work on this book. Don’t throw good time after bad.
Get a new book going. Make sure this one sets you on fire. Write the book that you want to read. Write the book you feel in your bones the world needs. Your enthusiasm is the key to getting it done.
The cliché is true: If you aren’t interested, readers won’t be, either.
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Filed under: getting it done, writing tips, 10 tips to writer faster, get your first draft done, Ten tips to write faster, write every day