Most writers know the feeling of being under deadline. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King advises writers to set deadlines for themselves. And according to King, “the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
How many of you have been languishing over your novels for 6 months, 12 months, even years? I’m guilty as charged. I have an epic fantasy novel that’s been around for almost 25 years — I challenge any of you to beat that record. Now if it sounds like I’m proud of that, I’m not. I’m embarrassed. It’s a decent novel and one that deserves finishing, to which end I’ve managed to retype the manuscript (so far, 60K words) into my Mac because the old story was on hard disk (remember those?) and a printed copy. Of course, it’s still in line behind Book Two of Salt in the Blood, a second collection of short horror, and a Viking vampire novel, but at least it’s on the computer now.
I don’t know Stephen King, but I suspect he works on one project at a time, fully immersed in that one work. As indies, our attention is pulled in many directions: we have to design and update websites, have a presence on social media, be involved in writer’s and reader’s groups, and let’s not forget marketing. Mr. King, I’m sure, has ‘people’ for most of these things, so he has the luxury of focus.
Be that as it may, I can still do a better job of honing in on my most important job–finishing a writing project–and you can, too. Because I have so many projects going on, the first step is prioritization. Here’s how I’d tackle this.
First, determine if there’s any reason to finish one project over another. For example, I have readers waiting on the second installment of the Blood of Ages Saga, so that needs to be my priority project even though my pen is yearning to spill a little vampire blood.
Make no mistake: Writing is about discipline.
You may have talent, but if you don’t have the discipline to go along with it your writing career will stagnate. Go through your list of projects and pick the one that has the most urgency associated with it. Is it a sequel? Are you writing for a contest with a deadline? Have you already announced your next idea and readers are waiting? These are all signs you need to stop procrastinating and get moving in one direction–completion of that first priority project.
The next steps are easier if you remove all vestiges of your other projects from your workspace. Put away the graphic depictions of your characters for your other novels, move manuscripts out of your “to do” folders, and clear your computer and desk area for the project at hand.
Then set yourself a deadline. If Stephen King can do it, so can you. Sounds like an egotistical statement, right? After all, King has been the Master of Horror since 1973 — surely he has an advantage. Well, yes and no. As is the case for any professional, some things get easier the longer you do them. Writing is no different. King has a certain cadence to his verbiage; a voice that’s hard to miss. He’s perfected this through the years, so his writing typically has a certain, well, Stephen King kind of feel to it.
On the other hand, focus is available to anyone, trained or untrained. You just have to set your mind to it. And three months is a reasonable time. Let’s say you want to write a fairly good length novel of 80K words. If you’re hell-bent on finishing a rough draft in three months (and you should be), you only need write around 800 words per day.
That’s just a few paragraphs. Seriously, people–who can’t write a few paragraphs a day? It’s easier if you consider yourself under deadline, even if that deadline is self-directed.
Also remember, this is a rough draft. That means it needn’t be perfection — it just needs to encompass your basic ideas and flow. Editing is another matter entirely.
So don’t waste any more time. Count three months from today and write it on your calendar. In case you’re wondering, three months is Tuesday, September 19, 2017. That’s your deadline. Now, get writing — your novel is within reach!
See you on the next page!