Get Out of Your Own Way!
By Jeff Cox
Let me just start by telling you, I don’t have a book deal. No best sellers under my belt as of yet, just some online articles and the many, many projects I’m working on.
Getting a big project completed was the barrier I had to cross. I got tired of saying I was working on a novel. I’d much rather say I was shopping one around. To solve this problem, I set a goal last year to write 1000 words a day to finish a first draft. To do so meant eliminating the things that arrested my progress. You all know these things, because we all do them. Here are the rules I used to do it.
Write everyday, but don’t be a perfectionist. I aim for 1000 words a day. Sometimes I do more. Sometimes I do less. Once in a while, I miss the day all together. Life gets in the way. Can’t be helped, but you do what you can. A published friend of mine pointed out to me, if you just write one page a day on average, at the end of a year, you have a book. So write every day, keep up that average.
Write the first draft with the door closed. Stephen King said that in his book On Writing (go buy it). He meant don’t share your first draft with anyone until it’s done. He knows a thing or two about this. The first draft is for the author. It’s where you tell your story to yourself. It’s how you get to know your story and make it your own. Letting anyone else in dilutes your vision and can paralyze you with doubt. Don’t share it until it’s done. Now you don’t have to worry what people think about your work and it will be all your work.
Kill the internal critic. One bad habit comes from doubting every sentence. Guess what? You WILL do revisions. Know it. Accept it. But they will happen after the first draft. If you get an idea about a way to improve your manuscript, make a note then get back to the work of building your story. The only exception is if you go down a dead end. I did this a couple times, solving the characters problem too easily or revealing something too soon. Those sections were cut and pasted to the bottom, and then I got back to work, incorporating them at the right time. Keep the momentum. No rewriting.
Keep learning. Listen to experts. I made a point of getting involved with people who knew about writing. In my case, I joined the SCBWI. I go to all of their monthly meetings and every special event I can. I read all of their publications. As lessons are learned, I apply them to my work. It’s a lot more efficient then improving only through trial and error.
Maybe my rules will work for you, too. Feel free to adjust them to your own needs. But you want to be a writer? Live the life. Write. Butt in chair. Whether you’re unpublished like me or you’re JK Rowling, the most basic component of being a writer is something you can do right now. Put your story down. Make it a discipline every day. If all that’s coming out of you is crap, write down the crap. You can revise later, once you hit your stride. You would not believe the typos on my first draft, but making writing a habit was the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself.
The effort made me a better writer. Seems obvious, but it wasn’t until I had finished my first draft that I realized how much easier writing had become for me. The anxiety that used to be associated with a writing assignment is gone. I can get my thoughts organized and in print with relatively little effort. It’s like any skill. Work it regularly and you will, without question, get better at it.
Under a year after I started this effort, I had a 372 page first draft sitting on my hard drive (yes, I backed it up). I’ve put it out there for criticism and readers have given me good responses and constructive notes. Revising is like fixing up a house. The paint and tile could be better, but the house is built. I’m ready to take on the revisions, because I live the life. I’m a writer.
Jeffery Cox writes novels, comics, screenplays, and picture books and is a regular contributor at galacticbinder.com. He’s also an active member of SCBWI and counting this article toward his thousand words a day.