Four Steps to Help You Finish That Novel
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from my writing friends—and myself!—is that we just don’t always have time to write. I think a more honest way to say this, however, is that we don’t necessarily make time to write.
One of my mom’s favorite sayings is, “We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day. We have to choose how we spend them.” Which dovetails beautifully with another of her kernels of wisdom: “You’ll make time for what’s important.” When it comes to writing, I’ve always found this to be especially true. If we’re devoted to our craft, we will make it a priority. And then we will make time for it, no matter what.
If you’re at all like me, your writing suffers greatly if you’re not careful with managing your time. Let’s take a look at a few steps that may help you to get your writing-time back on track!
Commit To Writing A Little Bit Each Day
This first step is arguably the easiest and the most difficult. Writers are such a varied bunch, with output levels as multifarious as our genre sandbox. For me, an off-day looks like less than a thousand words written. For some of the writers I know, anything less than a 5k-day is below par. And then there are others who meticulously labor over every precious one of a hundred words. No one on this spectrum is writing the “right” or “wrong” way. Our job as writers isn’t to compare our process to those with higher or lower output than us. It’s to find the routine that works for us. The only process we’re in charge of is our own.
To that end, committing to write at least a little bit each day will look different for every person. For some, that means dedicating themselves to 100 words. Or it might be 5k, or 2 pages, or one scene, or simply “something.” Whatever it is, the first step I encourage everyone on is to set a goal to add to their manuscript every day—even if it’s just outlining notes. This consistency keeps the story in front of your face and keeps you devoted to it. It’s also greatly encouraging when we can prove to ourselves that we are not stagnating or that our project is not treading water. It’s going somewhere, however quickly or slowly.
Bearing in mind that life happens, and there are days where we simply can’t get to writing at all due to unforeseen circumstances, there’s always room to give ourselves grace. But the key to finishing a manuscript is to make not writing on any given day the exception, not the rule. Once we’ve dedicated ourselves to adding daily to our draft, we’re set to move on to Step Two.
Find The Writing Time That Works For You
In 2017, I had the great fortune of becoming part of an amazing writing group with members from all around the world. One thing that allows all of us to communicate on a regular basis, on both sides of the globe, is that every single one of them is a night owl who writes best after everyone else is in bed. Whereas I am a morning person—my typical routine has me up anytime after 3am to write.
I’ve heard arguments from writers on both sides of this spectrum (though thankfully not in our group) about what is the most “productive” time to write. That’s not the point. The point is to find the time that works for YOU.
For some, this may look like setting an alarm for 4am. For others, it may mean carving out a chunk on a lunch break, during a free period in class, or while the kids are at school. And then there are those who can only write when all of the responsibilities of the day are over, and there’s nothing ahead of them but a blank page and several quiet hours.
Take the time to sincerely ask yourself, “At what time of day can I be the most productive?” Once you’ve figured that out, you can move on to Step Three.
Be Willing to Make the Sacrifice
No matter what time of day you prefer to write, you are going to have to sacrifice something to write at that time. Whether it means less sleep (morning birds and night owls) or saying no to daytime activities you’d rather participate in…saying “yes” to writing means saying “no” to SOMETHING else. This is where my mom’s infamous saying about “making time for what matters” always resonates with me. For my part, I have to consciously decide I’d rather write than sleep. If I don’t choose to do that, then I accept I have no room for complaint when the words don’t get put down on the page.
Plain and simple, each of us has to make the daily choice whether we put writing before something else we’d rather have. Whether it’s a social activity, entertainment, sleep, or another hobby, we are the masters of our own schedules. We each have to decide it’s worth it to make the necessary sacrifice of time and dedication that will allow us to master Step Four.
Make A Routine and STICK TO IT.
Once you’ve decided which writing time works for you, this step is critical. It’s also, in my opinion, even more difficult than deciding to write a bit each day—because at this stage, there is no one to hold you to the standard but yourself. Sure, we can be accountable to others…but ultimately, our routine is ours to maintain, and ours alone. I won’t be standing behind you, ready to snap the whip if you step out of line. Hopefully no one else would be that drastic, either! You answer only to yourself, which is the best and worst thing in the world.
Luckily, routine looks different for everyone, so you don’t have to choose from some preset agendas. The important thing is to establish one that fits your unique lifestyle, and then stay as consistent with it as possible. Consistency is the birthplace of steady productivity, because your mind becomes trained to reach a certain goal in a certain allotted time.
To use myself as an example: when drafting my current WIP, my morning routine is always the same. I get up, make my coffee, boot up my computer, and log into the chat with my writing group. Then the headphones go in, I turn on my writing playlist, and at that point my brain goes into drafting mode. I now know I have anywhere from 3-4 hours to do whatever is on my outline for the day, before I have to get ready for work. It took me months of painful schedule adjustments and dragging myself out of bed at unholy hours to make this work, but now it’s become so habitual, I feel more energized on-schedule than I do between drafts, when I let myself sleep in! This is the beauty of routine. When your writing routine becomes familiar motions, your mind is free to create and imagine and explore.
This step is also a matter of boundaries. It’s where we lay down the lines for how our writing time will go, and we have to hold those borders and push back if something encroaches on them. I’m not suggesting we become inflexible—after all, there are some days when you may need more sleep, where your body is exhausted and you have to go to bed or stay there, or where you want to craft, veg out, or spend time with friends rather than hitting the manuscript after a hard day of work/school. That’s okay! Writers need to reboot, too. We just have to be careful that we don’t allow breaking our routine to become the new routine.
These are just four of the many steps that can help us start on the path to consistently working on our drafts—and more importantly, staying on track even in the difficulties, distractions, or doldrums of writing. Got any steps that have helped you to stay consistent and finish your manuscript? Leave them in the comments below!