I’m currently on the third draft of the project I’ve been working on for the past two years and—surprise—none of those drafts are finished. At first this seems counterintuitive. What reason would I have for writing three drafts of a story that doesn’t even have an end yet?
Well, usually it’s because I lose momentum halfway. Or a quarter of the way. Or just don’t have any in the first place.
Everyone who’s ever attempted a large writing piece has experienced this before—you’re going good, writing a lot, and your story is developing well—and then out of the blue, you’re stuck. But it’s not exactly writer’s block. You know where you want the story to go and what the characters are supposed to do, but you’re stuck nonetheless. In this case, you’ve contracted a sudden and total case of reeli diskurageditis—you’re sick of your story.
Continuing with the example of Frontier here: those first two drafts remain unfinished to this day because a half or quarter or whatever part of the way through creating them, I got bored. It came out of nowhere, it seemed, but at the same time it had been building slowly day by day, causing me to write slower and less frequently, and then becoming more discouraged because I wasn’t writing until I came to the conclusion in my head that my story must not be very good, because if it was good I would be writing it, right? And so little by little, the story would become stale to me—old news—and a self-feeding chain would arise. I’m bored by my story because nothing’s happening in it, and because of that boredom I’m not causing anything to happen in the story.
I made it maybe ten thousand words into draft one of Frontier—keep in mind too, that I was maybe ten at the time. I had an idea for a story that I thought was pretty good, and excitedly started writing it—only to get stuck in that feedback loop I described above and abandon the project for two years. Well, because of my long absence, by the time I took out the project again and dusted it off, one look at it was enough to convince me I needed to rewrite.
So I did—off and on for another two years, almost three, and over that period of time I managed a total of twenty thousand words. And then I got bored once again—discouraged because I wasn’t sure that the first half of the draft was as good as the second draft—and I abandoned it all again.
Fast forward to a month and four days ago from today—the day I started draft three.
Wanna know what’s different about draft three?
It’s currently sitting at a comfortable thirty-two thousand words—fifty percent longer than draft two, and written in a meager fraction of the time.
So what did I change this time around to so drastically improve my writing speed? I’ve asked myself that question a lot recently, even though I already know the answer. You probably know it too if you read the clickbaity headline— I was consistent.
July is the month of a large writing event called Camp NaNoWriMo—I made a post about it here—and it’s pretty great.
There’s a lot of things I like about Camp, but that’s not what this post is about. What it’s about is consistency—being able to write every single day. This is super important when tackling a long project because when it comes to writing, slow and steady really can win the race (fast and steady is good, too, but don’t push it).
Now, Camp NaNoWriMo—and basically all things NaNoWriMo—are great for developing consistency. You have a word goal, and you pretty much absolutely must write an average of a certain number of words per day to hit that goal. If you stick to that average, you find that in no time what might have seemed a daunting task is really easy if you break it into chunks.
The current draft of Frontier, as mentioned above, was written almost entirely during Camp. My goal for the month of July was 30K words—almost a third of what my overall goal is for the final first draft. It seemed like a massive undertaking at first, until I realized that I only had to write one thousand of those words every day. Now, don’t get me wrong—a thousand is still a lot (about two pages in Google Docs, which is where I like to write)—but it’s nothing in comparison to thirty thousand. By completing one thousand words a day for one month, I successfully made it a third of the way through my story—I find that pretty cool.
But don’t get discouraged if you can’t make yourself write two pages a day—that’s all right. You don’t have to. Here’s what I mean:
A standard young adult novel is between 80K and 100K words—we’ll say 90K for simplicity. At a thousand words a day, you’d finish the first draft in 90 days—three months. In my opinion, that’s a little bit too hardcore. I’m drained from just one month going at that rate, there’s no way I’m doing it three months in a row.
Okay, so let’s cut it in half. Five hundred words a day—one Google Docs page—that’s pretty manageable, right? But manageable or not, if you write that much every single day, you’d be done in 180 days—about six months. And that’s still super-fast.
But, you say, a page is still a little too big—so let’s descend to an even slower level.
If you wrote only one hundred words per day—that’s maybe one medium paragraph—you would finish a 90K word first draft in two and a half years.
That’s about how long your average Star Wars movie takes to film and edit—two and a half years. And all you’re doing is writing one little paragraph per day.
Pretty cool, huh?
But beware—it doesn’t work unless you stick to it. Once you pick your daily goal, you have got to make that goal every single day. Consistency is the key to getting writing done.
If you’re having a bad day, write nonetheless. If you’re stuck with writer’s block, go back and add something to a previous chapter. If you feel like that day really should be your one off day, still write. Because once you slip, once you let yourself take a day off, the next one is easier, and the same is true for the next one, and the one after that…
Sounds intense, right? And that’s the thing—it is. And—going completely against the grain of this article so far now—no matter how hard you try, those off days are going to happen. Maybe you’ll get stranded without a thing to write on. Maybe you forget—it happens. The point of the above paragraphs wasn’t to preach a sermon, it was to make clear that while those days come and go, they come and go with a heavy cost.
Also, one last thing I’ve learned—when all is said and done, don’t let writing get in the way of more important things. I mean, seems pretty obvious, but I know I’ve let it happen to me before, and thought I’d point it out here.
Hopefully I didn’t leave you too confused this time around—keep in mind I like to defend both sides of an argument whenever I can. I guess I’m a little annoying that way.
And with that,