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Welcome back to Writer 2 Writer, a weekly discussion of topics relating directly to the writing process.
Not long ago, I was interviewed by two high school students for a class project. Their assignment was to interview an author, since that is what they plan to be when they get older. They asked me lots of great questions, but one in particular stuck in my mind:
What is the hardest part about being a writer?
My answer - Finishing a first draft.
I've spoken with countless aspiring writers and this seems to be a universal struggle. Many of those who want to write, who claim to have a story clawing to get out, but who have yet to enter the active world of writing and trying to get published share a similar barrier - they have yet to complete their first manuscript.
I know from personal experience how challenging it is to write a novel. I've written sixteen in the past eight years. The hardest one was the first. Well, maybe the second. Hmmm, on second thought they've all been challenging. But I succeeded. How?
Well, I'll tell you my little secret. But first let me quickly describe why I, of all people, ought to have failed. I have five kids. (Enough said?) I am a stay-at-home mom, which though some people might scoff at that, being home doesn't mean I ever time to sit on the couch and eat bon bons -- or write. My days are completely filled from sunrise to long after sundown with cooking and cleaning and transporting children everywhere, and doing homework (oh, did I mention I've been a homeschool mom for 15 years?). To top that off, I also work part-time from home as a book editor, magazine editor-in-chief AND I am in graduate school.
I feel suffocated just writing all this!
And still I write, on average, two complete novels per year. Now do you want to know my secret? Well, there are two secrets, really, and here they are:
1. BABY STEPS
When I was a kid I was in honors choir for our school district. One of the songs we performed had the following lyrics which I have never forgotten: If you can't climb a mountain then climb a hill. That's much better than standing still. There's a way if you've got the will. And little by little you're there.
I write 500 words a day, most days of the week. That's about two pages double-spaced. Takes me about 20 minutes tops. When my kids were young, I did it late at night after they went to bed. Today I do it before they wake up. That's all the time I have to spare--really. But you know what? Even if I wrote 1 page a day, in a year I have a completed novel.
2. DON'T LOOK BACK
I never, and I mean NEVER edit or revise anything I've written UNTIL the entire manuscript is completed. I don't read what I wrote the previous day. I don't even think about it. I always move forward. My first two novels did take a year to write. Now I can whip out a manuscript in about four months, depending on my anticipated word count.
I actually create an excel spreadsheet for each project, with columns of little squares. Each square represents a page. As I write, I highlight those little squares, one for each page. It is a visual record of my progress. The more squares I fill in, the closer I get to my goal, the more motivated I feel to reach that finish line.
So there you have it, my secrets for completing writing projects. If you are struggling to finish your book, maybe these will help. Do you have a system that motivates you to reach that last page? If so, feel free to share it here.
Come back next week as I take a look at the revision process. See you then!