Three Things* That Kept Me Writing This Week

by Wendy A.M. Prosser on Sunday 24 June 2012

Lifebelt with typo

Remember the schedule I set myself back in April? The one that had me finishing my first draft at the end of July, then taking August off to ruminate before starting editing in September?

Well, it’s still in force, but the last few weeks have seen it sorely challenged. Various issues – internal and external – mean I’m now some way behind where I should be, and the situation gets worse because, considering the average length of the scenes I’ve written so far and the number of scenes to come, 120,000 words seems a more realistic final length than 100,000.

I got pretty discouraged earlier this week but managed to keep going, and after writing almost 2000 words yesterday am even feeling upbeat about my chances of making my deadline.

I’ve been through this with previous projects; the difference is that, in the past, I always gave up – leading to the many unfinished works that haunt my drawers and Windows Explorer folders. Looking back at the last seven days, I think there were three things* that saved me this time around.

1) Accountability

Number One is most definitely this blog, and that handy word count widget hidden away at the foot of the page.

I appreciate that you might not care two hoots how my book is progressing. Maybe “you” are not here at all, and Scribblings has no readers. Maybe every one of those “unique visitors” is looking for the latest scoop on the Voynich Manuscript (this blog’s top search term, fact fans) and bounces away within milliseconds after accidentally hitting my bus maths post.

But even if I am talking to myself, I wouldn’t dare give up on my novel then come here and try to explain why I’d failed yet again. Whatever excuse I came up with would just sound pathetic, even to a passing conspiracy theorist.

2) An outline

I loved writing when I was little. Armed with a packet of biros and a pad of A4 paper, I would shut myself in my bedroom and scribble fearlessly for hours, penning short stories, formatted film scripts (I once imagined myself as the next Steven Spielberg) and even the occasional novel. I never worked from an outline (does any writer in their youth?), and when I was older I equated that lack of planning with the joyful ease of writing I experienced as a child. Never mind that none of it was much good, or that I rarely finished anything.

For many years, I tried recreate those halcyon days. I would sit at my computer and start to write without any plan, in the hope that my muse would somehow deliver a coherent story, fully formed. It never did, of course. These efforts would start well, but all eventually wandered into the wilderness of half-baked ideas.

In my struggle to write this week, the detailed outline I created in February/March has been my saviour. During the many times when I felt I couldn’t write, at least I knew what to write – I never had to stare at an accusing blank page. In some places, the outline was so detailed that a scene that might have otherwise stalled me became largely a copy-and-paste job.

I know many writers swear by pantsing (as in “writing by the seat of the pants”), but I recommend outlining for anyone who, like me, gets easily discouraged by the process of writing.

3) A total disregard for quality, style, typos and even basic punctuation

Yet another problem I have is obsessive perfectionism. How many hours, days – years! – have I wasted trying to fashion a single sentence that sounds “just right”? And then gone back to it the next day and changed it again? With my currect WiP, I’ve been making a conscious effort to press on with the writing, however loud my inner editor screams. In the last couple of weeks, though, I found myself slipping back into old habits, and my word count suffered as a result.

The solution? I reminded myself how dearly I’d love to hold that first draft in my hand – a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. I’ve never done that before, and I never will if I stop to correct every error, or to make my prose pretty. Writing is not the same as editing; anything and everything can be changed – but not now!

With my outline to guide me, I’m now treating this as a race to the end of July, writing as fast as physically possible for a two-fingered typist. Check in next week to see where I am (or learn more about spooky alien tomes).

*I am well aware that use of the word “thing” betrays a lack of imagination, poor vocabulary or just plain laziness. I know being more specific would achieve a stronger effect. But I’m writing here, not editing!

Image by Clarita


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