Next: Turn invisible at will. 10 Tips on both:
Okay, as I mention a little too often, I used to be a writing coach. I got into it because you teach what you need to learn, and I needed to learn how to plow through sloppy first drafts so I’d have something to edit, rather than editing page one over and over and never getting to page two. Here are my top ten tips for FINISHING a first draft, if like me, you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month):
- Make a realistic commitment, setting yourself up for success, and do it in quantifiable terms. Along with that, create a set time and safe environment in which to write. For example, I am committing to write from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. every morning in the month of November, no phone or internet, just one document open: the new novel. People type about a thousand words an hour. I’ll have a 60,000-word first draft of a short novel done in one month, in two hours a day. It’s that simple.
- Separate your writing from your editing from your marketing. This is a cornerstone of the “Red Room Method.” They are three different skill sets and three different stages of your project. For the entire month of November, be in writing mode only, and don’t even think about editing, critiquing, or marketing it, or what you think the “market” wants.
- No premature feedback. Wait to show it or read it to anyone until December. And then, first edit it, and then only show people who are the audience for the book.
- Don’t delete. You may find a use for what you’ve written at a later time.
- Don’t reread. It stunts your forward momentum.
- If you reach a crossroads, don’t become paralyzed. Simply take one path. You can take the other if the first one doesn’t work out. Sometimes you can’t get where you’re going without a little exploration.
- Don’t get hung up on character names. You can rename them later.
- You can do research or go off on a tangent later. Just insert brackets and note what information is needed or what you need to explore. Make a list when you’re done of everything in brackets and research them.
- Don’t worry about some shifting in your voice, tense, tone, or genre. You’ll be in a better position to sort it out later. Most people don’t hit the right tone or even know what they’re talking about until they’re 80% done with their book, which is why it’s foolish to edit and re-edit chapter one before writing the whole thing.
- Allow your story to develop organically. Controlling your story and the characters in it works about as well as it does in real life. The meandering path will reward you with more meaningful discoveries than a rigid plan will. If you have an outline, fine, but don’t expect to stick to it.
Remember these things too: Perfectionism means never finishing—it’s unrelated to high standards (which by definition includes finishing). All art is imperfect and created by imperfect people and at some point, you have to step away from the draft and say, “That’s the best I could do in the time I had with the effort I gave it.” The journey of a million miles, as they say, begins with a single step, so just write for one word, one hour, one day, one month, and you’ll get there. Don’t show up to accomplish something you can’t do in an hour or a month (like win the Pulitzer or make your old exes see how brilliant you were). Focus on writing. Writing is your relationship with yourself and it’s more important than worldly rewards later.
Also, don’t forget to surround yourself with supportive, noncompetitive colleagues but don’t show them your work. If you can schedule time to sit and SILENTLY write (in a timed period) together with others, do it. Most people keep appointments with others better than we do with ourselves, so this is another tenet of the Red Room Method.
I wish you the best of luck, but you won’t need it — I know you can do it!
–Ivory Madison, Founder and CEO, Red Room