Plan to Write Every Day
Deadlines help us reach our goals. We plan our goal: brownies, racing, church service. Then we listen for the ding of the oven that lets us know the brownies are ready. Or we look for the checked flag at the finish line of the Brickyard 500. We bow our heads for the benediction at the end of a service, when some people have their hearts already out the door.
We aim for the deadlines and drive and drive until the end.
Our reward, beside chocolatey goodness, is the completed project in our hands along with the knowledge that we can send that project into the world. All that measuring, all that stirring, all that waiting and we have fudgy, gooey brownies to drink with our afternoon coffee.
I have previously shared the work process needed to turn ideas into a completed manuscript, from original prep of character and plot development.
However, that work process can be a long slog through mucky mire, with red clods sticking to our shoes and following us everywhere.
So, the deadline is not enough. We have to commit to the deadline.
And re-commit to that deadline every single day.
Plan the Work
First, we have to know what needs to be done. What story stage have we reached? Still sketching ideas? Still developing characters? Got 50 pages of the draft done? Yippee!
No, wait, don’t start revising yet. Don’t polish it up. Don’t run through a final edit.
I need to introduce you to Robert Heinlein, famous writer of pulp fiction and science fiction.
Heinlein wrote a lot. Really, a LOT. He had 5 Rules of Writing, the first two of which are very important for us.
Rule # 1: You must write.
Rule # 2: Finish what you start.
In other words, write every day.
Focus your writing on the SECTION of the work that you need to complete.
And complete that SECTION before you move on to the next focus.
Yes, yes, we can squeeze in a little work here and there: 15 minutes waiting at the doctor’s office, 30 minutes waiting to pick someone up, a blessed hour of silence when the words pour out.
We have to use that time to achieve our goals.
Work the Plan
Sketching and Planning
First step of any project is the creative preliminary look: the Sketch. This is the sparked idea, the one that excites us, the glimmer of the final project that we see shining at the top of the great pyramid.
The final project may not look anything like our glittering wondrous creative spark–or it may. This is the starting point. Let the ideas pour out. Ignore every language rule you ever learned. Ignore spelling and capitalization and sentence structure. Basically, ignore anything that anyone has ever said about writing novels.
And when you sit back with a sigh and say, “Yes. That’s it. That’s what I want,” then this idea is sparked.
This may take an hour or two. Or it might be a sentence in a journal that you come back to later and spend a time exploring.
Get the ideas on paper rather than some electronic device. Be able to hold the idea in your hand. That tangible connection creates a bond with your mind.
The Plan includes character and plot development. Research for anything special fits here as well; you want that special thing swirling around embryonically generating ideas. You’ll need a large block of uninterrupted time, but the parts of the Sketch can be broken into SECTIONs.
In other words, don’t get fascinated by Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point (plot) when you haven’t finished considering your protagonist’s personality (character).
Look back at the blog on “Dreaming into Reality”, Feb. 25, if you need reminders, or look in Chapter 1 of Think like a Pro [shameless promo ;)].
The basic bulk of the project in a workable form that presents a view of the finished project: the Draft is the hardest part, no matter what profession you are in.
The Draft will never look perfect (unless you’re the genius we all hate and churn about 1,000s of perfect words each day). It has flaws; let it bask in those flaws.
Remember, we’re writers. Writers write. And re-write.
The draft, though, is the very thing that most wannabe writers never complete. It’s the importance of Heinlein’s Rule # 2. It’s finished. And once finished, it can be improved.
Much like the Sketch, when you’re drafting, don’t worry about your English teachers and professors. Ignore them. Toss them out the window. Get that story on paper.
Then print it out. Hug the draft to you. It’s your child, birthed by you through much labor. Give it love. Because in just a little bit, you’ll have to give it Tough Love.
Revising and Proofing
In these two stages of work, you are turning back on your old English teachers and professors. Yep, you do have to listen to them. Occasionally. For the basic rules of Standard American English or whatever Standard language form you are using, you need to pay attention to the punctuation coding and spelling and capitalization and sentence structure and paragraphs and dialogue tags.
Your readers certainly will spot your errors.
The story may be powerful enough to hold them through the errors in order to reach the end.
But we need them to come back for the next book.
At the end of our writing career, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a screenshot image like Heinlein’s above?
Now that your manuscript has had its love, time to give it some discipline.
Revising requires a return to creativity. You are adding new scenes, judging the remaining, gutting the useless, and enhancing all that stays. Tweaking descriptions and sequences takes time and creativity. You have to check the flow of scenes and sequels.
Slip in little twists of characters. Tuck in clues and foreshadowing.
And you are playing with the language without creating sacred cows that must be sacrificed.
Add it. Correct it. Then read the manuscript as one great gulp to check for more.
Proofing requires another re-read through of the manuscript. Turn off the creative side of your brain. Turn on the editor. Be cold. Be logical. Hate the words. Hate the commas and push them around where they go.
All so that your readers will love the story as much as you do.
A Plan Creates Magic
Let’s do Math!
Most manuscript pages should follow standard size. That’s a letter size page with one-inch margins written in Times New Roman (yes, I know it’s ugly) font size 12.
The average number of words on a single page set up for standard is 250.
250 words x five pages = 1,250. Can you write 5 pages a day for four days a week? That’s 5,000 words.
5,000 words over 10 weeks (two months and two weeks) is 50,000 words.
Now, that’s a novel.
It’s not an epic, but it is a novel.
Let’s up it to 5 pages for five days a week? Give yourself a couple of days off. One for a day of rest (Even God rested. Who do you think you are?) and one for emergencies or errands.
250 x 5 pages = 1,250 x 5 days = 6,250 words a week x four weeks (a month) = 25,000 words.
And you’re not even pushing.
6.250 words a week for 50 weeks of the year (take a one-week vacation and have the other days for relationship commitments and generate 312,500 words or 1,250 pages.
Now, that’s an epic.
Robert B. Parker, writer of the famous tough guy & poet Spenser series, wrote five pages every day but Sunday. In a year that’s 1,565 pages or 391,250 words (at about 250 words per page).
Admittedly, some–MANY of those pages are revisions of other pages and some of those pages have to be gutted and re-worked, but STILL!
Drips and drips will fill up a bucket.
Word by word, that’s how novels (and blogs) are written.
- In a blog for Chuck Windig’s Terrible Minds website, Susan Spann gives “25 Things You Need to Know About Writing Mysteries”. (These are funny! Enjoy!) Spann is writer of the Shinobi Mystery series. She says with an all-caps shout,
“FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU AND DO IT EVERY DAY.”
[I put the bold in ;)]
You commit to the BOLD in your writing life and see what happens.
It’s simple. It just takes commitment.
For more on the Think like a Pro lessons, head to Amazon.
P.S.: I don’t know when I first ran across the saying “Plan the Work, Work the Plan.” I know that it was in a publication by Dale Carnegie. My mother gave me the book years and years ago. I wish that I had kept that book. I wish that I had done more than just read the words. Do more than just read; commit!