Target Practice

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the first draft of a new book. It’s the follow-up to the last book that I wrote, Echoes, which was supposed to be a standalone and then I just started getting this other idea about what would happen to certain characters next, even though I didn’t really mean to. It just sort of happened and now I can’t ignore it. Anyway, I haven’t got any more rewrites to do on Echoes just at the moment, so I’ve basically set myself the slightly ridiculous task of finishing a first draft of its sequel by Christmas.

*Insert lol here*

This may seem far too short a time, especially given that the two books I’ve written so far have been almost 100k words each – but, I stress that this is a first draft and, in my head, the point of a first draft is simply to get to the end of it so I know where I’m headed and find any major problems early. My new ‘motivational motto’ (because these are obviously important to have) is that the point of a first draft is to tell the story, the point of a second draft is to tell it well. Or, at least, better. I’m usually around draft five or six before anything I write gets remotely near ‘well’.

Anyway, because I’m a bit of a nerdy planner, once I’d decided on that goal (about a week into writing), I worked out that I’d need to write 3,500 words on each of the working days I had left available before Christmas in order to reach it. [Well, 3,359 if I’m being specific, but that really is too pedantic, so I’m going with 3,500.] While doable, this basically means I’m going to have to be a bit of a hermit on those days. Hermit writing is great when things are going well… but unfortuntely, erm, interesting when I’m having one of those moments where I really can’t work out what the hell happens in the next scene and am likely thinking some kind of variation on ‘oh crap, I’m never going to be able to finish this. Why did I think I could be a writer? What the hell am I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!’

This kind of panic, while somewhat inevitable, is surprisingly also not helpful for actually getting work done. The lack of getting work done then feeds the panic cycle and then it just becomes this vicious circle of whiny arty self-pity.

Which no one wants.

Really.

On these days, I find having a target is often the saving grace. These days will always happen and they will always be just a little bit depressing, BUT having a word target and making myself reach that target – even if it means filling a scene with shockingly bad cliche-ridden crap just to get it down – is one way I find really helpful for combating this. It keeps me moving forward and stops me getting stuck on story points that, while ultimately necessary to fix, will be far more easily sorted in draft two – after I’ve reached the end of the story and am far more aware of what’s actually going on (I do plan/research in advance, but find everything takes on a different perspective once I actually have a full version of start to finish written down on paper).

Now, if a day is going reeeeally badly, one approach I’ll try is to break down the larger word count target into smaller ones, such as ‘you can’t have lunch until you’ve written 1,500 words’ or ‘finish this page and you can eat a fudge covered pretzel (on a side note, these are AMAZING).

White Fudge Pretzels (or, apparently, Wolverine White Fudge Pretzels. Not entirely sure how a bag of pretzels can be a ‘Collector’s Edition’, but there you go.)

Food seems to be a good motivator. I also try and bring myself back to the idea that I’m actually just trying to write one scene – or one paragraph even – instead of thinking of that ultimate goal of writing a whole book, which tends to be another sure fire way of bringing up the ‘What the hell am I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!’ issue again.

The irony with all this is, of course, that in the end the real key to reaching a word count target – and the time when I find writing goes best – is when you forget about the fact that you have a word count to reach at all. Forget about the fact that you have any kind of goal for your book, or even your life, and just immerse yourself in the story you are telling. The moment I get into the mindset of the character, get myself feeling the emotions they would be feeling; that is when the words flow and the word counts are easy. It’s also when I remember why I wanted to be a writer at all. I admit that when I write this way what comes out is also almost always better than otherwise. The thing is, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially not Every Single Day. And some bits of your story will inspire you more than others. I like writing really emotional, actiony scenes – but for these to have any real import you have to earn their pay-off with scenes that explain things, scenes that set them up and are altogether more normal – but still required to be engaging. I also way prefer the editing and rewriting and moulding of the second draft to the thrashing out of the first. Not all bits of writing are fun! But then, if I only ever wrote when I felt like it, I’d never finish anything – probably ever, certainly not in a reasonable time frame. [I even wrote a whole blog about this here.]

So, yes, erm, in summary; that flowing writing stuff is good, but for the days that doesn’t come, I find word counts and little goals can help too.

Thanks for reading!

Laura x

P.S. Randomly, the time in which I’m trying to write this draft has ended up overlapping with National Novel Writing Month. While I’m not technically sticking to that schedule, there is some really brilliant advice on their website about sticking to targets and writing first drafts. Go check it out here!

Twitter: @LauraTisdall
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