It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed. This is just one of the innumerable quotes likening writing to hard toil, self destruction, and whatnot.
Indeed, writing a book isn’t exactly a piece of cake. After all, on average, a novel is 80.000 words long. Considering 5 characters for each word, this means that our fingers will have to strike at least 400.000 times on the keyboard. And this just for the first draft. Without taking into account any mistake, any rewriting.
In fact, chances are that, before we are finished, we’ll have hit no less than a million keys on the keyboard.
Just at the thought, my fingertips ache…
However, truth be told, writing a book can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. Besides, many of the difficulties beginning writers encounter are nothing else than the result of quite preventable mistakes.
All we need are some down-to-earth tips. And determination, to follow them.
I’m a pantster. I just sit down and write. But this doesn’t mean this is necessarily the best approach to writing for everybody.
Besides, even though I put into my first draft every detail I can think of, I write in such a telegraphic manner that a dozen lines can easily grow into a three page scene on my second draft.
So, in a way, I guess my first draft could be likened to an outline of sorts, couldn’t it?
However, irrespective of you being an outliner or a panster, there’s something you’d better pick up early on. I’m referring to the habit of taking notes. This is an essential one for any writer—unless you’re endowed with a prodigious memory, that is.
In fact, the best ideas are also those which, later on, are the most difficult to recall. I think this is so because what makes them so intriguing is also what makes them so difficult to remember.
I mean, when you make a brilliant connection you manage to metaphorically open a path of brilliance among a forest of mundanity.
But the forest is pressing hard on the path, and if you don’t tend it immediately, chances are the forest will erase the path within minutes.
Jotting notes down is exactly this: the art of tending the potentially creative paths you open up in the forest of your thoughts. If you want to discover more about this, you can read my previous post about taking notes
Daily writing practice
Paraphrasing Aristotle we can certainly say that: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.
This is why writing every day is important. Even if at the beginning most of what we write is rubbish. In fact, in this way, with each new writing session we first create a habit and then reinforce it, over and over.
This process is so effective that, if coupled with some kind of reward after completion, at a certain point we’ll start to feel the need to sit down and write. Pavlovian dogs date back to 1904, but they’re still quite popular.
Set a daily quota
It’s certainly great to have a healthy habit. But it’s even better to make it as profitable as possible. This means that, given that we’re in any case going to sit down and write for a certain amount of time, we might try to write a set amount of words as well.
Of course, we don’t need to write 5,000 words a day or even more. However, if we are insanely inspired, nothing prevents us from writing a novel in a day. More realistically, even a daily quota of 500 words can lead to solid tangible results.
In fact, in just four months we can write the first draft of a 60.000 word novel. This means that in one year we can write three such novels. Three stories from beginning to end. This is not at all that bad.
Of course first drafts need revisions and improvements. Rewriting at times. But the point is that first drafts have to exist if revisions are to be undertaken.
Deadlines are your friends
I’m quite an experienced hiker. So it doesn’t really matter that much whether or not when I start out for one of my hikes up a mountain I tell myself, today I’m going up there.
I’ve hiked for so many miles I learned to enjoy every aspect of it. But this appreciation isn’t the result of passive adaptation. Rather, it’s pretty much the opposite.
In fact, over the years I gathered a lot of data about myself and the mountains, and adjusted my behavior to what I got to know.
For example, I now know I must start slow and steady for the first 30 minutes. I know that if I don’t force my pace during those 30 minutes, then I can go on hiking for pretty much the whole day. I also know when the weather is going to turn nasty and it’s probably better make a face about and go back home, or find shelter.
Instead, if I pointed with my finger at a distant peak and told someone who has never hiked before, Look, we’re going up there, chances are they’re going to feel exhausted even before they have taken the first step.
You see, the only thing they would think about would be the distance and the elevation difference. Not exactly the best way to start a hike…
When writing a book the same principle applies. If we think about that damn million of strokes, we’re going to feel intimidated and unable to write at all.
Instead, if we set a lot of small intermediate goals, all of a sudden our mood changes. In fact even if the final destination remains the same, now we can work toward the first goal with a lot more of confidence.
In fact, we no longer need to write a novel. We just have to come up, let’s say, with an opening chapter. We’ll bother about the following chapter only after we have completed the chapter we’re writing now.
Sure, the closer your goal, the harder you have to work, some people say. But they are often talking about losing weight. Besides, considering the alternative, that’s to say doing nothing and wasting time, I think no one in his or her right mind would have any doubt about what to choose.
In any case, if I feel I’m really close to my goal, I noticed I tend to work harder and harder. Maybe this is just me. But I don’t think so.
Writing a book – do not disturb
When you’re writing your novel, write it without telling anyone about it. Just write it the way you feel right, and don’t stop till you reach the last word on the last page.
Do so because the first draft is all about you. Your ideas. Your story. Your characters.
I read somewhere some authors claiming that it’s better to write the first draft while discussing it with others. In this way we can prevent some serious mistakes, they say.
Ultimately, it’s your choice. But the fact is that you cannot explain fully yourself and your characters if you don’t have already written the whole damn thing.
For example, what would you do if the character you like most turns out to be the one your wife, your husband, or reading group, hates the most?
Sure, you can say it wouldn’t matter. That you would go on writing what you want in any case. But the truth is that we don’t function in that way.
As a result your character will be invariably shaped by the reactions other people have had about him or her. Even if you’re just halfway through your book.
I don’t know about you. But I like to have a first draft I feel totally mine. It’s like a foundation. With that secured away I’m open to debate with whoever. But not before.
It’s never about quantity
Writing a book is a feat. As a result the ones I outlined here might look like few tips. But if properly enforced they can be tremendously powerful. They can really help you ferry a whole new world into existence. Your world.
Have faith in yourself. And keep working.