First Rule: Write Every Day
You will write! You will write every day from now until your novel is done with no exceptions. No waiting until you feel in the mood. No day dreaming. No wishing you knew what to write about. None of that.
We don’t have time for excuses. We’re too busy writing!!
Now, we’re not actually going to start in on drafting the novel itself for two weeks. We need to spend some time outlining, planning scenes, and making some central decisions about point of view, style, target audience, etc. But while we’re doing all that preparatory work, we also need to be working out and getting ourselves into fighting shape so that we’re ready to do the hard work of writing a novel.
Let’s talk for a minute about why this commitment to writing every single day is so essential.
When iconic science fiction author Ray Bradbury decided he wanted to make his career as a writer, he committed to producing a new short story each week by writing every day. He reasoned that not all of his stories would be works of genius but that if he continued to produce 52 new stories a year, he would steadily improve his craft and increase his chances of writing and publishing great work. His method worked!
Probably the greatest and most prolific commercial writer of our era, Stephen King also writes every day. Still! He’s so successful that you’d think he could take a day off here and there, but he doesn’t. He writes on weekends. He writes on family vacations. He writes on holidays. He even writes on his birthday. Why? Because he’s a writer, and writers write. He also knows that writing is like going to the gym. Once you start giving yourself permission to take days off, it’s just a matter of time before you’re never going to the gym while finding plenty of time to eat cookies from a box while you watch daytime TV.
So, our first order of business is a firm commitment to writing every day.
To get your daily writing habit firmly into place, I’m going to ask you to commit to writing at least 1000 words a day, every day. I guarantee that once you’re used to it, this level of output isn’t really that much. In fact, you’ll get to a place where you can do this much daily writing in a just an hour or two,
That said, if you haven’t been writing much (or at all), if you’re starting from scratch, you might want to start by making yourself write just 500 words a day at first. Then you can steadily build up. However, by the end of the first two weeks, you need to be writing at least 1000 words a day. If you have the time and energy, you can even stretch beyond this minimum to produce 1500-2000 words a day, but don’t try to do this right away. Most writers exhaust themselves if they write much more than 2000-3000 words a day, and you want to set a pace you can maintain. No matter how much you write in any single day, writing a novel is a marathon and not a sprint.
First off, the thing to do is make sure you’re actually writing and working pretty much as fast as you can during your designated writing time each day. To get yourself going while you’re re-reading and outlining your “model novel,” I’d recommending using “writing prompts” if you tend to waste time wondering what to write about. There are plenty of blogs and websites that offer dozens (or hundreds) of writing prompts.
Here are a few writing prompt sites that I’ve found particularly useful:
As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter what you choose to write about while you’re getting your writing muscles into shape. If some of these prompts feel too flat-footed, get creative with them. Even a simple reversal can help get your creativity flowing. If the prompt tells you to write about how you feel when experiencing unrequited love and you don’t feel inspired by that prompt, then write about how you feel when somebody loves you and you don’t return their unwanted affections.
Pro Tip: Either way this prompt works as a good one because it naturally forces you to write about characters and conflict. You’re going to find that those two elements are absolutely indispensable when writing publishable, commercial fiction: character and conflict. In fact, I make sure to include them in the very first sentence of any piece I write.
But developing good writing habits and increasing your output is essential.
However you choose your topic, just make sure you’re writing every single day!! No days off. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can skip Saturday and just write 2000 words on Sunday. It’s not the same thing. Writing needs to be a constant in your life.
Besides, if you skip Saturday and “make up” the lost word count on Sunday, what’s to keep you from thinking you can skip the whole weekend and write 3000 words on Monday? Next thing you know, you’re neglecting your work all week and trying to churn out 7000 words every Friday when you don’t have discipline and stamina to write even 1000 words.
So, if you’re going to do this thing — and you’ve all signed up for this class because you want to quit thinking about someday and finally write that novel already — you need to commit to writing every day.
Repeat after me: “I will write every day!”
Once you’ve made that promise to me, to your peers (it’s good to have a writing buddy or two who will hold you directly accountable), and most importantly made that promise to yourself, you’re ready to start thinking about the organizational strategies you need to employ to make sure you have a full draft by the end of summer. More about those soon.
In the meantime, start writing. Yes, every day.