Finishing a Book is Writing Boot Camp

Prior to writing Breaking Old Rhythms, I wrote as needed. Finishing a poem for a recording project, video or event was the catalyst that forced me to nail myself to the seat of some coffeehouse where I hid out from anyone I knew, checked Twitter and Facebook, filed my fingernails and mentally organized my taxes until I finally gave up on procrastinating and wrote something.

I learned writing a book doesn’t quite work like that. Author friends encouraged me to set up an amount of words a day to write, so I did. Some days those words arrived on the page swimmingly well. Other days they escaped slowly and I painfully watched as if my laptop screen were an annoying leaky faucet.

Here are some tips I learned from writing a book on how to complete a longer writing project:

1.     Set a schedule.
Do this because most days you won’t want to. If you wait to write until you feel like it, you’ll end up with a stained deck, scrubbed floorboards, lint free jackets, plates and plates of eaten cupcakes, but probably not a finished piece of writing. Schedule the days you will write, how long you will write, and how many words you will write that day. Give yourself a week or two of grace before your deadline. Do this because sometimes life happens, you get the world’s worst cold, have a family crisis, or have an urgent project that comes up.

Do this also because even if none of these things happen you will more than likely have a day or two that you will come up with some reason why you mustn’t write that day. Maybe you have to practice your English accent for your Lord Grantham Halloween costume, even though Halloween is several months away. Maybe you suddenly realize you never alphabetized the cleaning products underneath your sink. These are the things writers do to skirt away from writing, because we’re basically afraid we’re gonna suck. Allow yourself the grace to have a couple of “oh no what if I suck?!” days, but also remember almost every first draft sucks so get over it and write! Deadlines don’t care as much about whether or not your writing sucks, they just want you to finish so your writing will eventually not suck.

2.     Remove distractions.
Put your phone on airplane mode. Turn off TweetDeck. Do not use this time to figure out how to use Pinterest. Stop calling long lost friends you haven’t talked to since you were three years old. Oh wait, those were my distractions/procrastination tools. Ahem, in your case get away from anything that will distract you from getting the job done. If it’s social networking, turn off the internet mode on your phone or computer. If it’s people, go and write in a place where no one will talk to you. Like a library or a monastery, the opposite of the bar in Cheers.

For me, I have to leave home to write most of the time. When I was single I did this because I was likely to watch TV or take a nap instead of write. Now that I’m married I do this because I will think of all sorts of random things to talk to my husband about since we both have an office at home. Whatever you do, go someplace where all you can do is write. After you get your words in for the day you can read Wikipedia bios, tweet anonymous quotes, watch Cheers or call your friend from preschool.

3.     Trust in the process of drafting.
My first draft felt like a failure to me, because I had such big ideas for what I wanted to write but I couldn’t get the words to live up to my idea. This is the beauty of writing. To be a writer, doesn’t mean you immediately write something genius, it means you disciplined yourself to keep sharpening what you’d written until you got it just right. Don’t be afraid to think, write, rewrite, think, rewrite, cry, rewrite, think, rewrite. Rewriting done well can lead to writing that really doesn’t suck.

Now, as I have written this and had the audacity to post it online for anyone to read, you will have to remind me of this. Let’s keep each other accountable so the ideas inside of us will get written.