Working on a Manuscript? How to Crank out a Complete Draft
An unexpected side-effect of declaring oneself to be writing a book is the discovery that nearly everyone else wants to try the same thing. There are probably hundreds of thousands of barely-begun manuscripts out there, just waiting to be tended to. It reminds me of those packets of wildflower seeds at Home Depot, just waiting on the shelf, hopeful that someone will put in the time and effort to see what they can do.
Here's a made up statistic for you: 99.9% of published authors had to work around full-time jobs to write their first book. In other words, it is well within your grasp to finish a manuscript, even if you already feel your time is fully consumed. All it takes is dedication and a realistic set of goals.
So for all you lovely readers with Word documents on your laptops filed under "To Be Continued, Never," I have put together a very simple program to get your manuscript from secret status to query-time status.
1. Subscribe to Writing Blogs.
A great place to start is Elizabeth Spann Craig's "Twitterific Writing Links". Select a few great bloggers and read at least one post about writing or publishing a day. If you don't use Feedly already, I highly recommend it as a simple way to keep track of all your blogs and browse post titles quickly. I also use Writer's Digest a LOT, especially when I just want a beginner's guide to ... well, anything involving writing and publishing.
Subscribing to blogs will accomplish three things for you. One, it will get you pumped about writing a book. Two, it will help you avoid rookie mistakes. Three, it will help you see past the writing phase and prepare you for the trepidations of trying to get representation/publication (if that is your goal).
2. Pick an Audience.
Decide early on what genre your book will fall into. This will inform your voice, the plot, characters ... everything. Don't be afraid of the YA genre, either. It technically caters to ages 12-17, but that doesn't mean all other ages avoid this genre (e.g. Harry Potter, with the early books falling into Middle Grade). BUT if adult readers are your thing, know that agents will expect sexual content and/or cursing, as well as more "adult" themes. Think, The Kite Runner.
If you still are confused as to the genre with which your manuscript identifies, take a look at the protagonist. Generally speaking, he or she must be within the realm of the targeted age group. I've put together a handy-dandy list of the general genres below. Note that if your manuscript does not fall into the children or young adult category, it is assumed that your manuscript is written for adults. Additionally, your manuscript might fall into more than one category (excluding age ranges). For example, I would categorize my manuscript as a "YA fantasy adventure." However, be wary of citing too many genres. This is like bug repellent for agents.
Picture Book (ages 1-6), Chapter Book (ages 7-10), Middle Grade (ages 9-11), Young Adult (ages 12-17), New Adult (ages 18-22), Mainstream (ages 22+).
Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery, Paranormal (boo), Paranormal Romance (the world is ending), Dystopian (the world is really ending), Historical Fiction, Fairytale Retelling (overdone), Biographical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Diverse Fiction, Poetry, etc.
Biography, Cooking, Self-help, Inspirational, Memoir, Historical, Travel, Reference, Political, How-to (or Guide), etc.
3. Track Your Most Productive Hour. Set a Weekly Goal.
One Saturday morning, before the house is awake, tip-toe to the laptop and spend a solid hour writing. Make sure that all the conditions are right: you have the perfect hot beverage on your desk, the softest blanket in your lap, and maybe a rousing "Epic Soundtracks" station playing on Pandora.
Using the word count tool in Word, look at how many words you wrote in that hour. Also, look at how far in the action of the plot you got. Using this information, set a weekly goal for yourself. Depending on how busy your schedule, double or triple the amount of work you did in that productive hour, and make that a weekly goal.
"Priscilla wrote 600 words in her productive hour, therefore she will set a weekly goal of 1200 words."
"Myrna got through a fourth of her chapter outline during her productive hour, therefore she will set a bi-weekly goal of one chapter."
Personally, the second method worked a lot better for me. I tend to be too wordy, and having a goal which encouraged me to push the action through was helpful. (Eh-em ... still have 28,000 words to cut ...)
4. Tell People You Are Writing!
No, Emily! It's too scary! They'll think I'm such a pie-in-the-sky, cotton-headed ninny muggins! Yes; some will. But some people will think it's cool, mostly because they've been wanting to do the same thing! I'm not saying tell everybody -- some people are just not the supportive type -- but I am saying that your friends and family should know.
The benefit is threefold for you. One, someone will be excited for you. When you find that person, remember to reach out to them when tempted to despair about the manuscript ever getting finished. Two, it will keep you accountable. People ask about your progress (don't get mad, they are just being nice!) Also, you'll be able to excuse yourself from otherwise unavoidable commitments because of the need to carve out writing time. If people already know you're working on a book, they can't very well blame you for missing dinner club (is that a thing? I think that's a thing). Lastly, you will find yourself meeting writer friends, an invaluable help in staying sane throughout the writing process. My first writer friend was the lovely Molly Seltzer, whose first published book you will find here. Immediately upon learning that I was trying my hand at a novel, Molly sent me a slew of excited, supportive emails, plus a care package full of goodies such as a book on writing, a favorite book in my genre, a hilarious card, and a copy of the completed manuscript she was pitching! That experience alone was enough to justify "going public" with my novel.
5. Accept Yourself.
Trust that working hard on something will ultimately make you a better person. It is good to come face to face with one's demons (for more on facing the writer demons, see my post here.) G.K. Chesterton (and you thought I'd go a whole post without mentioning Chesterton) wrote that it is nonsense for one to "believe in himself." After all, I am the one person I know I cannot count on. However, we can and should accept ourselves with all our failings and shortcomings. Only then can we acknowledge that all blessings and successes come from a higher Good. This attitude fortifies our confidence when harsh criticisms come our way, but keeps us humble in the face of acclaim.
I hope this post was the little nudge you needed to get back to the keyboard. Special thanks to my writer friend Catherine for the post idea :)
Now stop reading and get writing!