Sunday, February 12, 2012

One Writer's Guide to Cheating Time

Often, I'll hear Writer Wannabes bemoan the fact that they have worked on a single project for years -- without completing it or anything else in that time.

A working writer must be able to do several things well. Many of those things relate to wordsmithing and craft. However, two critical non-Muse-related skills are the ability to multi-task and to finish something.

Juggling for Fun and Profit

The capacity to work on multiple projects at the same time is essential. On any given day, I'll work on several different projects in varying stages of completion.

The first thing in the morning is reserved for tying up any business-related loose ends that arose during the night while the Coffee Genie clears out the cobwebs in my brain.

Then, I'll work on drafting "creative stuff." Any time the words stick, rather than obsess over them, I'll take a break and do something else. If I just need a little down time, I'll do something short (blog and FaceBook updates fill the bill nicely). If I'm at a big inspirational block, I might shelve the creative writing and work on a chapter of a project that needs editing.

If the creative impulse starts to wane, I'll often switch gears and work on PR and marketing stuff for projects or for clients.

That's what works for me. An entirely different approach might work better for someone else. The point, however, is to KEEP GOING. A writer's job only starts with the blank page. It certainly doesn't end there. If the Muse is not responding, that doesn't mean that you can't have a productive day of writing.

Making the Most of Writing Time

A writer must be able to finish a project. This does not mean that any project will ever be perfect. It simply means that a project will be publishable.

And so, for what it's worth, I thought I'd share my Top 3 Time Cheats for Getting Stuff Done.

1. 15 Bite-Sized Pieces

I heard somewhere -- probably in a movie; almost certainly from a suspect source -- that the average book had 15 chapters. Regardless of the credibility of the information's origin, there is something to it.

Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" beat sheet has 15 beats to it. It is an excellent jumping-off place for outlining creative projects of all ilks -- from screenplays to books.

Even if not saving felines, an easy "time cheat" for not only getting started on a book project, but for creating a road map that helps ensure I finish the thing, is to make a 15-item list. Each item on the list gets a title that has something to do with the sequencing of the book. This list becomes a default Table of Contents.

Then, it's easy to take each of those 15 chapters and synopsize each chapter. I write in present tense, much as I would do for a non-fiction book proposal. In very little time, I end up with a workable game plan.

I'll add or subtract chapters later as necessary, when the project starts taking real shape.  In my experience, this works better than an outline. It's faster, too!

2. "Say It. Out Loud."

Edward's command to Bella in Twilight might not qualify as great dialogue but it makes for excellent Time Cheating advice.

No matter how fast I can type (Maybe around 80 words a minute. 100 on a really good day...), I can speak much more quickly. An inexpensive, recordable MP3 player / jump drive is the writer's Best Friend. So is the built-in MP3 player option on my cell phone. I think I talk to myself on my phone more than I talk to anyone else...

I dictate my thoughts as quickly as they come. Then, I just download the audio file and transcribe it. A cursory edit is inevitable during transcription and voila!, a workable first draft!

3. Do What Ya Gotta Do

Know what it will take to complete a project, then build the staircase that will take you there.

Don't focus on writing 15 chapters. Focus on identifying 15 story beats.

Then turn those 15 beats into a 15- chapter outline

Then focus on synopsizing those chapters.

Then give yourself a reasonable amount of time (one or two weeks, for instance) to write each chapter.

Write your deadlines on the calendar. ("March 1. 16: Chapter 1 drafted..."). Revise as necessary, but stick to your general schedule.

Keep the entire project at the same level of completion. In other words, don't edit your early chapters into oblivion and ignore the rest of the book. If at all possible: DO NOT EDIT until the rough draft is finished. Editing differs entirely from the creative process. Save the editor's hat to wear after the Muse has gone.

Remember: Progress, not perfection.

If you steadily continue working on each step, meeting each smaller goal that you have set for yourself, you'll finish the thing. And you'll still have time to live your life, to run your errands, and get groceries, and pick the kids up from school, and spend time with your honey, and practice the piccolo...

Life is too short to spend it wishing you had lived. Finding the time to write isn't something that will magically happen someday. If it's important, you'll find a way to cheat time now. There is no better time to get started.

Which reminds me... I think I hear my chapter outlines clamoring for attention!

1 comment:

Katje van Loon said...

Good post!

I tended to edit as I went a lot with my first novel, which is why it took me 13 years. But that was a good thing, at least for that story -- I started it when I was 12 and the constant edits gave me opportunity to find my writer's voice, which wouldn't have happened if I had just written it straight through and *then* began to edit. (Also, the story changed SO much that it's completely unrecognizable from my original idea.)

I wouldn't want to repeat the process, however. I'm currently looking for ways to cheat time with the next few books in the series, all currently WIPs.

Thanks for these tips. :)