I feel like I should almost apologise before I start. My novel draft is approximately four weeks old. Why should I be writing about how to achieve something that I just about achieved myself? Why?
Well apart from the blogger curse of doling out from-the-heart advice, it’s come up in conversation a few times now with other aspiring writers and I really do want to pass on the things that helped me.
Recently, my brother and I had a conversation. He is a very talented writer and is hoping to get some work and drafts done over the next few months. He has a few short pieces sitting around nothing above 25,000 words I think.
I found myself dribbling off the things that had made a big difference to me – do this, do that, get this, tell people that. Suddenly I realised I myself had gone through a process that set things in motion that led to me being able to achieve something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a child. A book. With pages and everything.
I also found myself thinking about it in Doolin at their recent Writers’ Weekend. The very lovely Dermot Bolger talked about making time to write each day and having a space to do it in. He said other things very along the lines of what I’d been reading in Stephen King’s Book On Writing and I thought yes. Yes, yes, yes. I did all those things. And that’s how I got it done.
Beside me, another aspiring writer whispered, ‘That’s not very realistic is it. I mean, how could you find time for that?’ And I wanted to say, ‘Of course you can. You must.’
So here are the seven steps that absolutely and without doubt led me to getting my first proper novel draft on the computer screen. We can talk quality later.
1. Make the decision
I’d imagine most writers are like myself. There’s been a vague notion or thought in your head, possibly since childhood, that one day, you will write a book. You’re not sure about what. You don’t know when. But you just know that you want to do it.
There are many paths to arriving at the decision to write, but I’ll bet, there is one time period in your life where you will look back and think – that was when I decided I was going to take it seriously. It is a very significant part of becoming a writer I think. It’s when you allow the fear to fall away. You decide you’re going to DO it. An idea might land in your head. A vision may open up before you. And it all comes together and you sit down and start to write.
And once you’ve made the decision, that you’re really going to give this a go, then other things start to fall into place. Tentatively you say the words to people, I’m writing a book. It’s a whisper at first. But as you grow in confidence and with the peace of your decision, suddenly it will become very natural and you are ok with putting it out there. There are still doubts of course – don’t ask me what it’s about, I go to jelly – but the main thing is that you know I’m doing it. You can call me a writer. Hell, I might even call myself one.
2. Find the space
Last October, after a few months of typing at the kitchen table and hunching up with pillows in bed, my physical therapist, suggested I get a desk in the house. That makes me sound posh doesn’t it – my physical therapist. But the truth was I was in for emergency treatment because the pain in my back had led me to Mr Byrne from the Simpsons proportions.
I blogged about the wonderful desk installation night here, but had no idea the difference it would make to my writing patterns. I felt a bit guilty if I didn’t use it. I felt safe when I was there. Himself added a new fancy smancy screen. I had a writing desk!
I added it to an unused corner of a room I thought there was no space in. Lots of people have said to me since; I’ve nowhere to put a writing desk. You may think that, but is it really true? Could you live without a pretty dresser or locker that’s not much use in the first place? You’ll need approximately 1.5 metres x 1.5 metres. Give away the cat if you have to. Those kitty litter boxes are stinky anyway.
3. Create the time
Time is one of the most difficult things to come by in our busy lives (as we all know). Whether you’re working part or full-time, parenting, trying to keep healthy or have a social life, there’s always something to be done that leaves little time for writing. I am not an early bird – there is no getting up at 6am for me to start typing, let me tell you. But I did start a pattern of using every baby nap time to write. That could be two hours in the day (on the days I’m not working). As well as that I write most evenings, just after the baby has gone to bed. The weekends aren’t much different, but I know some writers don’t write at all during the week and splurge on Saturdays and Sundays. Find a routine that works for you. Stop watching TV. And make it clear to your partner that you’re taking this time, even if it means neglecting them for a bit. That was one of the obstacles in this house – it felt like our evenings were now gone with my new routine. So we made a compromise that works for us and himself – he has lots of time to work on his own projects now too. (And every Monday we watch The Walking Dead no matter what).
4. Keep going even when you’re wrecked
I made a deadline for myself and it helped get me through those nights when I didn’t want to write. The first time I started my draft in 2015 things went a bit askew and I ended up abandoning the script. But, when I came back to it, six months later at the start of 2016, I had more of an idea in my head of what I wanted to write and how long it was going to take me. I stuck to the deadline with fury in my fingers. I’d also experienced what it was like to have abandoned the project once before and I really didn’t want to do that again. I found, even on nights when I was forcing myself to sit down and type, once I got going, it was grand. A bit like a gym workout – the thoughts are usually worse than the exercise itself. Oh and that’s another thing I abandoned by the way – all thoughts of looking after myself. See below.
5. Drink wine
I think I gained about seven pounds through drinking and eating crisps while writing the first draft. I’m not really proud of that fact. Neither am I proud of the bag (okay two bags) of empty glass bottles at the back door. BUT a few points here:
1) So what, I can lose those pounds again and it was bloody worth it to get the thing done
2) I really enjoyed drinking all the wine
3) It helped my story flow. At least I think it did. I thought everything I wrote was great. (That’s why editing is taking so long).
4) Do what you have to do. Writing your first draft is an endurance test. Choose your fuel.
6. Seek support
Writing is a solitary task. No one can write the book for you. Talking to other writers doesn’t put any more words on your page. But, when you start networking with other writers, sharing your ups and downs and fears, you’ll find there are a lot of people in your position and it’s not such a lonely place. Even better, you’ll pick up some fantastic tips and encouragement. (Check out our friendly Aspiring Authors group here for Irish and UK writers) Attending a writing conference or publishing day might also bring clarity. I attended Vanessa O’Loughlin’s publishing day in January at Big Smoke Writing Factory and came home and wrote a brand new opening chapter to my novel. It was great to talk writing for a day, when I was deep in the first draft.
7. Let it get under your skin
By this I mean become obsessed. Think of nothing else. Allow yourself to fall into a cushiony cloud of book covers and launches and imagining yourself signing on the dotted line of that publishing contract. Visualise yourself typing THE END on the best first draft you can imagine. See your characters everywhere. Open up your sleep and dreams to them. They are part of the passion that will help you sell the book when it’s finished. They should be real to you. The same way they will be as real to the readers you are writing for.
What do you think of these steps? Have you written a first draft and found they applied to you too? Or did you go about it a different way? What is the biggest obstacle to you getting your first draft down? I’d love to hear from you.
If you enjoyed this, you may like my post Ten essential tools for struggling writers