Baby Steps

The idea of trying something new is often daunting, whether it is writing a story or trying yoga for the first time. I know when I’m faced with something new I often ask myself if I think I can do it. Will I enjoy it? Is it really worth making a fool of myself.

Despite all the self-doubt and apprehension, I usually go through with it and check off another thing done in the life experiences list. If I enjoy myself, I might even do it again.

The thing about that is, because the activity is unknown, my mind begins to build it up to something potentially scary. I don’t really know what to expect so I start to expect the worst.

That was how it was when I considered writing my first book.

I decided to do it and then found lots of ways to avoid actually putting the words down. First, I convinced myself that I needed to write a short story set in the world of my book idea. I would use the short story to flesh out the setting and culture and, in doing so, get some much needed writing experience.

That 5,500 word short story took me SIX months to write. Six Months! These days, I can write 5,500 words in a single sitting (provided the sitting is 4 hours or more). Then, once the story was complete and I got around to starting the book, I took 20+ iterations to get the first chapter written (note, I didn’t say finished). Seven years later, the first complete draft of the novel was done.

I turned around the very next month and wrote a 50,000 word YA novel in 21 days.

I think you would agree, there was a tiny difference in productivity. So why the BIG change?

In a nutshell, I was able to write the second book quicker because I knew I could do it. I also had figured out one of the big time-sinks in writing (continuous editing). I wasn’t intimidated by the idea of writing a book when I did the second one.

That’s all very well, you might say, but what about me? Let me begin by giving a piece of advice that I’ve heard dozens of times and I’m sure you have too: write a little every day. I know it sounds cliche’ but, trust me, that is the only secret (besides avoiding continuous editing).

Let’s start easy. Say you only have 10 minutes a day available between brushing your teeth and having your shower. Now, let’s assume that you type a blistering 10 words per minute in the time-honored method of hunt-and-peck.

10 words per minute x 10 minutes = 100 words per day

You do that 5 days a week and you will have 500 words a week, 2,000 words a month, 24,000 words a year. 1/4 of the way to a finished novel. That will get you a first draft in 4 years; 3 years less than I took.

Now, if you can type 20 words per minute, you’re up to 200 words per day and 50,000 per year. That is a complete YA novel.

But, 200 words is a lot, right? Not really. Think of it as a page of text double-spaced and you have 250 words (12 point font). I mean, a grocery list is probably 25 – 50 words. Does that seem like a lot to you?

What if you don’t know what to write or you don’t know the right sentence structure or you aren’t sure how to structure your sentences? You can do what I do when I’m faced with a big, complex project. I use bullet points to jot down the ideas before I work to flesh them out. That allows me to easily rearrange, add and delete stuff as I go. And guess what? 10 bullet points can probably work out to be 100 words (give or take).

Not so hard, is it? At least, it doesn’t sound hard. The difficulty is always putting it into practice. You have to be diligent and force yourself to get into new habits. Once you have done that, it should become pretty natural.

Remember to watch the big picture, but always pay special attention to the tiny piece that’s right in front of you.

Personal Update

Well, I received word on my YA novel last week and it was a rejection, unfortunately. Maybe the nicest rejection I’ve ever gotten, but a rejection just the same. Still, I received some good advice from that publisher when I met her at ConVersion. “Write more than one book,” she said. “The big publishers want to see that you can write more than one good book and they like series.”

So, I’m going to do the second book in the series for this year’s NanoWriMo and then next year I’m going to pitch the series to agents. That’s the plan.


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