I mentioned in one of the comments sections of this blog that I have at least two dozen spiral notebooks with manuscript beginnings in them.  That’s literally true.  I also have files started on my computer, notes scribbled to myself on scraps of paper, and outlines on loose-leaf paper all over my office.  Notice that I have way more notes and starts and outlines than finished manuscripts?  So did I.

So, one fine day, I decided that I had to finish something.  I scoured my notebooks, found a story that I had been playing with for years, and decided that this was it.  This was the project that I was going to finish.  No more dilly dallying.

And I did finish it.  This was the abysmal first manuscript.

It took me well over a year and I learned a lot about how I write in the process.  Of course, every writer is different but here are a few of the things I learned while writing my fist manuscript that helped me get through my second manuscript.

  1. I have to set goals.  Many writers set a daily word goal.  This simply doesn’t work for me.  Life gets in the way.  For me, it’s like a diet.  If I fall off the wagon too many days in a row, the impulse is to say, “Aw, screw it.”  Instead, I try to set a realistic goal for the date I’ll finish the first draft of the manuscript–say, eight or so months from the day I really commit to the project.  Then I set another goal for a day to send it to my beta reader.  And another for a day to start querying.  It works better for me that way.
  2. I won’t let myself edit as I write.  I just can’t do it.  I’ll get engrossed in editing and I won’t move forward with the manuscript.  Also, my manuscript doesn’t get equal treatment if I do.  The beginning gets a lot of TLC while the ending ends up choppy.  If there’s something I know I want to add to an earlier chapter, I’ll write myself a note in the margin and address it in the second draft.
  3. I have to know what’s coming up in my plot.  Some people can write long manuscripts with only the faintest idea of what the next scene will bring.  I can’t write that way.  I don’t have to know every twist and turn before I put a pen to paper but I at least have to have some idea of the next dramatic scene or the next big reveal.  Otherwise, I end up going down dead-end paths, writing myself into corners, and not knowing what to do with my characters.  If I do this, I’ll end up putting the project down for good.
  4. I’m totally stealing this from someone in my writing group but it’s a great piece of advice (trademark: Kass). I give myself permission to suck.  I keep reminding myself that a book doesn’t have to come out of my head fully formed.  And if I keep that in mind, I’ll try new things.  I’ll challenge myself.  When my first draft is allowed to suck a little bit, I don’t feel like a failure as a writer when I run across that sentence (or that scene) that really didn’t work.  After all, there’s always the next draft to work out the kinks.
  5. Commit.  Commit.  Commit.  Once I’ve chosen a project, roughly plotted it out, and named the major characters I commit to finishing it.  It’s like a marriage–’till the end do we part.

Those are a few of the things that work for me.  I think the most important thing I can say is this: know yourself as a writer.  My tricks may stifle someone with a freer approach.  It may drive someone nuts who’s more structured.  Writing a novel is a huge investment in time and energy.  Make sure you foster the habits that help rather than hinder.