Writing Your First Draft: How to Find the Time

Written by on December 20, 2013 in How To - Leave a Comment

How do you get creative with time?

True, writing a book is a big commitment, and it can be scary. But there are ways around a hectic schedule. Time might not be standing in your way as much as, well, you are. Consider these strategies the next time you say, “I’m just too busy!”

Say no to naysaying. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. When writing a book, a lot of people focus on the insurmountable task ahead. Most novels range from 50,000 to 100,000 words. That may be a lot of work, but it’s far from insurmountable.

Instead, think about just how within reach your goal is and how soon you can get there. A year, a month, a week will pass whether you have immortalized your innermost thoughts on the page or not. At the end of that year, month, or week, you can have a first draft, or you can have more well-polished excuses.

Need more inspiration? It took Muriel Spark four weeks to write The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Robert Louis Stevenson six days to pen the second draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (the first draft took only three), and Stephen King three days to crank out The Running Man.

1) Stop scapegoating time. At some point you have almost certainly said, “How am I supposed to find time to write when I have to blank, blank, and blank?” It’s common to feel this way, so don’t beat yourself up. But at the end of the day (pun intended), you have exactly the same amount of time as the most — and least — accomplished person you can think of. Like it or not, you have just as much time as other published authors with families and jobs.

What you really mean when you curse the intractable clock is that, given your current set of priorities, you have trouble fitting writing into your daily life. Good — use that as a place to start. Now you can stop blaming time (ironically, a huge waste of time) and focus on your priorities instead. Which of your activities can you cut out? Can you sacrifice one hour of TV at night? Get up an hour earlier in the morning? Change your workout from one hour of light pilates to 30 minutes of weight training?

2) Gather allies. Got kids? And a high-pressure job? Bills to pay? A house to keep up? Frankly, so do a lot of your fellow published authors. Why should they be able to do it, but not you?

For one, a lot of writers build a support system among family and friends. Ask your spouse to free up your Sunday morning or a couple of weeknights by taking the kids out to the park or a movie. Negotiate with your oldest son: he can have the car on Fridays if he cooks dinner for his brothers and sisters the other nights of the week. Convey how important this is to you to get the family on board.

There are ways to find chunks of time — you just have to get a little creative. As a writer, isn’t that what you’re good at anyway?

3) Trick the Muse. Every author approaches his or her craft differently. It’s part of what makes the outcome so unique. Part of the learning experience, and the fun, is finding the tricks that work for you.

Need to minimize distractions? Turn off your wireless (do research for your book later; all too often “research” translates to “hours spent on Facebook,” anyway). In author Jonathan Franzen‘s opinion, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

Hemingway had dozens of famous tricks, from writing with a pencil to ending each session with a burning idea. “If you do that every day,” he said, “you will never be stuck.”

The more you find ways to outwit the Muse, the more you’ll see that she was never working against you in the first place. Soon, your “tricks” will have become your “process.”

4) Be realistic. If you’ve decided to finally crank out that first draft, don’t expect it to be War and Peace — or even Twilight — right away. Remember that a first draft is just that. It is a way for you to establish your story, derive motivation, and anchor yourself as a writer. You cannot have a second draft without it. You cannot have a third without that. Ultimately, you cannot have a finished draft of a tenth book without the first draft of a first one.

What obstacles did you overcome in writing your first draft? Did anything surprise you?

Kimberly C. Steele is a freelance writer and small-press publisher living and working in Philadelphia and New York. When she’s not reading manuscripts, writing poems, or brainstorming short story ideas, she is researching the next big trends in copywriting and trying to cultivate a green thumb.

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