Hi all! I’m currently on a deadline with my publisher, so I find myself thinking a lot about productivity these days. My deadline is for a first draft, so my focus at the moment is on creating a quality draft without bogging down, getting off track, or falling behind schedule.
In the meantime, I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of aspiring novelists in the past few months, and many have asked for advice on finishing their manuscript. A common issue raised to me is the challenge of getting to “The End” without shelving the draft as a failed attempt and starting over with something new.
As I compared the challenges involved in creating a quality first draft under contract (and turning it in on time!) with the challenges of seeing a first novel through to completion, I realized that my advice for both is a lot the same. So if you are pushing through a first draft and you fear you will never finish it–never type “The End” and be able to say you have completed a book–here are the tips that work for me:
- Set daily and weekly wordcount goals. To help you set your deadline, ask yourself how many words you can average in a day. Maybe you can comfortably draft 500 words a day, maybe 1000, or maybe more. If you’re not sure, track your progress for a week and figure out the average number of words you add per day. If you average 500 words per day, set that as your daily goal. Then decide if you will write five, six, or seven days a week. I recommend setting a weekly goal that’s equal to five times your daily goal. That way if you miss your goal for a few days, you have a couple of days built in to catch up. Keeping to the 500 words per day example, your weekly goal would then be 2500 words.
- Look at you daily and weekly goals, and give yourself a deadline to complete the draft. Writing with a deadline is one of the best ways I’ve found to boost productivity. Going back to our 500 words per day, 2500 words per week example, you could expect to complete the first draft of a 75,000 word novel in 30 weeks.
- Write your deadline on the calendar. That’s the day you will type “The End,” so make sure you treat that deadline with respect.
- Set up a tracking system. I use an Excel spreadsheet for each book, and I use different pages of the spreadsheet to track progress while I outline, draft, and revise. During the drafting stage, I enter a total for “words per day” and “total words.” (I also have a column for notes.) A tracking system is vital to ensuring I’m not falling behind, and when I see a pattern of a few days where I missed my daily goal, I know I need to make an adjustment to catch up. I love this system because I can go back and look at my progress on previous books I’ve completed, which helps me set realistic goals and expectations. It also feels great to go back and see that I actually have done it before, and I can do it again!
- Don’t start a new project until this draft is done. If you are tempted to start something new, sketch out your new idea and set it aside. If you are dying to write that new idea as soon as possible, increase your daily wordcount goal and move your deadline up. But you can’t abandon this draft!
- Don’t go back and edit while you’re drafting. You can make small changes as you go, but leave the real revising for the next pass. This is the first draft, not the final draft. Get the words down and trust yourself to fix them later.
- Make time for writing. You are a writer, and writers write. If you miss your daily goal frequently, ask yourself if you need to decline a few invitations, convert some television time to writing time, get up an hour earlier, or stay up an hour later. I have done all these things and more to make my daily goals.
That’s it! It’s actually a simple system, but it gets you to the end of the draft. I have used this method for several manuscripts, with tweaks here and there, and it always works. It always gets me to “The End.”
Happy drafting! Do you have a method that helps you finish your manuscripts? Please share your thoughts in the comments!