So, remember the post where I ranted about how spending a million hours on a single writing project was pretty much the dumbest thing you could ever do? Well, one of the world’s perpetual novelists dragged himself into my yard in the dead of night and banged on my bedroom window, demanding answers. So here I am. Right here, right now, I’m going to give you the key you need to unleash your true potential. Right here, right now, I’m going to tell you how to transform yourself from frustrated writer to full-fledged novelist.
There are two secrets: speed and discipline.
Notice that I didn’t mention anything in regard to storytelling. We all have our own opinion on the subject. Some think it can be learned; I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. But that’s isn’t the point of this post. This post, dear reader, is meant to teach you what you can do this very second to make yourself a more efficient word-architect. Ready? Here we go.
If you read my previous post (linked above), you’re familiar with my thoughts on speed. The faster you go the better. My previous post broke down the need for speed to one simple reason: profitability. Obviously, the more you write the more you’ll sell. But writing quickly isn’t all about the money. Sure, it would be great to make money off of our art… but let’s be honest with ourselves here–nobody signs up to be a writer for the fame and glory. The argument for writing quickly is based on science. Seriously, check it out…
We all know that we have two sides to our brains. Righty is bubbly and quirky, enjoys chalk drawings and loves hopscotch. Lefty, however… Lefty is the bad boy. Lefty likes logic and pessimism. He also specializes in a little thing called self-doubt and second-guessing. Righty is the one who whispers stories into our ears and makes us giddy with the excitement of writing them down. Lefty is the one who crosses his arms when we’re done, turns his nose up, and tells us we suck. Some people will try to trick you into believing that you can shut Lefty off–ignore him, don’t listen, block him out; I’m here to tell you that that’s impossible. Unless you like lobotomies, which, hey, maybe you do.
For those of us wanting to keep our brain in tact, the only thing left is to succumb to Lefty’s jeers and insults, right? Wrong. See, while Lefty is full of logic and insight and bears various soul-crushing powers, Righty can summon rainbows and unicorns just by thinking them into existence. And let’s face it, unicorns come in handy when there’s a bad guy around.
Too much glitter? Okay okay… long story short: you have to outrun, or rather outwrite Lefty. The longer you take on a rough draft, the more your left brain will interfere. The more you sit there with your fingers in your mouth instead of on the keyboard, the more time Lefty has to make you question why you’re bothering writing this stupid book in the first place–and that is what you’ll think. “Why am I wasting my time? This is stupid. Even if I finish it’ll just be a mess. I’ll have to rewrite it. Nobody will read it. I’ll never get it published anyway, so what’s the point?” Sound familiar?
The faster we write the less time our left brain has to react to our right brain. So how do you do it? Do you just sit down and start writing furiously until your eyes fall out of your head? Well, I guess you could… but then you’d have no eyes.
First, explore your characters. Get to know them. Investigate their fears and desires. The more you know about them the easier this process will be because you won’t find yourself coming to a dead stop in the middle of a scene, asking yourself ‘well damn, how would Beau respond to a giant octopus stealing his get-away car?’ …you get what I’m saying…
Second, make an outline. (Oh, the groans! Stop it!) Outlines aren’t that bad. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It’s my belief that the number one reason people write novels for eighty-seven years straight and never finish is because the story is circling the plot like a group of vultures above a busy highway. Round and round they go, but they can’t ever land because all those cars (story arcs, people!) just keep coming, blasting past the sweet spot. An outline is going to keep you focused. Think of it as a road map, and hey, there are only a few stops along the way. We have act one, which opens up our story and ends with the first disaster. We have act two, which is the bulk of our story and ends with a revelation. And then there’s act three, which ends with an epic battle as the grand finale. Easy, right? (You nod your head here.)
Okay, so make an outline, but keep it loosey goosey, because here comes the fun part. You have your main points, but how you get there… that’s up to the characters. This is where you write as fast as your fingers can fly–you don’t backspace, you don’t delete scenes, you don’t edit a single word… you just write with confidence that nobody will ever see your first draft, that your first draft can be the dumbest, most ridiculous story ever told and it won’t matter, because it’ll be your story. Because you can fix it later.
Speed-writing a first draft is pretty invigorating, and the results are often pretty awesome. Because you’re writing so quickly the story tends to take twists and turns your left brain would have never allowed. The story ends up rich and interesting and, at times, completely unexpected. But it comes at a cost.
Simply put: you can’t speed-write if you can’t say ‘no’. Speed-writing for me, is a two month process. It takes me about eight weeks to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of No’s in between. There are no’s to going out at night, even on weekends (unless I’ve already put in my word count for that day). There are no’s to giving in and watching your favorite show instead of locking yourself in your bedroom with your laptop. There are no’s to sleeping in if you write in the morning, no’s to taking it easy on your lunch break if that’s the only time you have to compose your masterpiece. Speed-writing doesn’t necessarily have to take a lot of time out of your day. If you’re a fast writer, you can get away with an hour a day and still break over 60k words by the end of week eight. But you’ll never get there if you don’t make finishing that first draft a priority. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s not impossible by any means.
If you put both speed and discipline together, you’ll outrun your left brain and you’ll write some pretty amazing stuff in the process. I know, because I did it. I was wary of the idea of speeding through a first draft. The myth of writing slowly equaling writing well had been pounded into my head, but I decided to go for it. I threw caution to the wind because I had nothing to lose. I figured, hey, if it doesn’t work for me I’ll just slow down. I didn’t slow down. I wrote faster than I’d ever written in my life and I felt better about my writing than I ever had, all because I wasn’t stopping myself, I wasn’t second-guessing, I was letting my imagination roll with it… I was letting my characters breathe and tell me what the story was.
The idea of not knowing exactly what you’ll be writing is a terrifying proposition at first, but if you’re able to let yourself go… if you’re able to get out from under Lefty’s thumb, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Hell, you might just end up writing that Great American Novel… you know, the one you’ve been working on for three years now.