It's a brand new year, and like many of you, I am taking stock of myself and my writing habits. One bad habit I have seems to stand out (I am speaking of creative habits, since all my bad habits would take up far too much time to discuss), and I am betting at least some of you share this with me: I have trouble plowing through to the end of the first draft.
I'm gangbusters on the beginnings, and then somewhere mid-story, I stall. I stare at the ceiling. I think about my story. I ponder my characters. I wonder if they are believable. I outline my story (again). I stare at the ceiling. You get the picture. I've been reading about this problem, and talking to other writers, and I thought I would pass on some things that might help. I know I need all the help I can get.
1. Set a daily word count.
I've read that Stephen King recommends writing a minimum of 1000 words a day, six days a week. Ernest Hemingway supposedly kept to a strict schedule of 500-1000 words a day. Hemingway also said he liked to end the day while he was on a writing streak, so it would be easy to pick up the story again the next day.
Bottom line: set a word count goal (I'm going with 1000), and stop while your story is still fresh. Face it, if you write 1000 words a day you will eventually get to the end of your story. At the very least, you will feel like a writer, because you are writing!
2. Don't go back to the beginning each time you sit down to write.
Here is one of my biggest problems: every time I sit down to write, I start by reading the story over again. I fiddle with the wording. I delete sentences, and then add them back in. By the time I get to the new part of the story I should be writing, I've lost steam. Frankly, I'm a little sick of the story. It's not fresh when you have read the beginning a thousand times. I've discovered I'm not alone in this. A few writers have mentioned that they only let themselves read the last chapter (or even the last paragraph) they completed before beginning to write new pages.
3. Try not to think your story to death.
I am the first to admit that I love the comfort and direction that comes with an outline. But just as re-reading your pages begins to numb your enthusiasm toward your story, plotting a story too carefully can, well, make it boring to write. If you know exactly what is going to happen on every page, where's the fun? Sid Fleischman, who won the Newbery for his novel, The Whipping Boy, said in an interview with Reading Rockets:
“I don't plan my novels in advance. I've tried that, I find that I can't do that very well and that my best procedure is just to get a beginning with a few characters that give me some hope of conflict or story, just start and then improvise, as we improvise our daily lives. And I improvise the story day-by-day, never knowing the ending.”
Moral? Well, maybe that if you think too much you will end up 'reasoning' your story to death. I think there is something to be said for giving in to the story. Let your characters drive the bus and see what happens. Don't reread your entire book every time you sit down to write. Just finish your word count, and go have a cup of tea. You've done your job for the day. You've written. Even better, you've edged that much closer to the end, and won't that feel good when you've reached it? Yes, yes it will.