You’ve forgotten how to write a book. It happens to the best of us, or all of us, almost every time we start a new book. The blank document is daunting. We’ll do just about anything to avoid it (like write a blog post about it instead!).
But you must write. That’s what you do. You’re a writer. And also, perhaps, this book is expected by people. Your critique partners, your family, your friends, your agent, your editor, your publisher, whomever. But even if that’s not the case, if you’ve forgotten how to write a book, despair no longer.
Recipe for Drafting After Months of Edits and/or Revisions:
One part self-doubt
One part drink of your choice (I like chai lattes but some traditionalists go with booze. Other options include tea, coffee, Fresca, or, for you health nuts, water.)
One part half-formed idea
Step 1. Close the door on the editor in your head. Sometimes we need the editor, and sometimes we don’t. Drafting is when we don’t. Every time you think “But this doesn’t–“, tell yourself to stop. It doesn’t matter what the story is or isn’t doing right now. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, it is going to be the next Printz winner, or aliens just invaded your contemporary story. All that matters is that you get the words on the page.
Slam. That. Door.
2. Remember that you can’t fix what isn’t written. Everyone has different processes–some of us pants, some of us plot, some of us do both because we’re weird like that–but generally speaking, most people will tell you it’s much better to vomit up a crappy first draft and fix it later, than it is to revise and edit as you go. You get bogged down and you never reach the end.
Just keep writing.
3. Reward yourself. I stopped setting word count goals because I felt like crap when I didn’t meet them. But I do still give myself stars (okay, sometimes they’re mental ones because I can’t find my stickers, but you know. Or maybe you don’t! Check out this post by Victoria Schwab.) I also get myself something delicious, edible, and special every 5k. Usually this is a cupcake. Think! A dozen cupcakes is a novel! Hooray! You did it! Different motivators work for different people. Maybe it’s an episode of your favorite TV show. Maybe it’s cupcakes. Maybe it’s sleep. Find one that works for you and then commit yourself to it.
4. STOP LOOKING AT YOUR WORD COUNT. No, really. I’m serious. Stop thinking “oh my god I’m so far from the end.” Stop looking at the word count and thinking, “Oh sweet babycats, that’s only half the length it should be by this point.” IT DOES NOT MATTER. The first draft of Finding Center (District Ballet Company #2) was 40k. PS THAT ISN’T A BOOK LENGTHED THING. I went back and scrubbed a storyline, added another one, and the second draft was 70k. Third draft was 80k. Turned in draft was 75k. Magic. Happens. After. The. First. Draft. STOP LOOKING AT YOUR WORD COUNT.
5. Trust yourself. Neil Gaiman’s (brilliant) poem Instructions has the line, “Trust your heart, and trust your story.” You have done this before. Every time you panic, repeat that line to yourself. You have successfully written a story before. You are not a one trick pony. You have been here. You’ve panicked, just like you are now, and you got through it. You can do it again.
6. Turn off distractions. Sure, the internet is great. You know what else is great? Writing. I use SelfControl, a free app where I made my own blacklist and set a timer. It blocks those websites (for me, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter) but not my email (important. I learned the hard way when I missed a time sensitive email for five hours!). Other people use Freedom. Others just go to cafes with no internet, or are able to turn off their WiFi and not turn it back on (you gorgeous mythical beasts with self-control, who are you?). Whatever you have to do, sometimes, you have to tune out to tune in.
7. When all else fails, change your method. I had seriously doubted my ability to finish another book ahead of NaNoWriMo 2013. And before that NaNo, I was a diehard pantser. It was how my ~*~creativity~*~ flowed. Then I had The Inability to Finish a Draft. So I changed it up. I outlined in October. I started writing November 1st. I finished NaNo on November 6th. Am I saying that’ll work for everyone? No. But I broke through writer’s block that had crippled me. If you’re an outliner, pants it. If you’re a pantser, plot some stuff out.
Go forth. Write your drafts. Tell self-doubt to try again tomorrow (and then keep telling it that. Tomorrow, tomorrow, it’s only a day away!). Get the words down on the paper even if they’re bad and messy and ugly and make no sense. You can fix it later. I promise you.
Just write. One word after another.
One big stupid paw after another.
(And remember, as Dahlia Adler said, you aren’t the only one.)