Writing a First Draft Part 6

Tip 6: For all the Excuses in the world, there is no way around writing every day.

Every writer I know has a list of well-refined Excuses. But if you are compelled to write your story, then you must write it. You must sit at your computer, or with your notebook and pen, and physically write out the words. It sounds obvious because it is obvious, but after teaching writing for over ten years I find this to be the part people have the most trouble with.

Many writers I know love to talk about writing. They love to get together with their writing buddies or critique groups and talk–about what they’re writing, what’s going well, what frustrations they’re facing. I have my own writing buddy, and she’s an intelligent, thoughtful sounding board, someone I can bounce ideas off of as I revise my various novels. And I know, having both taken and taught them, that writers love to take classes about writing. Writers also love to read books about writing. As I stated in the first post in this series, there have been a few books that have been Bible-like in the way they’ve helped me through every stage of the writing process. The writing buddies, critique groups, writing classes–these are necessary to the writer’s soul. Writing is such a solitary activity, and bonding with others of our kind is crucial, both for our success and our sanity. Reading about others who have experienced what we are experiencing is also important. But, after we’re home from our critique groups and our classes, after we’ve put down the writing books, we must sit ourselves down and write.

So how do you write every day? Like everything else, the solution is individual to each writer. Some writers I know create a schedule, a designated block of time each day when they get their writing done. Anne Lamott refers to it as training your brain to kick in creatively at a certain time each day. Some write whenever they get around to it. Others have busy lives and steal time when they can. Only you can decide when it’s time to write, but when it’s time, you must do it. As many Excuses as we have carefully cultivated, ultimately we must put them away. You have to make the decision: will you spend your time talking, reading, or dreaming about writing, or will you write?

As difficult as first drafts can be, at some point, around the time that “shitty first draft” is finished, it stops being work and becomes exciting. Fun. As if there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be than sitting in front of the computer making this crazy world I see in my head come to life. Instead of forcing myself to sit for twenty minutes to punch out three pages, now I sit at the computer at one in the afternoon and before I know it it’s ten o’clock at night. I’m so immersed in my story I haven’t even noticed as the day slipped away. The first draft is crucial because once I have my blueprint, I can begin fleshing out the colors, the sounds, the tastes, the smells. I understand my characters better, their motivations, their cadences when they speak. Then, at some point, I realize that the story I have before me is what I meant to write all along. That is a glorious feeling when it happens. Despite the difficulty of the first draft, no matter how frustrated I have become at times, I managed to stick with it, and in the process I have created a world that only could have come from me. And that is why we write after all.

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