I coach writers for a living. I support them through the completion of their first draft of a project. The process my clients go through involves far more than typing. To get their projects out, they must be willing to do deep dives into how they work independently, into themes in their lives that they want to communicate through their writing, and into how to maintain hope and progress when mired in the millions of baby steps it takes to finish a draft.
Whether we want to admit it or not, when we decide to write the first draft, we embark on a journey far deeper than the deceptively simple act of getting words on a page. I feel privileged that I get the opportunity to support people in this way.
If you are working on the first draft, here are seven tips to help you increase your productivity, decrease guilt, and support yourself (and possibly a friend).
Decide if you want to do the work
Writing the first draft takes a lot of time. It’s an enormous commitment. Are you willing to put in consistent time to make progress on your project? If you waiver at all, then perhaps you don’t want to write this project. Be as honest with yourself as possible about whether or not you are willing to do the work.
Give something up
Writing a book or a screenplay requires stamina and the willingness to give up things that you could otherwise be doing. Whether you love watching TV or hanging out with friends or devoting your lunch hour to working on your project, there is only one way it will get done, and that is that you must prioritize it over other things in your life. What are you willing to deprioritize to finish your book?
Make progress at least five days a week
Commit to consistent work on your project. There are many ways to do this, but pick a time every day, turn everything off (the internet, your phone, everything) and do nothing but generate words for at least a half and hour every day. Force yourself to focus. These baby steps are the only thing that will get you to completion.
Give yourself time off
Give yourself one or two days a week when you don’t have to write. You will be pleasantly surprised by how much pressure and guilt that will remove from your life and how much more productive you will be on the days you do write.
Set reasonable, reachable goals
Make sure that the goals you set for yourself are reachable. If you decide you want to have your draft completed by the end of the year, do the math and figure out how many words you need to generate per day to make this happen. It may not be reasonable for your schedule. Instead, set smaller goals, like this week I’ll work on this chapter or this week I’ll write X number of scenes. Chart out your goals and track your progress as you would any other project.
If you don’t meet a goal one day or one week or even all year, it does you no good to berate yourself over your lack of progress. Forgive yourself and decide that tomorrow is a new chapter, and start again. Never let failure stop you.
Find an accountability partner
Find someone who also has a goal. It doesn’t have to be a writing goal, although it does help if both of you are writing. Commit to each other that you will both work on your project and set a schedule. Set a schedule. Call each other and determine an amount of you both will work (30 minutes? 45 minutes? An hour?) and talk about what each of you will do during that session. Then hang up and get to work. Call each other at the end and talk about what you worked on. When someone else is waiting for you to report back, you’ll make more progress, and it feels good to share your daily accomplishments with someone.