I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Before I could even hold a pen, I was dictating stories to my grandmother which she would lovingly write down for me as I let my imagination soar. I was the weird kid who got excited whenever we were assigned an essay or paper. I loved English class and was constantly sent to the Young Writer’s Conference throughout grade school. When the boring subjects came up (read: math), I busied myself by scribbling out stories, scripts, and poetry instead of taking notes and by college, I had perfected the art of feigning attention.
I knew that no matter what else I did with my life, writing would always be a part of it. I would hold down a “real” job and release books and music on the side if that was the only way. Making money was never the end-goal; making art was.
A shortage of ideas has never been an issue, yet here I am at nearly 30 years old and just now preparing my first novel for release. A novel which I have been writing since I was a teenager.
So, what is the secret to drawing out the progress of your first book as long as possible?
It’s a culmination of things, really. Almost an artform unto itself.
To start with, you should develop a voice in your head that tells you that no one would ever want to read anything you create and reminds you that you’ll never make any money at it. Be sure that this voice uses key words like “stupid”, “unoriginal”, and “pipe-dream” often. Also, be sure it is coming from a place of “logic”. If done right, this will result in many hiatuses while you focus on more realistic goals that are devoid of any of that pesky passion. Be careful that you don’t allow it to completely drown out the voice of hope inside you. You need that spark to really burn bright on occasion.
Next, you need to create a set of priorities and conditions that makes it nearly impossible to find the time to write. For example, you absolutely cannot write unless the house is spotless and you must write in the morning, and ideally only on weekends. Make sure you put the needs of as many other people as possible ahead of your own and say yes to each and every invite or request you receive. It would be selfish to take the time to do what you love, after all.
It also helps if you find a million other hobbies to take up the time you could spend working on your book. Tell yourself that all these new skills and interests will help you create richer characters and really dive into them. Learn as much as you can about your new passion and give it up as soon as you find a shiny new activity to latch onto.
Likewise, you should absolutely chase down each and every plot bunny that comes your way. Of course you can write 6 novels, 18 short stories, and a book of poetry at the same time! The sky is the limit my friend! Bounce around from one project to the other depending on your mood when you finally find the time to put words on the page. You’ll get them all done eventually! Make sure you keep everything, no matter how terrible it is, just in case.
Finally, you should create needlessly complicated systems for writing and editing your book. If you’re struggling with this step, give my method a try. Sort through all of your rambling drafts and random scenes and see if there’s a common theme that keeps popping up. Chances are, you’ve rewritten the same story (or parts of it) about 30 times. Gather these up. Then, pour over your stack of papers and mark your favorite parts. Once you have completed this step, the real fun begins.
Create an entirely new plot using these pieces. Assign a letter or number to each of these snippets and then decide the order in which they should appear. Then you can create your rough draft. Type these up, filling in the gaps as you go. If you’re at a loss, simply type in a quick summary of what needs to happen or a few key words. Don’t worry if your protagonist’s name changes throughout this draft. You’re going to create a list of characters consisting of their current name(s) and their “final” names for use in the next step.
Now, you get to rewrite the whole thing again, making sure to change names where necessary and correct any other inconsistencies. Smooth it out and complete the scenes you didn’t finish the first time around. Once this is done, give it a read and decide you hate it. Step away for as long as you need. When you come back, read it again and decide you love it. Get out that red pen and start marking it up. It’s time for another round of edits! Continue in this fashion until it’s finally something you aren’t ashamed of.
Congratulations! You have just written a book in the slowest possible fashion! Give yourself a huge pat on the back!
Now that you’ve done it the hard way, I’m sure you’ve learned some important lessons to make the next project go a little smoother. Take what you’ve learned and get to work on the next one! Time waits for no one. Quit messing around and do what you love!