Being a professional writer is very like running any other business. I may not lay words on screen for my new book every single day, but I do work at the business of writing, one way or another. Today, I dropped off a copy of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book Two Chasing Dreams at my local library. Book One is working its way through their channels: publicity and marketing. I blogged, wrote a haiku and tended social media. I read three news letters, and got a marketing cue from one that I think I am going to take. I reminded people about promised reviews. I’m writing this. I have the outline and structure of Book Three roaming through my head. I will begin to draft it the day after Labor Day (coinciding with the end of the summer boating program where I volunteer; it’s great fun). I have the opening paragraph already, and am pretty sure where and how it ends. Next step is filling out the middle and then letting the characters have their say. I found my sea monster yesterday! Now, what am I going to do with it? But if it comes down to writing something on my new book every single day, well, no, I don’t “write” every day. I do, however, work at my writing very close to every day.
If you are trying to get your first story or novel or screenplay out, I recommend actually writing every single day, even for fifteen minutes, even if you’re writing character sketches or outlines or dirty limericks. Put pen or pencil to actual paper. I find writing by hand works differently. I know the difference; I feel it and I see it in my product. When I’m trying to dredge something up from the depths of my muse’s brain, I write by hand, like I did yesterday.
Your job now is to create your first product, starting with the dreaded first draft. You don’t have all the business stuff to deal with yet. You can’t, until you have a product. The best way to create the product is to set deadlines for yourself and stick to them. Set aside the time, even if it’s on the bus. Grab the pencil and pad. What will you write about? Who are your characters? What are the obstacles? What kind of story (person against nature, person against person, person against self) is it? What genre are you looking at (then read, voraciously, in that genre and nothing else until your draft is done.) What is your dramatic arc? Simply, get your person up a tree, throw progressively bigger rocks at her/him for two thirds to three quarters of your desired word count, then have a pivotal moment, allowing your person fight her/his way down, smallest rocks first, unless there’s a funny little one to use in an epilogue or denouement. How does it end? This is what you do now, and first. You aren’t a writer unless you’re working at writing. So many successful and published writers agree on this, it is certainly worth a try.
Writing fiction is hard. First drafts are painful. It can feel like giving birth. I get really crabby when I get stuck. It can take me days to figure out what happens next, and I cannot do anything else until I do. I will plow through that draft relentlessly until it’s done, in fits and starts, actually writing for hours every single day. You who have not yet produced that first draft still have to learn about writing, and about the ways other people work so you can develop and honor your own process. You do this by writing. It’s that simple — and one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.