A Simple Two-Step Method For Finishing Your Novel
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I don’t have a strong internal drive, even to do the things I want to do.
I often struggle with demotivation and frequently rely upon a plethora of productivity techniques to keep me moving toward my goals and dreams, especially those related to my writing. If you find yourself in a similar place, allow me to share with you the simple two-step method that helps me make long-term progress through daily and weekly actions.
An overview of my two-step method…
I’ll be the first to admit that this technique is far from revolutionary. But to make steady progress toward finishing my novels, I frequently employ these two simple steps:
Step #1: Set a long-term goal that will help me reach an important writing milestone.
Step #2: Break that long-term goal down into several short-term actions (or a daily or weekly goal).
Like I said, not revolutionary. But if you’re struggling to finish your novel, this is a technique you may want to give a try. Why? Because it can help you overcome the overwhelm involved in completing such large tasks as drafting an 80,000-word novel, revising the entirety of that novel, and then combing through that novel line-by-line to edit your prose.
You can even easily apply this two-step technique to other writing tasks, such as gathering a list of potential agents and sending queries, building your self-publishing plan, or devising your latest marketing campaign. Or, taking several steps back, you can use this method to complete pre-writing tasks such as outlining, world-building, intensive research, or series plotting.
With all of that said, let’s take a closer look at how you can devise a two-step plan that works with your writing process and schedule:
Step #1: Set a long-term goal.
To begin, consider the major milestone you’d like to complete. Are you looking to finish your first draft? Tackle revisions? Conquer line edits? Figuring out this major milestone will likely be an easy task. However, now is also the time to consider whether you’d like to quantify your long-term goal with a deadline.
Deadlines are certainly a form of pressure. For some writers, that pressure is healthy, while for others it can cause more harm than good. If you know that deadlines aren’t for you, don’t force yourself to adopt one now — unless you’re already working with a publisher, that is.
But if a ticking time bomb does provide you an extra measure of motivation, go ahead and set a deadline for your long-term goal now. When doing so, however, make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. Most people tend to underestimate how long it will take them to complete a task.
Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to get the work done, with just enough challenge to keep you writing.
Step #2: Define a few actionable Short-Term goals.
With your long-term goal and deadline in place, it’s now time to consider how you can make the process of reaching this milestone a bit less overwhelming and a lot more actionable. As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways to approach this process…
Some long-term goals make it easy to set a daily or weekly short-term goal to match. For example, if you want to write 90,000 words in 90 days, you’ll need to write 1,000 words a day or 7,000 words a week. If working to a word count doesn’t suit your process, you could instead set a time-based short-term goal, such as writing for an hour each day or for seven total hours a week.
On the other hand, some major milestones don’t allow for a single clearly-defined short-term goal. Instead, you may need to set several goals, such as: 1) create a map of my fictional world, 2) define my fictional cultures and religions, and 3) lay down the rules for my magic system.
Even with such varied actions needed to fulfill your long-term goal, you may find it more beneficial to work toward a time-related milestone instead, such as developing your fictional world for twenty minutes a day, regardless of which related tasks you tackle.
There is no right or wrong way to go about setting these long- and short-term goals for your writing life. Figuring out which methods work best for you — such as whether you should employ a word-count or time-related goal — may take a little experimentation, however, so don’t hesitate to adjust your goals as needed.
With your simple two-step plan in place, how can you ensure you make the most of all this method has to offer?
Three tips for long- and short-term success...
Making a plan is one thing, but putting that plan into action is another hurdle altogether. If you plan to give this two-step method a try, make use of the following productivity tips to bring your plan to life:
Tip #1: Be honest about the time you have to write.
Writing for an hour a day may seem a noble goal, but if life is simply too busy to make that happen with any consistency, don’t set yourself up for failure. Assess your schedule, consider the time you currently have to write, and set goals that are appropriate for that allotment.
On the flip side, you likely have more writing time than you think. Despite our seemingly ever-busy lives, the average American household watches a total of 7.83 hours of television a day and the average American is on their phones anywhere from 2 - 4 hours a day.
Chances are that you find yourself trapped in the maw of mindless technology more often than you think. Over the coming days, take a good hard look at your tech consumption and consider where you may be able to cut or rearrange to make more time for the things you truly want to do, writing included.
Tip #2: Employ a writing productivity hack or two.
Even with a simple short-term goal to complete, sitting down to write can be intimidating. You’re pulling words out of thin air — crafting them, molding them. Trying to make something beautiful out of what consisted solely of a few firing neurons just a moment before.
It’s okay to be intimidated by the blank page or an unmarked checklist. But if you find yourself struggling to even begin, it may be time to employ a productivity hack or two, such as:
#1: Work to a minimum goal (e.g. ten minutes or 200 words). If you don’t want to continue after, you don’t have to —- but chances are you’ll have found a groove.
#2: End your work the day before in the middle of a task or scene. This makes it easier to pick up where you left off the next time you sit down to write.
#3: Try fast-drafting or free-writing, getting your story down on paper as fast as possible so as to avoid editing as you write, which can throw a wrench in many writers’ productivity.
#4: Set up a rewards or punishments system for a little healthy pressure. For example, if you complete your goal, you get to have dessert after dinner. If you don’t, no ice cream for you.
#5: Get involved in the writing community. Whether in-person or online (such as the #StorySocial Twitter chat or our Your Write Dream Facebook group), nothing can prove as encouraging as empathizing with fellow writers.
Tip #3: Figure out your why.
When the going gets tough or you’ve failed to get going, it’s time to call upon your source of motivation. If there’s nothing driving you to write, or if your heart is in the wrong place, the struggle to conquer writing overwhelm and make words happen will prove all the more difficult.
I may be in frequent battle with demotivation, but I also know that I’m prone to depression when I don’t spend time creating. Remembering how poorly I feel when I’m in the grip of melancholia is often all the motivation I need to sit down and do the damn hard work. Fulfillment, for me, comes with having written.
So why is that you write? And why is it that you’re working on this particular project? If you don’t have a strong answer, try creating your very own Writer’s Mission Statement, then review it often as you work to achieve your long-term goal.
Like I said earlier, writing a novel is damn hard work. I’m naturally suspicious of anyone who says they find it easy to complete each and every step of the writing process. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love writing as a whole. And friend? Neither of us is any less a writer for finding it difficult to motivate ourselves to sit down and write.
Dredging up the willpower to make words happen may be tough, but if you know that nothing brings you creative fulfillment like telling stories, don’t hesitate to give this simple two-step productivity technique a try. I can’t wait to see all that you achieve!