I’ve had several letters this week from readers who want to write fiction. They all say basically the same thing: they get an idea, write a beginning, and then can’t figure out what to do next. The story bogs down in the middle so they give up and start something else. “How do you do it?” they ask. “How do you write a whole book?”
It isn’t easy. Not for me, at any rate. I know of a few writers whose first drafts flow from their fingers to the keyboard with no hesitation, but I am not one of them. First drafts are difficult for me and I sometimes resort to small motivational tricks to keep myself going.
I am currently writing a middle grade novel called HOW I WONDER. That may not be the final title but I have to call it something while I’m writing it. As often happens, I had the book about half finished when it seemed to be dragging. The fast action ended and I didn’t know what should happen next. I like the book and didn’t want to give up on it so I set a goal to write 1,000 words per day on HOW I WONDER.
A word count showed that I had 24,736 words at that point. I wrote the date, May 25, on a piece of paper, with the number of words beside it. Then I got to work. I told myself I didn’t have to keep what I wrote. If it was awful, I could always delete it later but I had to get 1000 words down. At the end of that day, my count was 25,753. Since then I’ve kept track of how much I write each day.
I was up to 33,832 words when my editor called to ask if I was working on a new book. She’d just come from an editorial meeting and hoped I might have something new for her soon. Because I was immersed in the plot, I was able to tell her exactly what HOW I WONDER is about and also how close I am to being finished. She asked for a formal proposal so for the next two days instead of writing 1000 words a day on the manuscript, I wrote a synopsis, revised the first chapter, and chose a representative section from the middle of the book. Those three items went off to my agent, who will read them and send them on (assuming she doesn’t see a problem) to the editor. Then I returned to the book itself, which is currently at 36,223 words.
Having a positive editorial reaction to the basic premise of HOW I WONDER gave me fresh energy to finish the book, but it was the day-after-day act of writing 1000 words that prepared me to respond enthusiastically when asked if I was working on a new manuscript. If I had not made myself be productive, I would not have been able to explain the book so well or to be specific about when I could deliver a final manuscript. I did not know this editor was going to call, but because I had been working regularly, I was ready for the call when it came.
Many people, myself included, want to have written a book. There is only one way to make that happen. One at a time, you have to put the words on paper.