Monday, December 3, 2012

Tips for writing a book for those who find it hard to stay motivated

Since I began this blog, I have written three full-length books, am virtually finished with another, and about halfway through yet another.  All of this I have done, over time, while struggling with depression and through various med changes, which can really kill the motivation to finish something as involved as writing a book or long story.

Recently, I received an email from someone who reads my short stories who told me that they wanted to bounce some ideas off of me because they "always seem to run out of steam before I get to the end."  I ended up writing a fairly long explanation as to the process that I developed, which has helped me to actually finish what I start, when it comes to writing.  I figured I'd put it up here, as well, so that others could possibly benefit.

I write in five phases:

Phase 1 - The VERY Rough Draft:  Commit yourself to writing the ENTIRE story down before you go back, even once.  Don't go back to add detail, don't go back to proofread, just get the whole thing down, as quickly as possible.  Set a word count goal every time you go to write, and just get it out of your head and onto paper (digital or otherwise).  Write down every thing you can think of for that story as quickly as possible, first day, if you can.  Don't worry about readability, don't worry about if it would make sense to anyone but yourself.  Don't worry about grammar, about using the same words too closely together, or anything like that.  It's imperative to get the whole story down on paper before you lose interest.

Phase 2 - Explaining Yourself:  Go back to the beginning and add detail and explanation.  Flesh it out.  Make it understandable to those that aren't in your head.  Again, go from beginning to end without restarting, if possible.  If you have to take a break from the story (longer than a few days), try to do it between phases, not in the middle of one.  I find this phase to be surprisingly easy, compared to the first.

Phase 3 - Proofreading:  After that, go back to the beginning again and proofread.  Commit yourself to not adding detail or story on this phase unless it's absolutely necessary to get your point across.  This keeps you from rewriting the story infinitely.  Read it out loud, if possible.  If not, develop a "reading voice" in your head, and have it read it to you.  It's slower, but a lot more effective than simply reading the text.  Try to have different voices for different characters in your head.  If you've never listened to an audio book that works like this, try it, it'll help you envision the different voices. 

Phase 4 - Someone Else's Problem:  For the fourth phase, get someone else to read the story, if you can.  Make a separate copy for them if you're doing this on a computer.  Get them to highlight anything that isn't ABSOLUTELY clear, as well as anything grammatically incorrect or just plain awkward.  Tell them to err on the side of caution.  If they understand something, but it seems a bit off, tell them to highlight it and explain as such in parenthesis to the side.  Encourage them to explain what's wrong, whenever possible.  It'll give you some insight into your own story from the perspective of someone else.

Try to let it sit for some time at this point.  Maybe a week or so, or however long it takes your proofreader to finish.  If you can, work on another project in the meantime.  If you plan to churn books out in number, get another book past phase 4 before you go back to this one.  It'll help you see your errors from the point of view of someone who has no idea what you're talking about, which is important.

Phase 5 - Fixing The Obvious:  Go back, clarify, fix any errors.  Fix them only on your original, then strike-through the highlighted parts on the editor version and copy-paste the fix.  Have your proofreader check the fixes and repeat as necessary.  After all that, you should have a nice, polished story.

I hope this helps someone finish their own book or story.  After the first one, it gets easier.