How word sprints are saving my novel

Sounds a bit dramatic, eh?

Sometimes the truth has some drama.

I’ve been reading a few books lately (reviews forthcoming, yes, they are already scheduled) and they’ve presented some rather radical ideas. Okay, maybe the ideas aren’t all that radical, but they ARE what I’ve needed to hear.

Too often, motivational books/speakers/etc talk about DREAMING BIG and MAKING BIG GOALS and IF YOUR GOALS AREN’T BIG YOU MUST THINK YOUR GOD IS SMALL or whatever else along that line.

I’m REALLY GOOD at dreaming big. I have superb and grandiose plans of taking over the world with my books (okay not quite, but I do have grand plans of finishing my books and actually finding a decent sized audience for them) and it’s precisely the size of this dream that paralyzes me.

I read an article a while back about GRRM (George R. R. Martin) and the pressure he felt while GoT was filming and he KNEW he needed to finish his books. Well, it turned out that this pressure was precisely what froze him and kept him from being able to write anything at all.

As I read the article I resonated with what he was saying. I can put so much pressure on myself to write the best story ever that I can’t quite bring myself to write the crap first draft that needs to happen so that it can be EDITED into the best story ever.

It’s been weeks since I pulled the first six chapters out of my Tamerna story in order to expand it into its own book. I set a goal of having a full draft of the first three books by the end of the year (a rather huge task if I’m honest) and because I’d set that goal and because it was really big and daunting, I did precisely NOTHING about it for a month. Every time I sat down to write, my brain froze. I felt like I couldn’t get a single word out because in order to reach this goal, every word had to be GREAT. Every scene had to be perfect from the outset.

Friends, if you don’t write, let me tell you something. This is EXACTLY the WRONG WAY to do this. Because every first draft sucks. Whether that first draft is the outline, the tinkering in your head, or whatever ends up spilling onto the paper as we churn out pantsed words.

Every first draft sucks.

And I’d forgotten to give myself permission to write an embarrassingly bad first draft. In fact, I’d actually REMOVED permission from myself to do that. I put so much pressure to do it all perfectly right away that I couldn’t do anything at all.

Last week (or maybe it was the week before now…), I did something totally radical based on those radical books I was reading.

I made small goals.

I actually wrote on my author facebook for ALL THE WORLD (okay, 100 people) to see that I officially was giving myself permission to write utter garbage for 10 minutes. That was it.

Ten minutes of consecutive wording on the page.

Ten minutes of garbage production.

Ten minutes of embarrassing writing.

And do you know what happened?

I wrote. Yes. I wrote a few  hundred words. And then I did another one later in the day. A few hundred more. And for the last however many days, I’ve been working to write for just 10 or 15 minutes here and there.

No more hour-long blocks of pressure-filled writing.

Just 10 minutes of crap.

When I pulled those first 6 chapters, I had just over 14k words. I’m now just one writing sprint short of 24k words. In just a few days, I’ve added nearly TEN THOUSAND WORDS to my manuscript.

All at ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

This is fantastic for me because NaNo is coming. It’s right around the corner. And I was feeling MEGA pressure to do as much as possible because OHMYGOSHNANO!

And now?

I feel a lot better because I know that I just need to get in three or four 10-15 minute sessions a day to achieve or exceed my daily writing goal. If I can manage once in the morning, a session after lunch, and one after bedtime, I can get ALL my words in. Every day. No pressure.

And honestly? It’ll be okay if I have to take bigger blocks on Saturdays to make up some time. As long as I’m starting with 10-15 minutes and not pressuring myself, it’ll be okay if Saturday ends up as a two-hour block because I really get IN THE ZONE because I don’t have to worry about interruptions. And maybe this will be the first year my husband doesn’t loathe NaNo (because yes he does). Because finally I won’t be cramming every evening for two weeks to make up the 30 I haven’t written yet.

So, while it may sound dramatic, it’s true. Sprints have saved my novel and if I can manage a month of sprints, by the end of this month, I should have a full, crappy first draft of what will actually be book 1 of my series and maybe by this time next year, I’ll have the book in my own hands, ready for distribution.

Or maybe I should just tuck that huge dream back onto the shelf…