One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen for writers working on long-form writing projects (like books and scripts) is losing heart along the way, mostly because we get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work left to do.
It’s not easy to keep our energy mustered toward completion when we’ve got pages and pages more to write… or harder, pages and pages left to revise (and potentially additional revisions left to go).
Here are three tips designed to help you keep your spirits up as you battle the forces of writing resistance:
Tip #1: Create a Plan
For every stage of your writing, make a plan for it. A plan for the outline, a plan for the first draft, a plan for the revision. For example, if you’re writing the first draft, identify the milestones you’re aiming to hit, like scenes from an outline or turning points from a beat sheet. Create a timeline for those milestones so you know if you’re on track, and if you need to make any adjustments as you’re moving through the project.
Even if you’re a total pantser, you can still make some estimates for word counts, major turning points, or numbers of chapters.
Make your milestones big enough to be inspiring but not so big that they’re overwhelming. I love to use 15-page chunks of a script as a milestone, usually the number of pages between each major script turning point because I know approximately how long it takes me to write or revise a section of that length. (You can see me putting a simple form of this in action here.)
Tip#2: Track Your Work
Once you have your plan and start implementing it, make a point to track your work so you can see how your plan is progressing. I like to use spreadsheets for tracking my writing (there’s one in my Ultimate Writer’s Toolkit if you want a jump-start with your own tracking).
The core idea is this: Track your time and your word or page counts so you can SEE the progress happening. It’s one of the best antidotes I know for project overwhelm. There’s nothing quite like seeing your counts climb and knowing you’re making progress to help you focus on the progress you are making, as opposed to the work you have yet to do. And this is one of the biggest challenges we face as writers.
We tend to be an intuitive, conceptual bunch (at least the crowd I hang out with) so we can easily see the final, finished product in our minds’ eyes — and then despair when we see how far it is from here to there. But when we learn to use baby steps, and track those steps, we shift our focus from what’s yet not done to what is already done, and it’s an incredible relief.
Another amazing benefit of tracking your work is being able to see how long each stage and type of work typically takes you, and then you can project approximately how long it’ll take to hit each milestone. Such as, how long it takes you to write 15 script pages or 2,000 words in your novel. Or much writing you can do in 60 minutes. Or how long it typically takes you to outline. Knowing your own innate pacing is a big confidence booster, and helps you build trust with yourself as a writer and believe in your ability to complete a project. Knowledge is power.
Plus, when you track your work you’ll have the evidence you need to help you stay on track with your writer’s schedule. If you’ve set aside 60 minutes a day for writing, and see every day you’re adding 750 words to your manuscript, you’ll be more motivated to keep your next writing appointment with yourself because you know in your bones those minutes count.
Tip #3: Keep Your Head Down
And at the same time, let tracking your work be enough of the big picture. Learn to keep your head down and focused on the work at hand rather than on the overall timeline.
Here’s what I mean by “keep your head down.” Once upon a time, I worked as an intern doing digital 3-D modeling (I made digital houses for virtual architectural walkthroughs and elephants for an animated dictionary, super fun). After I went back to grad school, my boss told me about someone they’d hired. “She keeps her head down,” he said.
I wondered what he meant, and he explained that she focused well on doing the work that was in front of her, without looking up and around, chatting, or getting distracted. It clicked for me. And I find that the more I “keep my head down,” once I’ve established the plan for my work, and just do said work, the better off I am.
As a general rule, the time to question and design the plan is not in the middle of implementing the plan, unless something has gone horribly wrong and a course correction is required. But if things are moving forward and no major trains have gone off the rails, stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other and logging the time and tackling the items on the writing to do list.
It’s when we stop and question that we flounder. I’ve seen more than a few writers dropping in and out of the game for reasons like this, and it’s just not worth it. The only way out is through. Don’t spin your wheels asking “Why is it taking so long?”Just do the work.
Plan the Work and Work the Plan — And Track It!
So if you’re looking for ways to keep your energy up while writing your epic book or script, remember: Plan the work and work the plan — and track it along the way. You’ll be amazed at how motivating it is to see your body of work building and building over time.
You may also like:
- The Magic of Creating a Writer’s Schedule
- 7 Easy Ways to Sneak In Writing Time Over the Holidays (and Why It’s Worth It)
- Writing With Intention: The Power of Journaling About Your Writing Process