Thursday, July 29, 2010

Working on a First Draft - First Fire Your Distractions!

Before word one of a first draft ever reaches the page, ideally one thing must happen: the writer must fire all their distractions. There will be plenty of moments along the way for introspection and hindsight, but this is not the time. Do right by the project and do it early on by recognizing there will be inevitable, unplanned diversions that might cause delays, sometimes permanent ones. Have a plan of attack before you begin.

Granted, some situations will always remain outside the writer’s control. Illness, a plumbing emergency, or the neighbors launching bottle rockets off the roof, will all likely impact a writing session. None of these events are really distractions, though. They are called life.

Acceptance is the answer to most situations of this type. Let them go rather than fighting them and with the possible exception of the plumbing emergency, they will generally work themselves out.

True distractions require a different approach and take more than just letting go. Distractions can be avoided, lessened or even eliminated. This is possible because the writer usually creates their own distractions. Let me repeat that. The writer is the single biggest manufacturer of predicaments that obstruct their own writing. They are grand masters of drama.

If writing is like setting sail on the ocean, the writer is not a good captain when distracted. No, the writer is playing the part of the Kraken, the beast who gnarls his octopus like legs around the ship, threatening to pull the whole works into the sea forever.

Minimizing distractions can take some preemptive action. For instance: scheduling automatic payment of bills (even ones not due for many weeks or months). Where applicable, load up on cat food, cat treats and litter (or dog/fish/ferret/lion goodies as the case may be). Just because Daddy has a book to write, doesn’t change the fact that the Cat Army has needs.

If a home improvement project can wait a few months, consider tabling it. Dealing with contractors hefting sheetrock and pneumatic drills up the stairs will severely curtail your attention span. For the same reason, avoid adopting a new pet until the first draft (no matter how primitive) is done. While pets love nibbling freshly edited pages, wait until you actually have something of consequence for them to chew. Mistah Kitteh will thank you. So will your editor.

And there are some minor office organization techniques that can help later on. It sounds silly, but deal with every piece of paper in sight from your seat at the typewriter or computer. If a letter wasted away beside the keyboard, unread for months, perhaps it wants to visit the shredder more than it wants to be ignored yet again.

Writing furniture should be comfortable, so if the chair or desk causes pain when seated for periods of longer than 90 minutes, a new one might save a few trips to the chiropractor. Make the workspace as functional as possible by reducing the clutter and keeping it clean—throughout the project.

Last, write an email to your innermost circle of friends. This missive is not an announcement of your plans to write a novel. No, it’s an admission of guilt and contrition, because you will be neglecting them—for quite awhile. Instead of groveling for forgiveness after the fact, why not do it in advance instead of when your mind is a million miles away with your characters? Then when friends do eventually complain about your absence (emotional, physical or otherwise), just hit send.

And then get back to the writing!
*this excerpt is  from a guest blog by Sam Hilliard, author of The Last Track: A Mike Brody Novel available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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