Blow That Motherfucker Up.
You know how in thriller movies, there is always a time limit? A bomb is going to go off or someone is going to run out of air if the hero doesn't get there in time. It's what gives the story urgency. It drives the hero forward.
I strongly recommend you put some dynamite and a timer under your novel for the same reason.
If you had to write 1000 words on your manuscript today, or you had to delete it, do you think you would get it done?
If the answer is no, just go right ahead and delete it. Or, at least, back it up somewhere and delete it off your computer. If it's not worth doing 1000 words right now to save, why are you trying to finish it at all?
I don't recommend setting the bar too high on this one. But I DO recommend setting some kind of bar. Particularly if when you sit down to write, you find yourself procrastinating. So what is a fair bar? It depends on when you want to write, and how much you want to achieve in each writing session. If you're aiming to write every single day and you don't write for five days in a row, particularly if nothing unusual happened in those days, maybe you aren't very excited about that project. If you plan to write on weekends and do 5k each day, but three weeks have passed and you've only managed 2k all up, you have to stop and ask yourself: 'Do I have a good reason or the passion to finishing this project?'
When the project is under real, genuine threat of deletion, suddenly we find ourselves VERY excited about finishing it. All the love comes pouring back in, and we're willing to fight (AKA write) to save it.
That said, I am not recommending you start a project, get bored of it, then start a new project. Quite the contrary. I believe you should finish everything or DELETE IT. Dead, gone, no more. And that goes for everything in your 'to write' list too.
NO BEGINNINGS, ONLY ENDINGS
Let's say you write every day, from 5am to 6am and you have committed to the idea that if you don't work on your book for five days in a row, you burn it to a CD, toss the CD in the back of a wardrobe and delete all traces of it from dropbox and your computer. Maybe you still write slowly and it takes you a while but you finish it. Celebration all around.
Now go to the folder with all the other half finished stuff and go through alphabetically. The first project is old and you like it, but it's not what you're excited about. The characters seem lame now and you hadn't done as much work on the plot as you remembered. You work on it for two mornings, then a few weeks pass without any progress.
Same rules apply. Finish or bin forever.
Keep doing this until you either have a lot of finished projects, or you have binned a lot of projects that were never worth your time. Cleaning out the mental clutter is a huge part of focus, and smart use of time. Wasting time on projects you don't want to write on is pointless. Its time you could spend on projects you do want to write.
Three Folder Rule:
Organise your writing folder with three sub folders:
1. Finished projects.
2. In progress.
There should only ever be two things in 'in progress'. One project you are editing and one project in first draft stage. If you are just beginning the craft, stick to one thing. However when you are published and working with an editor, you will need to be working on a new project while waiting for edits from your publisher, and need to switch back and forth between them as required.
You may also want to write a draft, then have a break from it while you write another book, before going back to editing, so your brain has time to disengage. Which is what I do.
If you have multiple pen names, you may want to have these three folders as a sub folder to each pen name. However that is for much further down the track. If you are unpublished, work on one project at a time.
Just Can't Quite Put My Finger On It...
There is an exception to this rule. It is a small one and it has to be applied with tact and discretion. Sometimes we struggle to finish a project because we lack the skills we need. In those cases, a project can be put aside and a new project may be started and finished. HOWEVER, I am going to suggest rules for this too.
1. You have to complete (write and edit) a second project before you can go back to the first one.
2. Only one project can be 'put aside' at a time. You have to finish or bin the next project.
3. You have to wait an entire year AT LEAST before going back to the first one. Learning new skills takes time.
Learn. Grow. CREATE. Don't stop creating.
Remember, any time spent on a project you didn't finish is time poorly spent. You probably learned something in the process of writing it, but it's much more efficient to learn AND finish projects at the same time. An unfinished project can never be sold. Never be enjoyed by readers you don't know. Never become a part of your portfolio or legacy. It's just dead words.
Commit yourself today to finishing or binning everything. There is no in between, only finished or dead.
Stay tuned for the next two posts in this five part series:
Part 4: Using Your Time Effectively: Eagles don't catch flies.
Part 5: Alternatives Ways To Write: Other people use crazy methods to write, now you can too.
And if you like me, buy and review my books, because that will inspire other people to buy them too: