This post originally appeared as s blog post for The Loft Literary Center. Below in its entirety:
Sometimes as writers we work on small things—some flash fiction, an essay or short story. We do a pretty good job managing our time and finishing our work. But then there are times when our dreams are bigger, and we want to tackle a large writing project—like a novel or a memoir. How do we prepare for the marathon versus the sprints we’re used to?
First, don’t panic. And don’t chicken out! Don't get daunted by the size of it or the newness of it. You’ve done this before, just in smaller pieces. Yes, there are new things to learn with a big project, but you’re skilled, and ready, and willing to learn. With a bit of planning, and a wider lens, you can see your large writing projects over the finish line, too. You just need to get organized a bit.
Organize your space
If you’re able, create a dedicated work space for your project. Do you have a home office or a desk in a corner of a room where you can leave your notebook open? If space is tight, no worries. If you work on your laptop at the kitchen table, is there a bookshelf or a box where you can keep your notes and resources? The key here is a gather all your materials in one place to keep your project visible and accessible.
Once you have your physical space organized, it’s time to organize your headspace!
Those three pounds of gray matter . . . often the biggest barrier for writers. It’s important to begin to mute the negative self-talk soundtrack in your head so you can stay balanced and in action. The goal isn’t to kill off your inner critics but rather to befriend them, to turn the volume down, to learn how to work with them. (For instance, your Perfectionist needs to be muted while you’re generating your first drafts, but she’ll come in very handy when it’s time to copyedit and proofread during the final laps.) As you can imagine, the bulk of my work with writers is focused on managing inner critics and other resistances. It takes commitment, mindfulness, and compassion to rein in your inner critics, but it’s essential to your mental health, the longevity of your writing career, and the quality of your daily life.
Organize your time
Obviously, if you’re going to write a book, you need to make time to do the work. This step takes some basic math, realistic planning, and steady accountability to stay on track—it also requires dealing with reality. A writing schedule only works if it works in your life situation. Realistic planning keeps goals do-able and overwhelm in check. How many words/pages have you got so far, and how many do you need for a first draft? Ok, got it. Now, how many pages/words can you write in a week? Do the math based on your real life, not an ideal week, because that never happens. Then, set a general goal (“I’ll have a first draft done by the end of the summer” or whatever), so the finish line is in sight.
You might also need some tough love to look at where you are spending some of your time. We all waste time, but now some of that time can be spent on your project. A few shifts in your routine can help you build your writing habits over time.
If you want to reach a big writing goal, then you’ll need to schedule time in your week to do the work. Without “writing appointments” in your calendar, you won’t reach your goal. You just won’t. It’s like the saying goes: A goal without a plan is just a dream.
There will be ups and downs. What matters most is returning your butt to the chair, building community to help when you’re discouraged, and having a ridiculous, badass faith in yourself and your work.
Organize your project
Once you’ve set realistic goals and are building the habit of organizing your schedule to include specific writing times, you will want to continue to organize the project itself. This is something that you might have already done, or sort of done, but it’s essential to staying motivated, managing overwhelm, and using your time well.
There’s no right way to tackle a big writing project, but there are some things that help a lot:
The writing life can be a wicked rollercoaster, but you can do this. Isn’t it time to give it a serious try? The clock is ticking, and your book—and its readers—are waiting.
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I'm a writer, teacher and certified professional coach. I'm gonna see if writing an occasional blog post is a thing I like doing and want to continue doing.