Getting Ready for the Long Write

Books to be returned...
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Writing two unpublished novels, two business books, and a graduate thesis teaches you a thing or two about long writing projects. Long form writing can be grueling in nature, lasting six months or even a year. When beginning such a project, it helps to have a writing program, very similar in nature to a training program that an athlete dedicates him/herself to prepare for a marathon or a long season.

Here are some methods that helped with these five projects:

Use a Blueprint

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Many authors use the table of contents as their blueprint. Some business writers like larger arcs — themes like the Fifth Estate — that guide their overall effort. This is analogous to a plot for a novel, but has less suspense and development to it. Nevertheless the arc may be the overarching lesson that you want people to learn.

Parts help break a book into major components. For example, a communications book may focus on strategy and then tactics. Chapters support the larger parts. These parts may have their own arcs and goals, depending on the subject matter. Welcome to the Fifth Estate had two parts, the first focused on theory and cultural readiness, while the second focused on the actual work of social media. Others simply adhere to a chapter and subsection structure.

Whatever you do, a blueprint helps guide you. You don’t have to write in a linear fashion, but having the blueprint lets you see all the areas you need to address.

Discipline

You must be disciplined and write everyday. Every damn day. When your friends give you grief for not hanging out on Twitter or going out more often, you must have the discipline to say no.

Starting tomorrow never works. That is for people who want to be authors. People who actually accomplish books write everyday. Books and other long forms of writing are accomplished paragraph by paragraph, page by page, section by section, chapter by chapter.

There will be times where one page will be brutal with each phrase coming at an absolutely painful pace. Other times you will see pages fly with the minutes. You never know which pages matter more until the editing process. Take each page as they come, but never stop writing.

Accept Crap

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There are parts of your work that suck. And you know they suck as soon as the words leave your fingers. You try to fix it, but you can’t. Each time you rewrite the section, it sucks. This is when you must accept crap.

That weak section fits into a picture, and you may not understand the context of the section until you complete the larger chapter. So move on. Finish the chapter, and get some distance between you and the painful section. Then go back and read it in the context of the larger chapter. Editing becomes much easier when you can pull away from the weeds for a bit.

Having an editor to bounce difficult sections off of helps. However, most writers don’t have this luxury, particularly unpublished authors or those working with small presses. If it is in your nature, join a local writing club to get support for such moments.

Take Breaks

Any process that requires this amount of isolation can unleash your demons: “It’s not perfect (it’s terrible!)”; “what if they hate it?”; “I can’t make it to the end”; “the whole concept is off”; etc. That’s when it is important to get out.

A consistent work-out schedule is very therapeutic in conjunction with the daily write. It forces you out of the house and around other people, and gets the endorphins going, clearing your mind… Until the next write.

Also, it might be good to write about anything else besides the book one day a week. Write a blog post or some other text. This keeps you in the habit of writing everyday, but gives your mind an opportunity to relax and chew on something lighter.

Fight Through the Wall

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Inevitably there comes a time in the long write — roughly 2/3 of the way through — where you feel absolutely beaten. You can’t go on. But you have to.

This is the most brutal part of the writing process. It is what long distance runners call “hitting the wall.”

You will hit the wall, and you need to power through it. It is a fight with each sentence requiring serious effort, but once you get through that chapter (wherever it is in the process), you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The project becomes easier as you close.

Good Luck!

Other authors have different processes for dealing with the long write. Be sure to ask them how they did it, too.

And remember, no matter how many snarky social media remarks you get about books and bloggers and blah blah blah, writing a book or a major report is a significant accomplishment. Good luck on your project!

13 Replies to “Getting Ready for the Long Write”

  1. Persistence and faith. And a whole lotta pain. When I’m doing the long form, a topic outline is key. As is organization. Just my $.03.

    1. There certainly is a lot of pain with book writing. I am looking at ways to reduce that next time… Like working four days a week, and blogging less to make room.

  2. Love this post, Geoff. I read Pressfield’s War of Art while writing two books. That helped a lot. You know what I noticed while writing? When I tried to catch up with people in Social Media, there wasn’t much going on ;-) I felt like what I was doing by writing was a real action by comparison. I noticed my desire to be distracted or entertained, but it was fluff that didn’t satisfy. I felt good creating something. The difficult part of hard work made it more satisfying. The training analogy is perfect. Diligence and persistence.

    1. There’s a desire to be seen, but in reality, you are correct, your community forgives you for being gone. I think this is particularly true when you are working on something significant. People get that you are working or are on a trip.  Social media is a marathon, and people will still be there in a month.  Great point.

  3. This post really helps me cause I am not really good in writing. The hardest part is making the introduction. But I do agree to make an outline first to have the ideas arrange accordingly and make it easier for you to write. Thanks a lot for this.

  4. Thanks for this post. These are some great reminders from an obviously disciplined writer. I dropped out of social media a lot while I finished up my last project. I agree that a workout helps keep a writer sane. Another thing that helps me is to do something creative–something that has nothing to do with writing–once in a while. For me, a landscape photography session helped me look at my project in a different way.

  5. As decent writer trying to become a much better one Geoff, I found this to be very, very helpful, especially the ‘accept crap’ part. I know there have been times in the past when I just couldn’t seem to put a section or chapter together and because I wouldn’t let it go, it bothered the heck out of me.

    Next time I’ll just move on.

    Cheers,

    Marcus

    1. It’s really hard to walk away, but you have to. As Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”  Books are never perfect, but at least you can get away from it, come back and edit later.

  6. Love the part about accepting crap. Especially when working on a long-term project like that, you want everything to be perfect.

    When my girlfriend was writing her graduate thesis I told her to move on from things she got stuck on and to return to them later. That’s really the best way to go. Worked for her…she got published.

  7. Love the part about accepting crap. Especially when working on a long-term project like that, you want everything to be perfect.

    When my girlfriend was writing her graduate thesis I told her to move on from things she got stuck on and to return to them later. That’s really the best way to go. Worked for her…she got published.

  8. These are very interesting tips, but I think that one is missing. You have to read other books every day. The more you read the more you’ll understand better ways of writing. Don’t read th books with the style you’re not using: read smth that you like and what’s in your style of writing. And good luck!
    Kory

  9. I can’t tell you how happy I was to read your second point “Accept Crap.” Sometimes I feel like i’m OCD and over-criticize my writing over and over again to the point of exhaustion. I really feel like understanding and “accepting crap” is going to help me get way more done and reach my writing goals much sooner. Thanks for that tip!

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