Getting Ready for the Long Write

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Writing two unpublished novels, two business books, and a graduate thesis teaches you a thing or two about long writing projects.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!

Thank You, #CitizenGulf

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Yesterday’s national day of CitizenGulf events ranged from the first Social Media Club event in Fredericksburg, VA to a big get together in Honolulu, Hawaii. With tickets starting at $10 a pop, it looks like 400 people came together and raised roughly $10,000 (preliminary estimate) benefiting at least eight children of fishing families in the Catholic Charities of New Orleans After School Program.

Considering that this whole effort is volunteer based on literally no budget and named after a hashtag, I am just stunned. Two months ago, four of us were heading down to the Gulf on a fact finding mission with no idea about what we would find. And two months later we had this incredible day of action, thanks to you.

Next week I’ll provide a post mortem analysis of what did and did not work about the campaign from my perspective. Today and this weekend are all about cherishing the action so many of us have taken towards a positive, mindful result after the oil spill. With BP and Obama responsible for and promising everything, and often falling short, this is not the easiest cause to take on, but a very important one. Taking mindful steps — instead of staying angry and letting the Gulf suffer — are acts of compassion.

There are so many of us who participated, from the more than 750 people who tweeted to the more than 400 people who attended our 20 events. Jeff Dolan even made a tribute music video! I know of at least 60 blog posts written about the Day of Action. It’s impossible to thank everyone, so please forgive me if I’ve forgotten you.

First, let me thank Dan Morrison and May Yu of Citizen Effect, and Jill Foster of LiveYourTalk. It’s amazing how far this crazy little trip went. And Dan, did you think the fajitas at Lauriol Plaza would turn into this?

Eric Johnson at El Studio deserves a huge thanks for designing our Posterous blog, and for his work migrating the site. Thank you to my long term cohort on cause based action Andy Sternberg for his hard work and running the LA event.

Thank you to Sloane Berrent and Taylor Davidson for letting us co-promote with Gulf Coast Benefits. I can’t wait to see what you do next. And a huge thanks to Social Media Club co-founders Kristie Wells and Chris Heuer for believing in CitizenGulf and making it an official Club event.

Thank you to David Bazea and Citrix Online for donating your organizing software and phone services. Michael Ivey, thank you for donating RT2Give set-up. And thanks to iShake for donating proceeds from iPhone application sales.

I want to give a special thanks to a few city captains who just took CitizenGulf on and made it theirs. Gloria Bell (Philly), Kami Huyse and Grace Rodriguez (Houston), Richard Laermer (who helped me co-organize NYC), Heidi Massey (Chicago), and last, but not least Andi Narvaez (DC, our top fundraiser). Each of these cities raised $1000 or more! Also, I owe a personal thank you to Kelly Mitchell (Honolulu), Todd Van Hoosear (Boston), Alex de Carvalho (Miami), Heather Coleman (Fredericksburg), and “Calamity Jen,” Jennifer Navarete, and Colleen Pence (San Antonio) for organizing their cities! Thank you to all of our other city organizers for going the distance.

And finally, as co-organizer of the New York City event, I’d like to thank my committee of outreach kings and queens. Thank you to Damien Basile, Anna Curran, Erica Grigg (Carbon Outreach), Nicole D’Alonzo, Howard Greenstein, and our special guest Eric Proulx! CitizenGulf would not have been the same with New York!

Again, if I missed you, please forgive me. Thanks so much!

Citizen Effect will continue the CitizenGulf Project. You can create your own initiative to benefit Gulf kids, or you can still give if you’d like. Here’s the donation page.