M.J. here. Over the last two weeks I had the privilege of taking a super inspiring trip to England, which included a five-day Arvon course in writing romantic fiction. It was one of those trips writers dream about, and in addition to lots of great information and experiential research, I had plenty of time on trains and in the beautiful quiet of the English countryside in which to write. I managed a total of 15,000 words in the 10 days, which is great, considering that I did a fair bit socializing (drinking), sightseeing and research (more drinking) along the way. The fact that the whole trip was focused on getting away from my regular life to focus on writing really freed me up to concentrate and produce.
In the early days of being a writer, I used to fantasize about doing trips like this one, or even just weekends away in the country, to really give myself “time to write.” And it’s true, a short burst of dedicated time without distractions really can help you build momentum in a story, can force you to spend so much time on your writing that you have no choice but to confront whatever is holding you back from getting words on the page. I have done this several times on a local scale, taking a weekend away to churn out 10,000 – 20,000 words, and it can be really useful.
That said, the (slightly) more mature writer in me knows that the occasional trip or weekend away must be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to writing successfully. Where the rubber meets the road is the ordinary day, filled with distractions and thousands of good reasons to procrastinate, when no one has tied you to your chair, your job or kids need your attention, and room service is not an option. The days when you don’t have time to write are the days in which most of your writing must be done.
During our Arvon week, we had a visit from special guest Jenny Colgan, who is charming and hilarious and has the cutest little Scottish accent. She writes best-selling romantic comedies and for Dr. Who, so that makes her way cooler than I am, and that’s before I even tell you that she’s a great cook and lives in France. After dinner Wednesday night, we gathered round with our glasses of wine and our writers’ ambition and waited for Jenny’s pearls of wisdom.
“Word count,” she said. “What matters is word count.”
I have to paraphrase the rest because (a) I didn’t write anything down (b) some of it was French and (c) I’d had a few glasses of Cabernet at this point. She said when you’re drafting, you have to focus on getting it done rather than getting it right, and fixing everything (even the big stuff) in revisions. She used a wonderful analogy to sculpting with clay: if you are trying to create a piece of pottery, you can’t start shaping and molding it until you have enough clay to work with. The clay, in this case, is your first rough draft. In other words, there’s no point trying to make Chapter 1 perfect until you’ve finished Chapter 17 or 32.
Basically Jenny’s point, the one so many of us learn the hard way, is that novels don’t sell because they’re PERFECT. They sell because they’re FINISHED. Good writing, strong characters, and nuanced storytelling are entry fees to the game; if you don’t know how to write at all, that’s a barrier. But many of us who can write, and say we want to write professionally, either don’t write often or don’t write at all. We wait for the muse to speak to us, the mood to hit us, for a full hour of uninterrupted time to present itself. When we do get writing time, too often we spend it obsessing over our clever prose, the first few pages (which are probably going to get cut anyway when you realize the beginning is actually Chapter 4) or figuring out the name for the main character’s dog.
In reality, professional writers — the ones who’ve quit their day jobs or are at least paying some bills with their books as passive income — they don’t waste time obsessing over sentence structure or character names while they write. They know that everything can be fixed in revision, and anything that can’t will get cut anyway.
The hardest part about all of this is creating that space for yourself to write, every single day. I talked about my struggle with writing daily a couple of weeks ago, and I can assure you that coming home exhausted (and with a cold) from England hasn’t made the struggle easier. I still have to fight that little voice telling me that this isn’t a perfect time to write and I can always catch up later.
This is why we’ve created Draft House, to help you stay on track with your word count goals on the mundane, regular days. We’re the ones who will tie you to your seat (even for just twenty minutes if that’s all you have). And while we don’t offer room service, we can give you the accountability you need to get that clay ready for molding. Revisions are for May and June. Spend Summer 2017 revising your book instead of wishing you’d written it.
In the meantime, let’s get in that word count, day after day.
Want to join the Draft House? The deadline is August 1, so apply now!