Manuscript Last Resorts

Dear Readers (and Fellow Authors),

WOW, can a manuscript fight you, right? At one point a while back while speaking to the lovely Robyn Lythgoe, I described the process of writing Remnant asĀ  similar to being dragged backwards through a hedge. This latest manuscript has been difficult in a different way: now that I’m writing full time, I found myself freezing up over every chapter, sure that I wasn’t doing my story justice.

The fact was, I just needed to get through my first draft and then edit it, but at the time I was consumed with the fear that I was a complete failure. Which was not so fun. On the plus side, I have come up with a gigantic list of things I resorted to in order to get it done, and have ranked them below in vague order of helpfulness. May they speed up your own manuscripts!

Helpful things:

    • A friend introduced me to habitica, which is about the most fun ever – it’s an RPG that you play by completing your to-do list
    • If you can’t get out of your chores for 10 days or so, put them on autopilot. Example: planning out two weeks’ worth of meals and buying all the groceries in one shot. (What’s for dinner? Oh, right, that thing. Do we have the ingredients? Sure do. Excellent.)
    • Point-by-point plotting of the chapters I was trying to write. Just a rough overview. One character brings up a valid point, and the other responds…how? Plan it. Very useful.
    • Turning off my internet while I write – and, in fact, blocking facebook and twitter entirely on my computer (I use LeechBlock, which is quite helpful – for instance, I realized that I was checking the news ridiculously often, so all of the news sites are blocked between 7:30AM and 5:30PM)
    • Seriously, I can’t stress this enough, DON’T go on social media between writing sprints. You will lose a staggering amount of time. (I imagine this will be doubly true leading up to the election next year)
    • I developed a mini-workout routine to do between writing sprints: 2 types of cardio, each for 30-45 seconds, a set of planks or sit ups, and some arm weights. Other authors have concurred that standing up and moving around helps them stay in the groove
    • Making sure to take an hour or two to decompress every evening. Reading, watching a movie, playing a video game – whatever it was, it needed to have nothing to do with my manuscript
    • I didn’t use it this time, but I’ve always had good luck with Freedom – it’s an app for Macs that completely shuts down internet

Not so helpful things:

  • while sunlight is great, getting out of the house was definitely a mixed bag on the helpfulness front. Walking to the library, while it didn’t take TOO long, tended to remind me that I had other errands to run. And other errands, while nice, weren’t as nice as finishing my manuscript
  • Bribing myself with episodes of Netflix or battles in mobile games. Again, a mixed bag. I tended to get distracted and not get back to things as quickly as I wanted. The moral of the story? Use the timer function on your smartphone, or buy an egg timer for a low-tech alternative.

Really not helpful things:

  • Every few chapters, I would decide that the whole manuscript needed to be revised and switch around everything, thereafter taking hours to correct every conversation and later chapter to reflect the changed order of events. Say it with me: write first, edit later
  • Usually around the time I tried revising things, I would go into a long self-lecture about how much of a failure I was. This sucks. It is no way to spend your time. Let my experience be your guide on this one, because I have tested it. EXTENSIVELY.
  • Unless you’re just really on a roll, don’t try working into the evening. Working late really doesn’t give you much value for the money beyond the first time you do it. It costs you the next day, which results in too much caffeine, which results in disordered sleep, which results in more caffeine…and on and on it goes. And getting out of that cycle is time consuming.

Authors, readers, what are your favorite strategies for staying on task?

-M

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