Victory Crayne, Author

Victory Crayne


Break Every Overwhelming Writing Task into Smaller Tasks

Avoid writers block by breaking your novel project into smaller tsks such as outlining, drafting (writing), editing, etc.

Break Every Overwhelming Writing Task into Smaller Tasks

By Victory Crayne

Writing can be difficult if you are a perfectionist. So don't go down that dangerous path.

Instead, I recommend you break every overwhelming task into smaller bites, for easier chewing and swallowing. Only after you have a complete draft of your story or novel, can you then go to the next step, editing. Don't try to edit as you go along.

I'll give you the example of my own writing process. You may use a different process, which is fine. The key is to break down the larger task into smaller pieces so you can work on one small part at a time, and see some accomplishment. You need that reinforcement to keep yourself going.

Let's face it. Writing a novel is a very large project. It may take you six months to several years to complete it, depending on how much time you spend writing each week.

If you try to write a "perfect" draft the first time, you will be so tied up in anxiety about writing perfect stuff, that you'll suffer "paralysis by analysis." In other words, that dreaded monster called writers block.

So I recommend you lay out a general plan for the novel project. Then break it down into smaller projects. And those parts into even smaller tasks. Sometimes you just need to write notes on what you plan to do. That's okay. That's part of the overall novel project, isn't it?

You don't have to write scenes in order to "be writing." I probably write two to three times as many notes on a novel as I do the actual text that will appear in the final draft. And I'm okay with that. The actual "writing" phase of a new novel of mine is a minority of the time. I probably spend three months writing scenes (over several drafts) and another three to six months on other parts of the project. You may take longer if you have a day job.

My main point here is: break a huge writing project into smaller pieces so you can work on just one small piece at a time and make progress.

Another hint: try to write every day. Doing so will keep the novel project in your mind and you'll make a lot more progress than if you "save" your writing time for the weekend, where you'll have to spend time to refresh your mind on the project's details. That's lost time that would be avoided if you write every day to keep the story idea in your head.

Okay, so how do I tackle a novel? Here's my process. Your mileage may vary and probably does.

I break the development of a new novel into six parts: outline, drafting (the fun part), editing, cover art (goes fast), publishing (goes fast), marketing. Each part has its own set of files and requires its own skills.

Each part gets broken down into smaller parts.

When I'm outlining, I start with the basic structure (Dara Marks) and explore one small part in a new file. I consider the outline phase to be where I put the "magic" in. I also put more "magic" in when I write drafts.

An outline may take me one to three months to finish. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the size of the outline, so I start a new smaller "plot" file in which I focus on just the part I want to work on. Near the end of the current outlining phase, I combine the smaller plot files into two larger files: plot.doc and subplot.doc.

The plot file contains the three acts and their steps (a la Dara Marks). I insert new items here that will go into the manuscript as it is drafted. The items are sorted in the order they will appear in the novel.

The subplot file, on the other hand, contains major sections for each of the main characters, the Villain No. 1's plan, the Villain No. 2's plan, setting, etc. I put a table of contents at the top of that file so I can quickly scan it and go to the part I want. I use MS Word and use the major headings (1, 2, 3, and 4) to help me refresh the table of contents. In MS Word 2003, I press CTRL+A to highlight the whole file, followed by F9, which refreshes the table of contents. An alternate method of refreshing the TOC (table of contents) is to go to the TOC, right click in it and click on "Update field."

In addition to those two main files, I also have character files, one for each main character. I have one collective file for all the other characters in a given novel.

This is especially helpful when I reuse characters. A new novel requires some new characters and I've found that I can make more rapid progress if I spend time "developing" notes on each new character before I start to outline the novel. In that way, when I get to the drafting phase, I have strong ideas in my head about how each character will behave and so I can write each character in his/her own "voice." I'll discuss what goes into a character file in another email.

While I am working on a new novel, I never have to face the whole enchilada in one big bite. I always work on only one small part.

Writing drafts is easy for me since I follow an outline (plot.doc) and refer to my notes on what to do with my next novel. I write 2,500 to 4,000 new words a day and keep track in an Excel spreadsheet. I try to write two chapters a day, referring to my plot.doc, subplot.doc, and character files as I go along.

Sitting phase: When I finish the first draft, which is designed to get the basic story down into one file, then I try to let it sit for five to six weeks. The purpose here is to let the actual words get "stale" in my head so when I do reopen the file and do draft No. 2, I can see what words I actually wrote and not be so overwhelmed by my earlier intentions. Usually, I find lots of places where I can make improvements. While I'm writing one draft, I collect notes on what to do in the future on this novel (and future novels).

During the "sitting still" phase of 5-6 weeks, I can't stop my muse from creating, so I give her something to do, namely, collect notes on the next novel! As a professional writer, I find myself writing or thinking about writing most of the time.

It's during this rewriting phase that I can polish my writing. The first draft is for getting the story down, or telling myself the story. Polishing comes with subsequent drafts.

When I'm done with drafting as many drafts as I can tolerate, I prepare the manuscript for my first editor. I refer to my notes from the last manuscript's editing and scan my current novel for the kind of weaknesses I did last time. Usually this means looking for the word "was" or for gerunds (verbs ending in "ing") and seeing if I can replace them with stronger verbs and more direct writing.

It is important to prepare the manuscript in this way so the editor does not see the same old weaknesses in each new novel. Editors can be burned out that way. I know. I used to be such an editor and I hated it when a writer expected me to highlight or call out each damned time I saw the same old problem. Don't expect your editor to do all the editing for you. You wanna be a pro? Then act like one. Get better with each novel and that means cleaning up after yourself before you present your best work to an editor.

When I'm done with the preparation for the editing phase, I usually take the manuscript to Kinko's for printing and binding. My first editor is a content editor who is good at the storytelling part and he prefers a printed copy to edit from. Otherwise I'd send a copy via email.

While a manuscript is out with an editor, I can't work on it, so I work on outlining the next novel and developing the new characters for it. Thus, at one given time I usually work on two novels.

The key here is to organize your work and break every major task into smaller tasks. And break each smaller task into still smaller ones if needed.

That way you are not overwhelmed by the enormity of writing a whole novel in one big gulp of my mind. You never have to work on anything larger than a small piece. Thus you avoid the major cause of writers block: anxiety.

Whew! This email got to be a lot longer than I had intended. I hope my basic message gets through: organize your work, break it down into smaller and smaller pieces so you can work on one small piece at a time and not worry about the whole novel every time. The key is to give your muse something to do without having to worry about being perfect.

Victory Crayne

At are my novels of espionage and science fiction.

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