Writing is tough. Rough drafts are even tougher. You’re creating something from scratch—pulling it out of your imagination and making it real on the page. Maybe you have an outline or some genre expectations to follow, but really, it’s like cooking without a recipe. You just have to throw things in the pot and rely on your skill to make it taste great.
When you cook, you have a defined workspace—the kitchen. You wouldn’t cook in the bedroom or bathroom. The kitchen has your tools, ingredients, and the right atmosphere for making food. Writing space and atmosphere are equally important. It can be stressful enough to bang out a rough draft. Don’t make it more stressful by working under poor conditions. Sure, things happen, and sometimes, you’ll find yourself putting down words while the most distracting kid’s show plays in the background or while your neighbor is mowing their lawn. But there are ways to take control of the process and set yourself up for drafting success.
1. Define Your Ideal
First, know thyself. Yes, really. You can’t write under your ideal conditions if you don’t know what they are. If you already have a sense of this, it’s a matter of figuring out how to produce those conditions (more on that below). If not, trial and error can help, as well as asking yourself some key questions. Are you the kind of person who needs absolute silence when you draft? Or does the quiet drive you crazy, making it impossible to work? Is temperature important? How about lighting? Essentially, where do you do your best work? What atmospheric and environmental conditions allow you to focus and churn out the best draft you can?
If you find yourself distracted while you write, take a minute to study your surroundings. Is light reflecting on your screen and making it tough to see what your typing? Are you drafting by hand and hunched over a table that’s too low, which makes your back hurt? If you find an environmental issue, switch up where you write and see how doing so changes your output. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, so experiment until you find a perfect spot or two.
We’ve all been there. Your hero climbs the tower wall to rescue his betrothed from the dragon. He’s barely hanging on. His hand slips. He’s able to recover, but while he’s dangling, he sees…
“Crap, we need to buy milk!”
Wait, no. Sees…
And, it’s gone.
If only “Alexa, where’s my plotline?” worked. Alas, it doesn’t, but you’ve learned that writing at the kitchen table while your partner makes the shopping list isn’t great for unbroken writing momentum. Try relocating to a less distracting part of the house. If you struggle to find one, maybe invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones/earplugs. Whatever works best for you to minimize the outside world and focus on your writing.
Timing Is Everything
Up at 6:30. Get the kids up and ready by 7:30. Kids out the door by 8. Get yourself ready and out by 8:30. Working 9 to 5 (cue the song). Pick the kids up at 5:30. Dinner by 6:30. Finish homework, downtime, kids to bed by 8:30. Flop on the couch at 8:45 at the earliest.
Where did the time go?
Whether you write around your job or are a full-time novelist, there are obligations in your day that don’t involve putting words on the page. There are families to feed, errands to run, work (whether at home or not) to do. Fitting writing into an already-crowded day can feel daunting. And when you do find some free time, maybe the Muse has deserted you.
That’s why it’s important to find your creative time—when your mind is most able to turn off life and focus on writing. Maybe that’s 5 in the morning for an hour before the day’s distractions start. Maybe your lunchbreak brings out the desire to create. The Muse waits for no writer, but you can meet her when it works for you. If that means writing in 15-minute intervals every few hours, do it. There’s no right time to write, and everyone’s schedule looks different. As long as you have words at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter when they got there.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Space
Before I got into fiction, I did my undergrad work in psychology. One of my biggest takeaways from those years is that people often undervalue their own needs. We spend so much time making way for others—kids, spouses, coworkers—anyone. We forget that we’re people who have needs and desires, too. Furthermore, we forget we have the right to pursue those desires.
So, don’t be afraid to ask for space.
Obviously, this has limitations. For example, going to your boss and saying “hey, I’m writing a book. Can I take every Thursday afternoon off?” probably won’t have great results. But bosses are there to make our lives difficult, right? (Kidding.) The day job aside, there might be a family or a dog or a homeless shelter that needs you, and you want to be there for them. There are meals to make and bedtimes to take care of and cuddles to get in before sleep takes over. And you have to do it all or else you’re failing as a parent/lover/person. Right?
The people around you love you. Yes, they may need things from you, but they also want you to be happy and do what you love. The day is full of obligations, sure, but there’s available time if you look for it. Don’t be afraid to find it and ask for it. Reorganize your schedule where you can. Talk to your loved ones. Tell them how much this book means to you, how much writing means to you. Say you need X time on X day(s) to pursue your dream. Odds are good they’ll be willing to work with you, which leads me to my final point…
Be Willing to Compromise
Writing is wonderful. There’s little better than finishing a scene and realizing you’ve been in a sort of trance where nothing exists but your story. Your inner world can come so alive as you get lost in the plot and the characters and the conflict driving everything toward its breathtaking conclusion. It’s an amazing feeling.
Unfortunately, real-life intrudes on that sacred space.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, without real life, we’d have no one to produce those stories for but ourselves, and the joy of sharing stories would be lost. But when you’re practically living in your fictional world and then have to rejoin real life, it can be disappointing, frustrating, even upsetting.
These are valid and real emotions to have. So, have them.
Let them go.
Holding on to the anger and frustration only hurts you. If you leave it unchecked, it could lead to misplaced resentment at your writing or your family, which will only waylay your creative pursuits more. Real life is there. It’s not going away, and the best approach is to know you need to be part of it.
Be willing to compromise. If you really feel creative at 5am (when you can have you-time to write) and 6pm (when dinner needs to get on the table), keep 5 am to write but give up 6pm to do what needs to be done. But maybe negotiate having one night a week where you can write at 6pm. Going back to asking, use compromise in your requests. If you form a plan and offer it up for discussion, a solution that works for everyone can be found.
If you ask 5 writers, you’ll probably get 6 or 7 answers about what the toughest part of being an author is. “Editing.” “Promotion.” “Submitting.” Which are all tough in their own ways, but unless you have the time, drive, and atmosphere to put your draft on paper, you’ll never get to these later steps. Letting stress intrude on your creative time can leave you feeling like writing isn’t worth it. Don’t put down your pen/keyboard because of these negative feelings. Distractions, real life, and struggle will always be there. The trick is to take control of what you can and let the rest go.
So, find your writing space. Plug in your headphones, feel the breeze on your face, or bask in the pre-dawn light. But whatever you do, write while you’re doing it, and that rough draft will be yours in no time.
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