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March 6, 2015

Two-Week Plan of Attack to Finishing a First Draft

It's been two weeks since I promised myself I'd get the sequel to Underground finished, and it's been two weeks of total chaos. My schedule at the day job has been erratic, one whole week was spent snowed in with kids who were bored and cranky, and actual deadlines--not the self-imposed type--have been tough to meet. Am I throwing in the towel? No way.

I still think I can reach the end of my draft by March 15th if I stick to a formula (actually, let's call it a battle plan) that's proven beneficial to me in the past. If you are struggling to meet a deadline or maybe you just need some fire in your own writing furnace, this system could help you, too.

The battle plan:

First, the math...
  1. Determine your estimated writing pace by sitting and working on a rough draft for an hour and checking your word count for that time. I tend to write somewhat slowly compared to some, and I average around 800-1,000 words per hour.
  2. Determine the ideal completed length of your finished project. This is completely arbitrary. My finished project length is about 50,000 words for this middle-grade novel.
  3. If you've already started your project like I have, measure how much progress you've already made and subtract that word count from your ideal finished project length. This is your target number for the next two weeks. I have about 20,000 words to go.
  4. Divide your target number by your average words per hour to figure out how much writing time you'll need to shoehorn into your daily life to meet that goal. My equation looks like this: 20,000 word target ÷ 800 words per hour = 25 work hours. (Notice I used the low end of my average words per hour. I'd rather overestimate how much time needed than underestimate it!)
  5. Determine how many days per week you're willing or able to work to meet your goal and multiply that by two to find your total work days in two weeks. I'm only able to make the attempt six days per week, so twelve days in total.
  6. Divide your total work hours by total work days to find how many hours you'll need to dedicate to your project on each of those workdays. My total is about 2 work hours on each working day.
Next, finding the time...
  1.  Give up a bit of sleep. I find getting up an hour earlier is easier for me because I can knock out a piece of my project before the day throws all the distractions at me that it can.
  2. Write through your lunch break. I know that when the day job gets you down, that mid-day break is a welcome escape, but again--we're only talking about two weeks. If your desk isn't free from interruptions, find a quiet place and nibble while you work on your writing for an hour.
  3. Turn off the TV. If you're totally committed to a series and can't stand the thought of missing an episode, record it and catch up after your project is done.
  4. Unplug the internet. Seriously, watching your news feed for status updates from friends for an hour could be another chapter finished. Which is going to satisfy you most at the end of the day?
  5. Work in 15 or 30-minute chunks instead of whole hours. Basically, write when you're waiting for water to boil, waiting to pick up the kids from school, on the bus/train, and during any other passive activity you can think of. I bet if you examined your day closely, you'd find there are plenty of 15-minute blocks of time you can harness for your writing. 
And finally...

If you can't hold yourself accountable, enlist help

A support person or group is wonderful, but sometimes something as simple as having a trusted friend hold $100 of yours on the agreement that you'll get it back at the end of two weeks when your project is finished can turn your spare time into a completed piece of writing.

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