One Bite At a Time

All of us have goals in life. And I suspect most people would agree large goals require more work than smaller ones. Well, the same can be said about writing a screenplay or novel, two endeavors that require time and a great deal of effort to complete. The problem occurs when creative people focus on the mystique of the creative process as a never-ending string of brilliant inspirations. Now, of course, creative ideas and inspiration come from all types of situations. But what happens after the inspiration hits?


For a lot of new writers, this means buying books on writing, attending local writing classes, or finding YouTube videos about the process. Don’t get me wrong. Knowing a subject is essential and demonstrates a willingness on your part to move forward with your goal.


Yet, in my personal experience as a writer and as a teacher, I’ve found that knowing how to structure a screenplay or knowing the rules for writing a novel wasn’t enough. Sometimes writers, including myself, hit a speed bump in the process. Once we dove in and discovered the project required more effort to complete, we faltered in our goal.


Today I want to talk about dealing with a large creative project by breaking it down into manageable bites. This routine has helped me to remain in control of my projects. Hopefully, it will benefit you in your writing.


Several years ago, I completed and published my first novel for a YA Fantasy series. Despite this achievement, when it came time to do a second novel, I found myself weary of the task. While writing can come from inspiration, it still requires work. Contemplating all the characters and storylines of a new novel again seemed daunting at the time.


When a friend sensed my hesitation, she asked, “Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo?”


“What?” I had never heard of the strange-sounding word.


“NaNoWriMo? It’s the National Novel Writing Month contest that takes place every November,” she explained. “The challenge is to write a novel in thirty days. You should try it.”


To be honest, I thought my friend had gone crazy. The first draft of my debut novel had taken nearly two months to complete. How could I possibly write a new novel in just thirty days? However, I was intrigued and began to consider the idea. Maybe it was doable if planned and broken down into steps, scenes, or segments. Still, I didn’t want to risk committing my second novel to this contest.


Searching for another story concept, I hit on an idea that had a chance of working. See, I’ve always been a planner and before becoming an author, I was, and still am, a filmmaker, producer, and editor. The screenplays I wrote were always outlined before writing began and the same approach was used on my first novel.  And, working in a creative field, the prospect of having a hard deadline reassured me.


Using the outline of a screenplay for a fantasy series, I signed up for the competition and nervously waited for the first day of the contest. The rules were simple. To complete the challenge, every writer had to finish a novel of at least fifty-thousand words in thirty days. For those doing the calculations, that comes to sixteen-hundred and sixty-six words a day. That’s a lot!


When November 1st arrived and I started, the fifty-thousand-word goal felt unattainable. Only when I focused on each day and the portion of the story for that writing session did the fear of not succeeding recede into the background. Working from a general outline also helped because I knew what I needed to cover during each writing session.


Adding to that, I tweaked and planned out the next few days of writing sessions, again, keeping the focus on the smaller chunks of the story. As a result, I made steady headway toward that ultimate goal. The completion of each daily segment also added to the overall conviction that I would complete this novel.


I assured myself, “Yeah, I can do this.”


Eventually, I reached the Tipping Point, where the finish line was in sight and my momentum increased until I wrote more than the minimum word counts each day. When I completed the last line of the novel, I was surprised to find I exceeded the goal by several thousand words. There’s no better feeling than closing the first draft of a novel or screenplay after having spent so much time with the characters until they’re like old friends.


As I downloaded and displayed my WINNER! badge, it occurred to me that writing the first novel hadn’t been a fluke. I had just proved I could do it again. Breaking down a novel or script into manageable scenes or chapters became an indispensable part of my writing process.


What about you? Is there a project that seems too big to tackle? How would you go about breaking that large story down into manageable sections? Would that help you write consistently, taking it one day at a time? Have you ever tried a writing contest like NaNoWriMo?


I hope this blog helps you can take that creative dream and turn it into a reality.

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