Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

How to Beat the Big Writing Project Blues

I'm in the final stages of writing a book. My working title is: The WriteNow System: 8-1/2 steps to writing better, faster. The work's going well, although not quite as quickly as I'd like, which is kind of embarrassing for someone who bills herself as a writing speed expert.

Actually, the writing went just fine -- better than I thought it would. Several months ago, I was even ahead of schedule. But I recently bogged down in the editing phase. This was partly a product of other things going on my life (I regret to report I'm considering a major home renovation) but also a natural result of nearing the end of any big writing project.

Like the mountain climber approaching the peak or the marathoner hitting 18 miles, I was starting to flag. This was thoroughly predictable and something every writer should plan for (especially a professional, God help me). So let me share my five-step plan that got me out of the slump. You, too, should be able to use it to deal with our own big writing project blues.

  1. Be brutally realistic about how much time your project will require. For the editing stage, edit a sample page or chapter and then multiply that by the total number of pages/chapters in your project. This will reveal how many hours of work you have left. The answer might be profoundly depressing but at least it will allow you to plan. Confront the ugly truth.
  2. Set a reasonable goal. It's a good idea to start by working backwards from your ideal completion date. For example, if you say to yourself: "I want this project finished by July 1," you'll have "x" number of days to do the job. Let's say your project is 8,000 words long and you have 16 days until the planned finish date. That means you'll need to handle 500 words a day to get the project done on time. Think about it. Is that too many words a day? If so, you need to postpone your target date. Or are you unhappy with the finish date? Then make your daily target more aggressive. Play around with the numbers until you come up with a completion date and a daily requirement that makes you happy.
  3. Plan to work on your project every day. Most of us are more likely to accomplish tasks we do daily. They become part of the woodwork and background noise of our lives -- and therefore don't appear to require so much effort. As well, working daily will give you momentum. (Note: It's okay to take weekends off or scale back your weekend goals.)
  4. Don't do too much on any given day. I went crazy recently and spent far too many hours -- many more than I'd committed - at the computer, editing. Know when to stop. If you burn yourself out, you'll regret it (and probably fail to meet subsequent deadlines.) It's all about pacing.
  5. Keep a record. Just as dieters write down how many pounds they lose and runners chart how many miles they cover, you should keep a record of how your writing project is progressing. Create a simple chart in Word or Excel and then fill it in each day as you do your work. Referring to the chart can be a terrific motivator -- as well as an excellent way to celebrate your success.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.