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Don’t Sit Down in the Woods

“Every writer who’s finished has taken the axe into the woods and carved out their path where there seemed to be none before. They broke through their blocked way swinging word after word after word.”

It’s 2018. Are you ready? If you’ve set yourself a goal to finish that book, above all, you’re going to need stamina. You’re going to meet several new characters, and all will have challenges for you.

But don’t stop. Not until you’ve finished the first draft.

You’ll doubt your map, of course. But you learn what you’re writing by writing. You learn how to write by writing. Clear writing is rewriting, but that’s not your concern yet. Everyone who sets out questions the wisdom of plowing ahead when you know so little of what’s coming. But don’t stop. And never back up to revise or allow yourself to be tempted into “just fixing the setup,” etc. Fix it later. Right now, there’s only forward.

You figure out what you have to say by writing. If you’re writing to an outline, as you should be, you’ll think of something you need to add to or cut from what you’ve already written. Fine. Jot a note to adjust the next draft, and proceed as though it’s done. Because it will get done. But only if you keep moving forward now.

If only you knew what a great hope can wash over you seeing the things you’ve dreamed begin to pop out and come into reality.

And if halfway through, you suddenly discover this book is really about Z, and not X or Y, congratulations! You’ve struck gold. But don’t stop. Write as though it’s been about Z all along. Because it will be. If you don’t stop.

And do not give in to the temptation to share your first draft with anyone, even sweet old Grannie. If you get feedback too early, it will trick you into second-guessing and you’ll get lost, which greatly improves your chances of becoming one of the millions who never finish their book(s).

Take this to heart: if you get feedback this early, you’ll only wonder why you didn’t see what they saw and maybe that means you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll start to believe you can’t do it. Take it from a guy who knows a bit about letting an editor see it too soon: if you stop before you finish the first draft, for any reason, your fatigue will catch up to you and you’ll wonder why you should keep on.

The excuses a tired mind can give for stopping are myriad. You’ll suddenly remember all the times you’ve stalled out before and all the unfulfilled hopes strewn along the path behind you will prove your faint hope was futile, you really don’t know what you’re doing at all, and it’s not going to work this time either.

You hear the lie, don’t you?

But you’re here now and you can kill it.

Just keep on. Keep the words as they are for now, as they’ve come to you, and appreciate all the hard work and truth-sleuthing it took to write it. And then keep on.

Every day you push forward is another to celebrate finishing a chapter. Even a small clutch of words can be a huge step forward, not just in getting the book done and finally out, but in becoming and owning all you’ve captured.

There will be time for another draft when you’re done. And once you reach the end, it will be much clearer what needs to happen next.




17 Responses to “Don’t Sit Down in the Woods”

  1. Linda Jo says:

    Thank you, Mick. This is very encouraging. I’m still working on the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. I didn’t get it done in November, but I’m making good progress. Thank you for your cheer leading for all of us.

  2. Oh my gosh. One more of your blogs for me to copy and paste into a Word doc so I can re-read and re-read and re-read! SO good, SO helpful, SO encouraging. I really needed this today. Once again, thank you!

    • Mick says:

      Of course, my friend! We are writing in symbiosis, I think. It’s nice to have the camaraderie! I figured you’d be tired of hearing me say all this—but I always need the nudge to trust that if I need to hear it, so do others. I think that’s the secret, in case you were looking for it. 😉😁

  3. suzee B says:

    hmmm, maybe just maybe i won’t give up now. see what you’ve done? i stopped writing in may, perhaps to never start again, BUT i am remembering i have a first chapter. poor thing’s probably wondering what happened to me. i guess i’ll at least tell it “hi”. thanks, mick. (i think!)

    • Mick says:

      I don’t accept any responsibility for whatever resonance you may have felt with this. Plenty of people could read it and say, yeah no thanks. ;)

      But I’m very glad to hear you did resonate. And that you’re willing to speak up and claim it. That’s the Suzee Q I know and love!

      Happy New Year, my friend!

  4. Jenelle. says:

    Boom. Bring on a new year.

  5. Kathleen says:

    Yup! I do b’lieve you just might be kerrekt. Been tryin it the other way for a loooong time, and it hasn’t werkd yet. B’lieve I’ll try doin whativebeentold this time and work out the nitty gritties at the end.
    Thnx Mick

  6. Marla says:

    “And do not give in to the temptation to share your first draft with anyone, even sweet old Grannie. If you get feedback too early, it will trick you into second-guessing and you’ll get lost, which greatly improves your chances of becoming one of the millions who never finish their book(s).”

    Wish I had known and heeded this before. I feel like I’m lost, at the moment, inside my world because of all the first drafts, second drafts, changes in POV, self-doubt, rabbit trails, etc. I haven’t given up hope, though.

    • Mick says:

      And how frustratingly ironic I was one you showed pages to! So sorry for contributing to your struggle, my friend! But your characters stick with me even now and the mystery is still compelling. Just finish! Day by day. You can shape later. Look forward to being done!

  7. Marla says:

    Mick, I definitely appreciate all of your encouragement. No regrets. I will finish, not just this one, but other books as well.

  8. Jenelle says:

    Had to write an update. Since this post, I’ve being repeating “forward” every day. Even if I’m only able to progress bird by bird, I still went forward. Everyday. Last weekend I finished mapping out my current story. Done. Finished. Boom. Thanks to this post and the encouragement I found in your words.

    Now the more intense battle begins. Writing the words. Ugh, my insecurities come out swinging fierce punches. But I am going to keep moving forward. I’m going to not beat myself up with how crapy that first draft is going to be. If I don’t go for this, I’ll regret it. That is certain. So here I go in this new year. Forward!

    • Mick says:

      How good this is to hear! Yes to all of it. You know the secret. Acceptable words are those you’ve received fully open to them, no distracting expectation to block you or steal their thunder. They are already written for you to find. Thank you for this, my friend. I’m honored by your commitment. -m

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