I’ve always liked Ali Hale. She’s been a long-time reader and commentator here at Men with Pens, she blogs around the universe with wisdom and simply worded advice, and always has something good to say. She’s one of those people that’s just… well, nice.
She threw a guest post my way with a nice email that said, “I thought you might use this on one of those days when you couldn’t post yourself,” and I thought to myself, “Wow. That’s so nice.”
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did – cheers!
Do you have a big writing project on the go? Perhaps it’s an ebook, a non-fiction book, a novel, a free report for your website, or a series of pillar posts for your blog. Maybe you’re working with a writing coach. Whatever that project is, it’s probably not something you can knock out in an afternoon.
Tell me honestly. How long has that project been on your to-do list? And when did you last make any progress on it?
Perhaps you’ve never even gotten around to starting your ebook or your series or sending out your book proposal.
You probably know that the free report you want to write would be a great way to encourage subscribers to your newsletter. You probably know that an ebook could bring in some much-needed passive income – but you’ve only written a few pages.
It’s tough to keep up momentum when you know you’re in for a long slog.
It’s even worse if you’re used to writing one type of project, like website content or blogging. Experienced bloggers can often turn out a post in an hour. If you’re Taylor, it might be more like fifteen minutes. But I’d bet money that even Taylor can’t write a fifty-page ebook in an afternoon.
(Not that she’s involved in any ebook-related activities at all. Ignore the rumours.)
Blogging’s the bread-and-butter of my freelancing. In an average week, I write seven or eight paid blog posts and a couple more for my own blog. I love the quick-win satisfaction of writing, editing and posting online within an hour or two.
But since January, I’ve also written a self-study e-course on becoming a staff blogger, written a free ebook on quitting your day job and written 150,000 words of a novel.
Have you done that much? Probably not. Most writers I know don’t even come close to that level of production and progress.
How do I do it? How do I succeed with long-term writing projects? I use three magic words:
I could give you all my great tips on outlining, but Taylor got there first. There’s not much for me to add, except that the longer and more complex your project is, the more vital that outline becomes.
You do need an outline. But if you’re working on an ebook or an extended piece of content, don’t tie yourself into knots by trying to get a whole chapter-by-chapter breakdown before you begin. You’re allowed to be a bit more intuitive and a bit less structured than that. Consider:
• Jotting down details of all your main points
• Having an idea of what your theme is, or what you want the reader to take away
• Make notes of any research you’ll need to do
• Knowing roughly how it ends
Why is outline so crucial? Because your ebook readers aren’t likely to be terribly impressed if “the muse took over” half-way through.
Next you need a deadline. If you normally write for clients, you’ll be used to these. You’re probably great at hitting them (and you may well have had to meet some tight ones). Your personal writing projects, though, are unlikely to come with a deadline attached.
Set your own deadline. You are your own client. It’s all too easy not to take this seriously, so do whatever it takes to make it real to you. Make yourself accountable, too. Telling your blog readers that you’re going to be publishing a free ebook next Monday is one way to do so (which worked for me).
You might want to tie your deadline to some significant event. Perhaps you’re determined to get your book finished before your next birthday or vacation.
With fiction and novels, competitions can be a great source of deadlines. If you can’t find a suitable competition, you might want to give NaNoWriMo a try (write a 50,000 word novel during November – along with thousands of other participants around the world).
For huge projects, setting milestones along the way can help. Pick a deadline for finishing the outline, then one for writing Chapter One, then one for Chapter Two, and so on.
Lastly … you need a lifeline.
It’s easy(ish) to keep up your motivation on your freelance writing or your blogging because it’s instant. You get feedback from your client or your readers pretty quickly, and when you hit the deadline, you get paid.
With an ebook, you could be writing for months before you launch it and start getting reviews and sales. With a fiction book or novel, it’s more likely to be years.
Slogging through a wilderness of words alone isn’t much fun. You’re likely to run out of energy. You might wonder if you’re even going in the right direction, or whether it’s really worth it after all.
This is when your lifeline comes in.
Your lifeline is a fellow writer or, ideally, a group of writers. Your lifeline gives you feedback on your work-in-progress. Sometimes, your lifeline just needs to be there to keep you accountable, or to give you some cheering on.
And your lifeline helps make sure your project doesn’t end up dead in the water – by asking questions or steering you back on track.
My lifelines are my creative writing tutors (who also, usefully, provide deadlines!) and my fellow students who’ve formed a workshop group that meets weekly. They let me know when they care about my characters. They also let me know when I need to rewrite or work on a section a little more.
Your lifeline might be a small, loyal group of blog readers who’re willing to look at sections of your ebook. Or, your lifeline might be a writing mentor who can give advice from the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that. Your lifeline might even be a life coach or creativity coach.
It doesn’t matter what your lifeline looks like or who it is. You just need one.
Outline, deadline, lifeline: three steps to seeing any big writing project through to the end.
Is one of your projects floundering? Are you missing one of these steps? What could you do to get moving again – or to get started in the first place?
Ali Hale is a freelance writer, blogger and aspiring novelist (with the obligatory three failed attempts in the bottom desk drawer). She writes about getting more from life on her blog Aliventures.