Whether it's a romance novel, TV series bible, VC business plan, or guest blog post—these days, any writing task beyond a 140-character tweet or snarky Facebook post can feel like you're standing butt naked at the bottom of a mountain of words, your private parts covered only with the blank white page of a newly-created Word document.
And while the thought of having to climb that mountain up through its rough switchback sentences and rocky ridge paragraphs can be paralyzingly daunting and insomnia-inducing, even on a good day, taking on a big writing task is often a big life or career changer (as any graduate student can attest). It can take your creative mind into a whole new territory of wonder and transcendence that you never dreamed possible. It can earn you a promotion, or a plum writing assignment, even some well-deserved goddamned respect, for once in your life.
Lucky for you there's a simple secret that many successful writers use when faced with such a prodigious task, a secret I shall call The Big Blast.
Now, as with any task with the word "blast" in it, you're going to need to do a little preparation, gather a few supplies, to wit:
- Set aside a big chunk of time—two or three days if possible—where you know you won't be interrupted. If you need to get out of town, do it. Rent that cabin on the lake. Don't worry if it doesn't have a shower, you won't have time for anything but basic hygiene where you're going.
- Stock up the fridge with all of your favorite healthy foods that take only a minute or less to make. You're not on some foodie vacation, you're there to write. And bring plenty of coffee, you'll sleep when you get back.
- Turn off your phone. It's the little button on the side that's probably sticky because it's never been used. If you have a Galaxy Note 7, turn off your phone right now.
- Dial down the Internet as much as possible. Definitely no email. Block yourself from your browsers. If you use Firefox, LeechBlock is a great free add-on that can block out the specific sites you can't do without on a daily or hourly basis. If you're like me and have no self-control whatsoever, LeechBlock is absolutely essential.
- Write down the most important bullet points of the writing task, in outline format, beginning middle and end. Keep it simple, just one page. That's all Faulkner had for "The Sound and the Fury," so that's all you need, for now.
And then... BLAST out of the gate! Immerse every aspect of your mind into the deep end of the Writing pool. Pace the room, talk to yourself, shout to yourself, write longhand, blindfold yourself and blort out some Surreal automatic writing. Do whatever that thing is you need to do to tap into the deepest subconscious realm of your storytelling chops, fiction or non, and write like a madman or woman for one uninterrupted eight to twelve hour stretch until you fall over and crash onto the floor with a dull, hard THUMP! of sheer mental and physical exhaustion and then get up, make some fresh coffee, and do it all over again.
Don't worry about spelling, don't worry about grammar, just get it out. Get that shit out from the back of your head and onto the page. The goal is a quick, first, ugly draft. The rougher and uglier the better.
The Big Blast is a great way to inaugurate the habits of a solid and focused writing routine. Once you've got that rough draft in your back pocket, you'll soon need to figure out how you can integrate the rewriting and polishing phases of the work into your life so you can get that manuscript out the door to wherever it needs to go. Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, and the faster you can get a big pile of words onto the page that need to be whittled down, or whittled up, as the case may be, the better off you'll be.
Pick a time to write every day and stick to it. Maintain, on some level, that same intensity of The Big Blast every time you sit down to write. Your family and friends should live in fear of your wrath should they ever dare consider approaching you when you're at your desk, brow furled, in your writing zone.
Writing is Rewriting
There's a lot to be said for working like crazy in the beginning. I've read this from so many writers that it's clear that it's an integral part of any writer's success formula. And those same scribblers will tell you that the main part of the work is in the rewriting. That's where you're going to spend most of your time as a writer. That's where all the challenges lie hidden. That's where your true skills come into play. That's where you're going to find your story. And, as you'll soon come to learn, The Big Blast was a piece of cake, comparatively speaking.
When it comes to rewriting, I set aside a three or four hour block every day, and queue up some powerful music, like a Wagner opera or some hard-edged 70s Miles, like "On The Corner" or "Jack Johnson," the same music my Jamaican painter artistic mentor next-door neighbor Lloyd van Pitterson used to listen to while he painted in his garage almost every single day.
(Here's an insider's secret: if you can get two solid uninterrupted hours of writing in every day, that's a lot. That will take your writing to good places. But if you stretch your daily writing routine out over the full day, where you're half-looking at the TV or checking email or feeding your kids, you're not doing yourself any favors. Remember the Spartan habits and focus you cultivated during The Big Blast; get everything you need for those daily two three four hours so you can focus your attention with laser precision and unleash your full writing power.)
What Are You Waiting For?
For many years I used to have a sign above my desk which read, "What Are You Waiting For?" Having that right in my face every day was a great inspiration not just for my writing but to help me get my lazy ass on my horse, for all the things going on in my life. That little phrase helped me get a lot of things done, both personally and creatively, and it embiggened within me strong working habits and discipline. Double espressos definitely got the assist.
So, what are you waiting for? There's no time like the present for The Big Blast. Grab the chicken by the horns and blast out that first rough 'n ugly draft of whatever it is you want to get going. The sooner you can get some serious pages behind you, the sooner you can get down to the real business of writing—the always agonizing, always rewarding process of rewriting.