Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Art of Finishing: Write for Yourself First

I just finished the first draft of a new screenplay, about 130 pages long. It’s always nice when you finish something. Finish, by the way, is a relative term. For writers, the key word/s is first draft. Until that first draft is completed what you have is an uncompleted piece of work. Once that first draft is done, now you can really get down to work because you have some­thing to work on. Then draft after draft of rewriting, revising, rearranging you can take your story closer to finishing a final draft.

Chances are, though, this will merely be the first final draft. Later, after the newness has worn off, after there’s been a cooling off period, after it failed to create the huge impact on the world as you had hoped, you’ll take another look at it. Hopefully, you’ve got some feedback along the way, so now you can see it with fresh eyes and start rewriting, revising, rearranging. You may add more stuff, delete some stuff, change the title, change some character’s names or make it clearer what drives them, perhaps by adding some back story or adding a new scene to dramatize some action that solidifies their character. You may rewrite the beginning a dozen more times, or the ending, too, while you’re add it, to create the desired effect.

Of course this all comes later, but first you must actually finish that first draft! Whether it’s an article, short story, screenplay, novel makes no difference. Finishing is finishing.

How do you finish anything? It’s a lot like, how do you save money? Pay yourself first –that’s what I always hear and it seems to be working! Before you spend any money or pay any bills, put part of your income (starting small if necessary) into the bank or into some safe investment. You do this automatically. To make sure it actually gets done, have it automatically deducted from your paycheck!

Unfortunately, when it comes to writing, you can’t automatically write your novel, but you can use the same principle, write for yourself first. Instead of writing for everyone else, which includes replying emails, blog comments, and checking out everyone else’s blogs and adding your own replies, and then cruising the Internet to see what everyone else on the planet is doing, you commit your time – maybe your first one or two hours to what you want to write (and want to finish).

Once you get that first hour in under your belt, you may want to keep on writing. Momentum is everything! And that’s great! Use it! If you need a quick break, or really do need to catch up on your emails and blog comments, then by all means do that, but please make it quick, or the four hours you had planned to write that Sunday afternoon will quickly evaporate.

Like saving money, writing comes down to discipline, but if you make a commitment to yourself, to the writer you wish to become, to the author of the books you wish to write, and if you stick to your plan (and don’t take a quick peek at your email before that first hour or two of writing is done) you may actually get something written.

Because if you do take a quick peek at your inbox (all of them!), you may think, I can clear a few of these in a couple of minutes (and while you’re at it a few more, and few more – a few minutes add up to a few hours, by the way) or you just may stumble upon an interesting, ongoing saga/problem/miscommunication from a dear (or even a long lost) friend. In comparison, even when sorting out a potential email headache, this may seem a lot more interesting than staring at that blank screen to write what you really want to write but lack in discipline to start, let along seeing it through until that first draft gets completed.

I’ve been there, done that, in both squandering precious writing time (I only had two hours to write and it all went to email - which prompted this blog!) or the other extreme of ignoring emails until they balloon to 200. Yeah, I feel really guilty about taking weeks to reply friends, but feel really good because I’ve taken a back burner project from a year ago (my screenplay idea), to seeing it completed, even if it’s merely a first draft. Feels great!

First drafts, no matter how crappy they really are, are, in fact, great! Finally, you got it done! You took it that far, too, and by applying the same discipline of writing for yourself first each day (or each writing opportunity), you’ll soon have a second draft, a third draft. Then it’ll be ready to be sent out into the world. Sure it may come right back, but that’s writing, and as a writer you keep at it until you do get it right and that’s how articles, short stories, screenplays, and books get written and published.

So always write for yourself first! While you’re at it, save some of money, too. You may need it to celebrate that breakthrough sale that sets you on your way to publishing success. Good luck.

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 


Yusuf/Martin said...

Sorry for being so late in congratulating you on Lovers and Strangers.

Well done for this publication, many more to follow I hope.

Lost your email address when my mail engine wiped out most of my addresses.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi Yusuf/Martin!
I'll be making a couple of trips to Penang including to USM for PBT conference in October. I'll be at Little Street Penang giving a reading on August 31. Robert

Romie Daniel said...

I bought a copy of "Lovers and Strangers Revisited" yesterday at Bangsar, KL. I enjoyed reading the foibles of Malaysian. Congratulations. If you do happened to visit Betong, about 4 hours drive from Kuching, please inform me, I like to meet and show you around the places. Regards.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi, thanks for the invite and picking up a copy of the book! I haven't been there so that would be interesting. Perhaps you could leave me your email on my website email account. You never know! Thanks

All the best.

Christine Jalleh said...

Hi Robert - this is a great post!

As a newbie freelance writer, I've often had to remind myself that I NEED to disconnect the internet in order to write.

You've outlined the various distractions to a tee :)

I remember you from USM although I never had the chance to take your classes (I was from the School of H).

UNIMAS has a beautiful campus and Kuching is a really friendly place - I'm sure you enjoy teaching there. Cheers!

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Thanks. It's sotrue too and the tempatations are always a click away! The old Unimas campus was pretty, but the new one is like an industral park. They do have a lake, and perhaps when in ten years when the trees are grown it'll be lovely. I was recently back at USM and missed it very much.