Starting a manuscript is actually pretty easy. You just start writing. Finishing a manuscript, on the other hand, is hard. Really hard. Running a marathon and crossing the finish line on your hands and knees kind of hard.
Most writers never finish the race.
That’s why I respect any person who can finish a manuscript, regardless of quality. I’ve written over twenty books and none of them were easy.
To finish your book requires so many sacrifices, most of them related to time.
Time away from family (that’s a tough one!).
Time that could otherwise be spent on hobbies or rest.
Time away from your vocation.
Before launching into any book, I expect to spend at least 150 hours working on my manuscript.
A couple of years ago, the Illumify staff created a survey for a writers conference. One of the questions we asked the writers in attendance was,
“Other than time, what is your biggest obstacle to writing?”
I removed “time” from the options because I knew it would rank high. Here’s a breakdown of their answers:
I don’t know what I’m doing 23%
Writer’s block 9%
Physical limitations 3%
Interestingly enough, most of the respondents who selected “Other”, wrote the word “time” in the corresponding comment box. This happened time and time again.
Do you feel the pain?
So here are six time-saving tips to help you cross the finish line with your manuscript:
#1. Recognize Your Rhythms. I’m a morning person. In my younger days I realized that my best writing time was between 5:00 and 7:00 in the morning. When I worked full time as a freelance writer, I blocked out 5:00 to about 10:30 every morning. Afterward I went to the gym, showered, took a nap, worked on my freelancing business, and then wrote from 3:00 (the time I started waking up) until about 5:00.
I realize that you likely work a day job so this isn’t always feasible, but if you’re a morning person, you might consider waking up a little earlier, brewing a strong cup of coffee, and diving into your manuscript.
Or maybe you’re a late-night person like Karen Bouchard, our Master Book Coach. She sends me emails on her way to bed as I’m waking up.
Recognizing your best writing time allows you to maximize the few hours you have.
Trust me: you can accomplish more in one hour of writing when your creative juices are flowing than a full day of writing when you’re feeling blah.
When you feel your creative juices flowing, drop everything and start writing if you can.
If you’re at work when you get an idea for your manuscript, by all means jot it down. Which leads me to another tip…
#2. Start a Bullet Journal. If you don’t know what this is, a Bullet Journal is a system that helps you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.
For the sake of time, I won’t go into the details, but a couple of years ago, I stumbled onto a system that enables me to keep my plans, thoughts, and ideas in one place. If you’re at work and you get a sudden burst of inspiration, just pull out your Bullet Journal and capture those good ideas.
Recording that burst of inspiration often helps you return to that creative burst at a later time. I need 45 minutes of writing before my creative juices start flowing. This primes the pump.
In the movie Elf, renowned children’s author Miles Finch (actor Peter Dinklage) is hired to save Walter’s job (Buddy the Elf’s dad) at the publishing company. And what does Miles Finch carry with him wherever he goes? A little black book to record all of his brilliant ideas.
#3. Outline. Mary Poppins is my favorite movie (don’t judge!). In one scene, she tells Jane and Michael Banks, “Well begun is half done.” Brainstorming book ideas is beneficial, but when the time comes to knuckle down and tackle that project, you should begin by outlining your book.
This is also known by another term: Table of Contents—or TOC.
I once spent an entire week working on a book outline by writing the main ideas on sheets of paper and then reordering them until it made sense.
THIS. WILL. SAVE. YOU. TIME.
#4. Turn off your distractions. When I need to focus, I leave my cellphone in the other room, turn off the ringer, and then exit my email program. I don’t know about you, but email is the bane of my existence. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
MS Word has a “Focus” option that shifts your attention to the document at hand. In fact, I wrote my first draft of this blog post with “Focus” turned on.
#5. Create A “Deadline” Spreadsheet. I’m not an Excel whiz, but I’ve learned how to maneuver the program so I can create a spreadsheet that helps me monitor my progress.
I use this with every book I write.
To begin, I determine my manuscript’s target word count, which usually lands between 40,000 and 55,000 words. Then I decide on the date my manuscript needs to be completed. With that information, I can establish the average word count per week that I need to hit. It can also help me discover my average word count per day that I need to write.
I usually add this information at the top of my spreadsheet.
After outlining the book, I add the front matter (i.e. Dedication, Foreword, Introduction, etc) and chapter numbers and/or titles to successive rows going down the left side of the document. Then I create the following columns:
Word Count Target
Actual Word Count
A word about “Word Count Target”: Plotting out the word count for the Introduction or Epilogue or your chapters is important. Perhaps you know you have a long chapter. In that case, you may need to compensate in other chapters. This will help prevent you from writing too much, WHICH SAVES TIME.
Also, the front matter and back matter are usually shorter than the chapters, so this helps you plan accordingly.
By using the “Sum” button on the Word Count columns, I can keep a running total on the number of words.
The best part about the spreadsheet: it establishes manageable deadlines. Without them, your book will take twice as long to write, at a minimum.
Let me say this a different way: without regularly scheduled deadlines, your manuscript probably won’t get written. Not for me, anyway.
#6. Hire A Book Coach. Why take your book in multiple directions, or in a direction that doesn’t directly benefit your readers? Instead of needlessly spinning your wheels, enlist the services of a coach who will answer your questions, brainstorm ideas, and help bring your book to life.
Every author needs a team of specialists who will help them complete the manuscript. Without them, their manuscripts tend to lack focus, clarity, and appeal — despite their powerful message or story.
Illumify has world-class book coaches who can guide you through the writing process, from start to finish (line).
Would you like the spreadsheet I’ve used to write over 20 books?