Creating a writing timeline

Today is one of those rare days where I have finished work early. The winter sky is still bright but gloomy, there’s a cup of hot drink in my hand and I have about 6 hours left of the day.

I’ve decided to draw up a schedule for the second draft of my book. I know that when I have no pressure and deadline for a project, I could work on it for hours and hours without progressing anywhere.

When I wrote the first draft for this soon-to-be book, I was able to finish it in eight weeks, because I told myself I was going to enter it into a writing competition, which I did.

Now that I have no looming deadline in place, my writing has slowed down. There is less of a frantic rush towards the finish line and when it comes to contemplating whether to watch TV or write, TV always wins.

I got a little kick in the butt over the weekend for my complacency when I realised that someone important to me didn’t believe that I could finish writing a book. It brought me back to those old days when I was called out for being naive and dumb for no particular reason. Not a pleasant feeling.

Anyway, I don’t like dwelling over unproductive thoughts like those, so the only thing I can do is put my head down and keep at it.

What I’ve learnt from writing the first draft is it’s important to map out the key stages in the writing process and set a deadline for each stage. That way I know what I am working towards and can see if I am making any progress.

Here is a rough outline of my writing schedule for the second draft of my soon-to-be book.

Writing timeline for second draft (Rough draft)

  • Complete rewritten outline: July 15
  • Complete ending: July 30
  • Complete events leading up to ending: August 15
  • Complete climax: August 30
  • Complete hook: September 15

Within each of these stages, there are roughly 3 chapters that I need to rewrite, (so twelve chapters in total). I’m currently plotting them out in a calendar, so will have that ready by tomorrow.

Writing the second draft ~ doubts and indecision

I’ve begun writing the second draft of my novel and I am plagued with doubts and indecision.

Most of the time it feels like there’s a gremlin sitting on my shoulder critiquing everything I write.

The main reason why I find this story particularly difficult, is because I haven’t figured out the right tone of voice.

Shall I make it sound realistic, with a touch of magical realism, or should I go all out and make it fantasy?

Who am I writing it for? Children? teens? or adults?

Thinking like this gets me nowhere and I end up going round and round in circles for hours with nothing to show.

I think the reason why I’m so critical of my writing is because I’m afraid to address the root of the issue: What if nobody likes my story? What if nobody reads it?

And so I try to write to please an imaginary audience.

Obviously, it’s not working.

Going back to the humble origins of the story

This story began as an ending. I wrote the last few paragraphs first, spontaneously while in bed, and forgot about it for a few months.

It wasn’t until lockdown that I took it out and reread it. What struck me about it, was its simplicity; a few paragraphs that said a lot. That was the tone I wanted to capture.

Now that I think about it, what I didn’t like about the first draft was how dramatic it had become; overly exaggerated storylines, unnecessary characters, like I was trying too hard. It lost its tone of simplicity and didn’t have the same sparkling effect it first had.

So I think I will work backwards. Start from the point of certainty, and branch out from there.

I wrote a 20,000 word story during lockdown

It might seem as though I haven’t written in ages, but that’s only because when I’m not writing here, I’m writing elsewhere.

During lockdown, I decided to make use of my time at home, by writing a book. I decided to enter a writing competition, because the only way I was going to finish writing a book, was to have a deadline.

It was one of the most mentally draining things I’ve ever done. Mostly because I still had to work from home, with deadlines being thrown at me left and right by my boss and our clients. To top things off, I got a 20% pay cut due to the lockdown, so I was starting to feel like I was slowly chipping away. The only time I had to write was during the evenings after work, but I was already so tired that I barely got much done.

But I was determined to finish. I wrote one word after another until I got to 15,000 words. By now you’d think that thing would start looking up for me, that I’d start to get my juices flowing, but it took a turn for the worse.

Three days before the deadline, I realised that I still had another 15,000 words to write. That was a painful blow. The goal that I set in mind, was beginning to fade away. I was running out of time. It was impossible to finish, so I did the only thing I could. I started writing anything. It didn’t even matter how good it was, I just needed to put one word in front of another to hit the 30,000 word mark.

On the second to last day before the deadline, I stayed up till 4am just so I could write 5000 more words.

And then I read the fine print. It said: 30,000 words is the minimum standard, but we’ll still read you story even if it’s under 30,000 words.

So I basically butchered my story just to reach 30,000 words, only to realise that I didn’t need to in the end.

If I were to describe this writing process, I would say that it was like running a quarter marathon (I’m referring to a quarter marathon because I’ve never run a full marathon before) where the last 2 km are just so excruciatingly painful that it feels like your ankles are going to fall off. But you keep running anyway, because you don’t want to be the person who gets stuck in the middle of the road and needs a lift to get back to the finish line.

Anyway, I’m still glad I wrote the story, because I’m treating that as the first draft and now I’m rewriting it a second time. Things are much clearer, I know how to make it flow, what’s going to happen, which parts I’m going to keep, all because I wrote a crappy first draft that exposed all the story’s flaws and shone a light on its strengths.

20,000 plus words is the longest I’ve ever written. Doing this has given me the muscles to write longer, and write better. I’m super proud of my story. I really am. I can see it coming together nicely and I can’t wait to show you guys a little bit of what it’s about.

Anyway, I’ll stop writing now because I’ve got to go sleep and I’m super tired. It’s 12:30 in the morning and I have to wake up early for work tomorrow (or I mean today). Goodnight!

How to get yourself out of a rut

Getting yourself out of a rut is like playing a video game. The first few levels are easy, the next few levels get harder. So you’ve got to level up if you want to move onto the next level.

How to level up

Level 1 — Learn a new skill.

When I wanted to get myself out of customer service and into a digital career, I learnt all the basics on how to code. I went to the library, I searched up online. I filtered out the good information from the bad. I was soaking in so much knowledge.

Productivity-wise, it wasn’t too hard. I was 24 at the time, so I had the energy to study in the evenings. I would come home from my easy customer service job, and study 3 to 4 hours before I went to sleep. I did this for a few months, then I started building a portfolio.

At this stage, I was on level 1 of the game. Things were easy. My life was easy. I lived home with my parents. Ofcourse, at the time I didn’t think it was easy. But looking back, the only skill I needed was to pick up a book and learn about the basics of coding.

Level 2 — Put the skill into practice

I applied for a few different jobs with my portfolio. Eventually, I landed a role in a design studio, creating digital modules for clients.

Looking back, transitioning from customer service to a new career wasn’t too hard. It only took two months of job seeking. But now I realise that it was because I was applying for entry level jobs in the digital field.

I was still operating at level 2 of the game. The only tool I needed really was my portfolio.

Level 3 — Find out what you need to improve on

After 3 years working there, I wanted to move on. More specifically, I wanted to move up. Somewhere where I would get better pay. But I didn’t know how to. Nor did I trust myself to take that leap.

At this time, I started paying attention to the things that I was good at, and also noticed the areas where I consistently needed help with. For instance, my boss would tell me that I was really good at instructional design, breaking down complex learning into simple steps. But my design skills were not up to scratch.

To advance to level 4, I needed 2 skills. Specialised knowledge and confidence.

Level 4 — Learn again but be specific.

This is where I’m currently at. Level 4. I need to hone in on my skills. More specifically, I need to identify the skills I need improving on, and work on them to become more efficient at them.

However, the game just got harder. I’m no longer 24. I’m now 27. Yeah, it’s not so old. But I have a mortgage, I get tired really quickly, getting to work and back takes 2 hours a day. There’s absolutely no way I can study the same way I used to at 24.

That’s why at this stage, when you’re pretty burnt out and exhausting all your energy, the only way out is to educate yourself. Really identify those skills that you need to get right. Don’t spend unnecessary time working on skills that aren’t going to get you out of a rut.

For example, I mentioned how I need to improve my design skills. Now that’s too broad and there’s so much I would need to learn to become an expert. But due to years of experience, I know exactly what areas of design I need to study:

  • I need to understand which pairs of font look good together.
  • I need to understand how to use the grid system to lay out eye catching pages.

I’m not going to learn things like how to create beautiful, handwritten typography. Or how to draw. None of these skills will help me advance in my learning design career.

And I also need to learn the theories behind how adults learn. This isn’t design related, but it’s specialist knowledge that I need to learn to advance in my field.

So, levelling up becomes a continuous cycle of learning and improving. Start by putting your current skills to practise, so that you can identify what skills you lack. To move onto the next level, you have to keep filling up your inventory with more specialised skills.

If you want to finish the game and be at the very top, keep learning.

A big decision

Last year, I wrote in my diary that I was going to quit my day job on the 25th March. Today is the 25th March. It’s also my birthday.

The funny thing is, when I wrote that little note in my diary, I didn’t know how I was going to be able to quit my job. I’d just bought a house, and taken out a huge mortgage, so I needed the money to pay for the bills.

I didn’t really think my little note was a remotely sensible or possible idea.

All I knew was that I wanted time. Enough time to work on writing a novel.

It wasn’t until the beginning of this year, when I applied for a freelance job, and got it, that I realised that this was my opportunity to buy myself some time.

If I quit my day job now, I will have time, say roughly a year to work on my novel. But if I quit my job a year from now, the freelance job might run out of projects for me to do and I might not get the opportunity of time to finish what I intended to finish.

Writing out my thought process has helped me validate my decision. I’ve actually taken a day off work today, so I won’t be able to quit today. But I could draft a resignation letter and hand it in this week. The thought of doing that makes me so nervous.

By no means am I quitting because I want to relax on the beach or do nothing. That’s a distinction I’ve been trying to be clear with myself about.

It’s a scary decision. I’ve been mulling over it for a while now. So many bad things could happen. The freelance job could run out of projects to do right now. I would’ve just quit a decent job. But on the other hand, good things could happen. So many good things if I promise to put in the time and effort I need to get things done.

I did ask for time. And I have an opportunity. Let’s see what I decide to do this week.

Productivity journal

I’ve only done 6 hours 40 minutes of freelance work this week. My aim is to do 10 hours a week. That means 3 hours 20 minutes left to go.

I still have tomorrow, Sunday, but it’s looking like a busy day for me, what with farewell parties to go to and visits to friend’s shops.

It’s 12:48am right now and I’m not a late sleeper so I’m going to have an extremely hard time waking up tomorrow morning.

My plan is to get up before 9:00 so I can fit in a couple hours of work before the social things.

I don’t feel very productive today. I spent most of the day on the couch with a pounding headache, eating Hawaiian pizza for lunch.

I managed to eat nearly a whole pizza by myself!

Somehow around 5:00pm I was able to crawl to my workspace and type out a few articles. Miraculously my headache disappeared!

I’m thinking I really need to add in a health routine to my daily life. And no not the gym. I prefer to look at some greenery while exercising.

Anyway I’m just going on about nothing right now. Soooo sleeeppy.

Goodnight.

Writing under the shade of a tree

Right now I’m using my break to sit and write under the shade of this big tree. I only have 15 minutes to finish this post before I have to return back to work. So I’ve got to hurry.

Why am I writing under a tree?

Before my office moved to the other end of the street, I used to do my personal writing at the library, during lunch time. Now that I’ve moved further away from the library, I’ve been scrounging around for neat little places to sit down and write.

Sometimes it’s impossible to find the energy to write after work, so I try to write throughout the day, in bits of time between my working hours.

Finding the perfect space to write

Nothing can replace the feel of a nice, soft spot in the library, but if you have no choice but to sit outside and write, then find somewhere that’s partially private.

Writing delves into the subconscious, and if you’re one of those people who can’t think when people are staring at you, then a nice shaded area, dense with trees, is the perfect place to write.

I want to write more but I have to go back to work. I’ll be here again, making use of this private writing spot. I hope to spend more of this time working on my novel.