This post is for those of you afflicted with the desire to write. Maybe you’ve tried all the right medications, maybe you’ve gone through rehab and gotten clean a few times, maybe you’ve even been through conversion therapy and pretended to be a happy human being who enjoys getting up and going to a job. Yet, for some reason your mind keeps coming back to an empty page.
If this is you, and if you’ve been at it long enough to write what you consider to be a large document — maybe fifty pages, maybe five hundred; it doesn’t matter — I’d like to pass along a little psychological survival tip that has kept me from doing something foolish over the years, either to myself or the project I’m working on.
While any first draft has its agonies, the fact that you don’t know how long your work will eventually be prevents you from thinking about your percentage of completion — assuming you’re not one of those numerologists who believes documents for certain mediums should always conform to specific page counts. Once your first draft is finished, however, you know exactly how much work you have to do to get through the next pass, and that in itself can prove daunting.
For example, if you’ve written a three hundred page novel, you know going in that you’re going to have to gut through a hundred and fifty pages just to reach the halfway point of the next revision. No matter how much you love writing that’s nobody’s idea of fun, and the more passes you have to make the more such awareness can take a toll, turning each draft into its own little death march.
Well, here’s the good news. When you’re revising a long document all you need to do is make it to 60%. If you can get there, if you can hang on that long, finishing the other 40% is easy precisely because of the math involved. (You may think, based on your prior history with math, that you’re not the kind of person who pays attention to percentages, but there is a primal part of your brain called the percental cortex that is solely devoted to doing exactly that.) [ Read more ]