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How to Keep Writing? Break It Down.

photo by Jeff Golden [1]
photo by Jeff Golden

Please welcome multi-published author-extraordinaire Claire Cook today to Writer Unboxed! Claire wrote her first novel in her minivan when she was 45. At 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She is now the USA Today bestselling author of twelve books and a sought after reinvention speaker. Her latest book, called Never Too Late, is a writer’s helpmate and resource tool, and an writer’s autobiography of sorts for Claire. Said Claire about the book:

Reinvention is the theme of my novels as well as my life. It’s now the subject of my first nonfiction book, too. In NEVER TOO LATE: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way), I share everything I’ve learned on my own journey that might help others in theirs, including tips for pulling together a support system, building your platform in the age of social networking, dealing with fear and the inevitable ups and downs, overcoming perfectionism, and tuning in to your authentic self to propel you toward your goals. I also talk about my jump to hybrid publishing and how the Must Love Dogs movie really happened.

While not technically a writing book, I hope Never Too Late will be a useful resource for writers.

She’s with us today to provide an excerpt from Never Too Late, about how to keep on writing by breaking the work down into manageable chunks.

You can learn more about Claire and her many books on her website [2], by following her on Faceboo [3]k and Twitter [4] and Google+ [5].


(Excerpted from Never Too Late. © 2014 Claire Cook. All rights reserved.)

It’s helpful to have a North Star of sorts as you’re reinventing your life, too. Whenever I start to feel lost, I focus on my daily pages and they pull me back on track.

When I’m writing a novel, I write two pages (Times New Roman, 12 point, double-spaced, single-sided) a day, seven days a week. Oh, puh-lease, you’re probably thinking. Two paltry pages? You could write twenty pages at a single sitting with one hand tied behind your back.

Well, sure you could. I bet if you were really determined, you could wake up tomorrow and walk twenty miles, too. And then you’d limp around for the rest of the month, icing your shin splints, promising yourself that you’ll get back to walking again one day. Soon. Really soon.

No matter what is or isn’t happening in my life, I can write two pages a day. Consistently. Day in and day out. And at the end of five or six months, even factoring in a few inevitable I just can’t do it any more meltdowns, I have the first draft of a book. Rinse. Repeat. And that’s why I’m now the author of eleven books. And counting.

Another advantage to this approach is that I’m essentially living in the book as I write it, thinking about it constantly, jotting things down all day long and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I often stop writing for the day before I’m tapped out. This means I have a place to start the next day, which takes some of the pressure off. Sometimes I quickly type a whole bunch of things I don’t want to forget at the bottom of the page before I close the document. Sometimes I reach for the nearest notebook and scribble them there. But I try not to let myself actually write ahead, because I’ve found that, for me, that usually makes the next day’s writing much harder.

The next morning, I reread and polish the pages I wrote the day before as a way to find my way into my characters’ heads and voices again. I don’t allow myself to go back any farther than that at this point, unless I have a specific reason to do so. If I went back to the beginning at the start of every writing day, my perfectionist streak would kick in, and I’d still be tweaking chapter one of my very first novel. My goal at this point is to push forward, because I can’t make a book better if I haven’t written it.

Instead of two pages a day, I know lots of writers who set a time quota. Two hours. Or four. Or twelve.

This wouldn’t work for me, simply because I can’t be trusted. I would cheat. I’d start with the best of intentions. I’d open the manuscript, type a sentence, delete it, type it again. Then I’d check email, do a little bit of Internet “research,” answer the phone, check Facebook, throw in a load of laundry, have a snack, check Twitter. And about fifteen minutes before my writing time was up for the day, I’d write really fast, trying to make up for what I hadn’t done.

NeverTooLate_FB [6]I have to paint myself into a corner. Not only do I commit to two pages a day, seven days a week, but I write the page numbers on a paper calendar when I finish writing them. I know, way dorky, but it works. Because I can tell beyond the shadow of a doubt that yesterday I wrote pages 131 and 132, which means that today I absolutely have to write pages 133 and 134. Like most novelists, I have an active imagination, and this, coupled with my fair share of self-destructive tendencies, means that if I don’t do this, I’m thoroughly capable of convincing myself that I’ve written my daily pages when I really haven’t. Because I’ve agonized over those pages so much it almost feels like I’ve written them.

My deal with myself is that I’m not allowed to go to sleep until my daily pages are written. Sometimes it’s relatively painless and I finish early and then move on to the rest of the day. Sometimes it’s not, and I find myself sitting in my office at 11 P.M., just trying to live through that second page so I can finally go to bed. It gets ugly sometimes, but my pages get done.

So figure out your own version of my two pages a day. Maybe you’re more trustworthy than I am, so devoting an hour or two a day to drafting the roadmap to your reinvention will work for you. Perhaps doing two concrete things a day to move you in the right direction makes more sense. Or maybe you decide your first step is to register for an online class to give you some essential skills you need before you go any further.

If this is sounding way too loosey-goosey to you, you might feel your time would be better spent creating an action plan. Preferably with lots of bullet points. Or a Pinterest board, which for me would be total procrastination, but for you might be just the thing you need to move you forward. Go for it.

Whatever you decide your two pages a day will be, commit to it. Open your notebook and write it down. And either get a dorky calendar like I use, or make sure you build in some other measurable strategy for making yourself accountable along the way. Because trust me, some days will be harder than others. Some days you will want to cheat.

Readers, how do you break it down?

You can download your free Never Too Late workbook and find out more at ClaireCook.com [7].