How do I stay focused and start with my outline and manuscript? I have a plot in my mind since 5 years and haven't even started my first word on it yet!
DO IT: First, what is stopping you from writing? Is it a desperately busy life? If so, 'fish or cut bait.' If you don't have time to do even a little writing, you aren't going anywhere.
DO SOMETHING: I think you're feeling overwhelmed by the scale of writing. It's easier not to write than contemplate writing a whole book. The key is to start small. I had piles of notes-to-self with ideas, great lines, or the sketches of really great scenes (separate from the rest) before I hunkered down and started writing. Do you have this? It's a great way to begin building an outline.
HAVE FUN: I started by writing the scene that had the most power for me. By the time I actually GOT to that scene in writing, I had completely shifted things and had to start from scratch. But writing that scene got my blood pumping like a runner's high. I KNEW I had to write.
DO A LITTLE: Remember you aren't writing the whole book, just the next scene. Then the chapter. Then the next. If you aren't enjoying the writing, you will be frustrated and stop. You can keep the whole book in mind, but fixate on small, enjoyable steps and pieces.
DO, THEN REPEAT: Next, make a habit of writing. Spend at least 15 min each day writing. Don't go to bed without doing so. If that means scribbling on the back of a napkin for 15 min, fine. 15 min staring at a computer screen is focusing on the story. Write total garbage that you'll delete tomorrow rather than do nothing. Until it's published, everything is soft and re-writable. Paralysis is way more dangerous to your writing than bad writing.
PRACTICE: Remember that writing takes practice. Assume what you start with is going to be rewritten before you publish, and don't worry about it. You keep getting better the more you do it. You may want to consider writing a short story first. I struggled with short stories (my mind doesn't work in short form) but in retrospect it was great practice. I do better if I treat the short story like a good scene out of a larger story. You may use this technique to make a series of short stories that frame out the bulk of you novel, and you can splice them together and fill in the gaps.
To stay motivated, you have to have a reason to write. Whether this is just because you want to or hope to eventually publish, you just need a reason. The better reason the more likely you are to stay focused on your own.
To stay focused, I use an html based site to type, then turn off my wifi. This keeps me off other sites and the only thing left to do is type. There are also a few programs you can use to restrict certain sites at certain times if there are a few trouble sites keeping you distracted.
Note that this is coming from a perspective of a technical author but I believe some of the advice may apply to your case as well so I thought to answer.
In my experience, you may find the following things helpful:
- Capture your ideas and observations to a system. This can be an application or a group of text files. During writing, you can fall back to the system if you feel like you've met a dead end or need inspiration.
- Develop a writing routine - I've split my days into smaller sections during which I do my tasks. When you get into a flow, it can be difficult to stop.
- Don't expect to write a book linearly from beginning to the end. You may find that certain parts are easier or make more sense to write first. You may also notice that after working for a while, you'll want to rework other portions.
- Don't stress too much about getting it right on the first run and expect to rewrite the content as you go. What I mean is that in writing, it's as much about editing as it's about writing itself. It's important to develop both your writing and editing skills as both are needed in the process.
- When it comes to an outline and structuring, although having a rough outline in mind is helpful, I've found that at least in my work I tend to alter the structure as I go. Initial outline is merely a starting point and the end result may be quite different.
- If you are dealing with fiction and characters, it may make sense to write biographies for the characters and think about their relations. Even if the readers won't see this information, it will help in writing as you have to make decisions.
- The same applies for the world you are modeling and coming up with some kind of fictional history is likely useful while writing as it will act as your reference while adding consistency to the writing.
- To get early reader feedback, consider publishing initial writings in the web through blog posts. The content doesn't necessarily have to end up in the book. The target would be to get used to writing and thinking about the topic. If people begin to give you feedback, that can be motivating by itself and help you keep going.
- Speaking of feedback, try to find a couple of friends or authors that can help you to improve the content. Especially for a beginning author, it can help a lot to have extra pairs of eyes to help with the process and doing this can save time as well while improving your skills.
Here's how I do it:
- Have something vitally important to say. Something that you know the world needs to hear.
- Be aware death is always present and might rob you of the opportunity to do 1 if you don't get going (Covid-19 has gotten me almost 90 000 words into my current WIP since April!)
- Draw blanks when imagining what you would do if you didn't write. I've toyed with the idea of what I'd do if I gave up writing... I've come to the conclusion that I'd eventually end up writing something else...
- Certifiable stubbornness...
- Think of writing as a craft rather than witchcraft. If you are uncertain how to start, maybe you need to learn more?
- Write! You can't edit a blank paper, but once you start writing you have something to work with, you realize you need information on people, places, etc (and what info you need) and you can get direction in your research.
- Don't be afraid to pause writing for research if you can't go on without it.
- Don't be afraid to fix earlier chapters if you feel you can't go on without having fixed them (though, keep the nitty-gritty grammar editing at a low when writing the first draft... but if that strange character arc keeps preventing you from continuing writing that character's development, by all means, go back and fix it)
- Your process is your process and no one can tell you how to do it. The goal is to produce texts and then make them shine in editing.
Remember how achievable your goal really is. 70,000 words is an entirely reasonable goal for a first novel. If you're a power writer (and don't necessarily care too much about the quality of your first draft), 10,000 words a day is entirely doable -- if a bit taxing. That means, with a full-time effort, you can have a first draft down in as little as a week!
Now, am I saying you should just take your next 168 hours and just get it done? Of course not. But the awareness that you could can be very, very powerful. Use it to set smaller goals. 20,000 a week if you want to do it in a month. Perhaps even 2,000 a week if you want to do it in a year. It doesn't matter if you go over. Getting into flow is good.
Ultimately, knowing by numbers just how possible something is is a great motivator for myself and many other people. See if it works for you.