Survival Guide

Stuck? Don’t know where to begin? No sweat. Here’s a handy FAQ:

Q: I’ve never done this before, and I’d like to have an outline. How big a story should I be planning?

A: The average write-fighter clocks in at around 100-120 pages. About the length of a Hollywood movie. When outlining your story, think of the way a Hollywood movie typically plays out. Without bogging you down with too much screenwriting theory, your story will be comprised of a beginning, middle, and end, in roughly 8 distinct 15-paged sequences. The first 25-30 pages (or first 2 sequences) would be your first act, the next 50-60 pages would be your middle 4 sequences, and your final 25-30 pages would be your 2 final sequences. For the sake of outlining, I’d devote a paragraph to each of these 8 sequences. At the VERY MOST. Just to give you the gist of your story. Shouldn’t be longer than a single page. You don’t want to burn yourself out before you start, after all!

Q: It’s the morning of the first day. I don’t have a premise yet. WTF do I do? Right now I’m just staring at a blank page.

A: Definitely do not just stare at a blank page. Do one of these 3 things instead:

  1. Pick up a newspaper. Any newspaper. Find a shocking story. Imagine that happened to you. Go!

  2. Think of your favourite book. The protagonist likely had to make a very difficult choice early on, and there would have been consequences. Now change the setting and genre, and have the main character act more like you. Maybe you’d have made a different choice. Go!

  3. Use a plot generator, such as the Reedsy Plot Generator or the CanLit Generator. This will give you something completely random, and not all of the premises will make sense. Keep refreshing until you get one you like. I did this myself in 2020, and completely pantsed my way through my 3-Day Novella. I found the experience so rewarding I made a special prize category for it. See a premise you like? Good. Go!

Q: How much of my 3 days should be devoted to editing?

A: This depends somewhat on how much of a perfectionist you are. I personally find that if I write half the story on the first day, then half the story on the second day, there is just enough time to edit it all properly on the third day. In short:

Day 1: Write sequences 1-4 (ideally at least 50 pages)

Day 2: Write sequences 5-8 (ideally another 50 pages)

Day 3: Edit, and make any last-minute section re-writes!

Q: How much time should I devote to food and sleep?

A: Definitely get as much sleep as you would normally get. Pulling an all-nighter will likely not improve your productivity. The quality of your writing will also suffer. So get enough sleep. Your brain needs the rest. Also, take regular breaks to stretch, feed yourself, and your family/dog/cat. Just don’t procrastinate. Don’t get lost in the Facebook vortex, or go preparing a three-hour, three-course meal. Don’t try to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! Just take care of yourself, stay focused, and you should be fine.

Q: I’m stuck on this one chapter. I’m not really sure how proceed. (AKA Writer’s Block.)

A: Skip it. Skip to the next part. You don’t have time to spin your wheels trying to write a scene you’d likely later delete anyway. Any section you aren’t sure how to write, just summarize the essential thing that happened in a single sentence, and swiftly move to the next part of the story that interests you.

Q: I’m hours away from the end of the 3rd and final day, and I’m still not even done the rough draft. Am I totally borked?

A: No. But it’s time to wrap the story up. Even if you had a lot more planned, you’re better off finishing it at this point.

Q: I’m mere minutes away from midnight. I’m still not done. WTF do I do?

A: Repeat after me. “They never saw the [insert disaster here: comet, giant meatball, Howard Stern’s butt, etc.] coming. Then they all died. Or got fired / dumped / divorced. If only they’d completed [whatever subplot] faster… Or if only they’d learned from it. But they didn’t. And they regret it to this very day.” Or something to that effect. It won’t be the most masterful ending ever, but at least you’ll have one. There’s nothing more maddening than a story abruptly

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