On Writing a Novel: Drafting until it’s Drafted

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Drafting — or as I described it in my post on planning and research — the horrible, rough, manic, shit-storm that makes beautiful novels possible.

Just as planning and research is accomplished in different forms depending on the specific writer’s process, drafting happens for each writer in a way only they can truly understand. It is a little bit magic, a lot determination, fueled by adrenaline and insanity and caffeine. While there are different processes and methods, there are some constants that most every writer adheres to, and those are what I will focus on in this post.

Write Tip #1: You can start at the beginning. You can start at the end. You can write the inciting incident because it is the seed idea and therefor all you can actually see. But one thing is certain…YOU MUST WRITE SOMETHING.

There is a safety in research and planning, an insulation around your idea and it’s fragile bones that makes opening a blank Word document and actually writing feel a little bit like throwing your precious into the middle of a tornado. It will be tossed around some — this is a reality you must accept. Your fear is not a reason to stay in the safe zone.

I have written some horrifically bad sentences in my first drafts. Bad enough that I cannot even believe I am showing one to you. Nevertheless, here is a line from the first draft of my novel Redhunt:

I step onto a landing that opens into the kitchen and it’s dark, lit only by the morning light through the window.

With revision that sentence was cut. The scene around it was also cut and forgotten until today. It served its purpose — its only purpose really — to facilitate the forward motion of drafting.

Write Tip #2: Keep writing forward. You can do some minor revision as you go along, reread the pages you ended with during your last writing session to jumpstart, but the key to finishing is to not look back for long.

You will realize there are problems in your manuscript as you are writing it. Every single writer, whether a first timer or seasoned pro, has inconsistencies in their first drafts. The purpose of a first draft is to get the story out of your head and onto the page (or screen). A common mistake in drafting is going back to read through what you’ve written. Thus begins the eternal edit loop that will kill your momentum and silence the creative voice inside your head.

Instead, reserve any major revisions until the end of the manuscript. This is what you should especially do if you have attempted to write a novel before but never completed the task. A writer who has a few manuscripts under their belt might be able to seamlessly jump from past pages to current, revising and drafting at the same time, but that takes a level of skill most of us won’t achieve for a very long time.

Write Tip #3: Find rewards for hitting word count goals, or scene goals, or plot point goals. Further, make sure to set a goal when drafting and find a way to keep yourself accountable.

If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I frequently update my feed with progress reports, failures, reward system announcements, and any other thing I can think to Tweet that will mark my progress.

I have used caramels and alcohol, an episode of a TV show that I am really into (Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, Game of Thrones episode largely featuring Jon Snow, etc.), pages in a novel I am currently reading and dying to get back to, as a reward for meeting my drafting goals.

Write Tip #4: Set a deadline to finish. I am a goal oriented person, which you can probably tell by the above tip. But having a deadline is less about a goal, and more about prioritizing your writing over watching TV, shittin’ around on the internet, or, yes, even reading.

No one is going to finish your book for you. Writing is you and your characters, their story, and nothing else. It is a dark room of silence. It is screaming into the void of your imagination. You can have a gaggle of cheerleaders at your back, but if you don’t sit your ass in that chair and turn thoughts into words on a page you will never have a book. If you cannot complete a draft, you cannot revise.

In order to be an author you will have to meet deadlines. Start now. Maybe you don’t make it, but don’t plan on failing. Don’t let yourself off the hook. The misery of beating yourself up about a deadline is the joy of finishing on time.

Write Tip #5: Finish it. Make is messy and wild and break every rule in the book. You can fix it later. You’ll slash sentences and circle paragraphs, writing in red ink WTF?, when you do your read through. Don’t stop until you have typed THE END.

 

 

 

 

What’s Up Wednesday: Writing Cave

TreeWUWWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime or Erin’s blog.

This is my first What’s up Wednesday to use Jaime’s adorable new buttons. Oh geez, I love them.

What I’m Reading

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Yeah. Not much right now. I read the awesome and moving and hilarious and awesome Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy last week, then nothin’, nada, nil. I do have an excuse, I will elaborate on that more fully below. All I can say is I have a stack of books by my bed and on my computer that are desperate for my attention and starting to get testy.

What I’m Writing

That thing I said I’d elaborate on, well, prepare for some sweet, sweet knowledge. If you follow me on Twitter, you might know — because it only actually happens if I put it on Twitter — that in the last two weeks I have added 16,000 words to my YET TO BE TITLED work-in-progress. Below is a true-life depiction of what I currently look like.

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I’m so pretty and dainty. I have a self-imposed deadline of April 1st. Why? BecauseIdoshutup. As of today it looks like I need 10-12,000 words until I can type The End. In honor of progress, and even though I get really embarrassed posting my writing anywhere ever, I’m including a tiny, baby snippet. (Be gentle, it’s rough.)

Cheers rise like roaring beasts around the room. In the burst of celebration, I finally look at her. Her eyes are pinned to the King, her hands pinch the fabric of her skirt, nervous, but she smiles. I almost reach for her hands, planning to flatten them against her skirt like always. A gentle reminder that she has nothing to fear — but I can’t touch her now, I can’t help her now.

My place is no longer beside her.

What Inspires Me

I don’t even know because it’s all a haze right now. I think the idea of finishing this book, for one. Requests from agents on my other book and positive feedback, for another. Seeing the word count edge higher everyday, and with it the realization that I will finish this thing before it finishes me.

Daily chats with writer friends that encourage and empower. You ladies know who you are.

I went to the Side Effects May Vary Launch and Signing. The turnout was phenomenal, and so, of course that is super inspirational, but it was seeing how it affected Julie that really hit me. Hard. Writers work so many hours on their books, give so much of their life-force, their soul and heart and brain, to these fictional worlds. Writers, us, we live in the bubble of our worlds and our characters and them mattering to only us for so long, that when it finally comes time for them to matter to others the fact that they do can be shocking — wonderful, but shocking. julieme

 

What Else I’m Up To

A few weeks ago, agent Maria Vincente with P.S. Literary put out a call for contributors, regular or special feature, to her blog I Believe in StoryI applied and was accepted, which was awesome. My first blog post, up today, is a Character Study on Jon Snow. Yeah. You’re gonna want to go read that. Follow I Believe in Story on Twitter to get blog updates. I am really excited to be collaborating with Maria. It has been a fabulous experience thus far.

Binge watching Veronica Mars. Saturday evening my husband and I were supposed to attend a reunion show for our awesome friend’s band. We couldn’t because child-dog care didn’t work out. We had never watched Veronica Mars, and with all the chatter about the movie, and all my friends being hashtag marshmallows, I just had to check it out. Hooked like a kid on phonics, I tell ya.

Lamenting over the soon-to-be loss of Psych (Tonight, 9/8c, USA). My husband and I have watched this show since it began back in July, 2006, or for the entirety of our marriage thus far. It’s a big deal for us. There will be a full blog post on the topic Friday, here on the blog, once I have dealt with my feelings. Or to help me deal with my feelings. Or to bitch about my feelings. Whatever. Stay tuned.

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Happy (Sad for me) Wednesday!

 

 

Writer Recharge Wrap-Up

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For more on Writer Recharge please follow this link. A huge thank you to the brilliant ladies who came up with it. It is always awesome writing with you guys — even if it’s in the virtual sense.

First, my goals for the month:

  • Finish my YA Fantasy WiP. I’ve been steadily building this world and story since August 2013. I need to finish the draft.
  • Finish the TV pilot I began work on in January.
  • Stop starting new ideas until the other ones are finished.
  • Title the YA Fantasy WiP because I’m tired of calling it (awkwardly) Banyan Book.

I met exactly one of my goals. Care to guess which one?

Anybody, anybody?

Bueller? Bueller?

If you guessed, stop starting new ideas until the other ones are finished, then well done. And, to be fair, that was hard for me.

While I didn’t finish my draft, or the TV pilot, of title this manuscript anything less awkward, I did make headway on all fronts. I added word count or scene count. I discovered important layers to my own plot. I had an amazing writers retreat where I connected with other writers I hope to know, support and be enriched by for years to come.

Most importantly, I rediscovered a love of the story. Not just this particular story, but all of them. The undiscovered. The already ignoring. The previously written. February ends with me firmly in love again with just writing. Writing for the mere fact that I must, I am compelled, and I am inspired. That is a huge gift.

I have new goals. Goals to finish this draft in the next two weeks or so, and now I know how to do it thanks to this month. And I am very energized.

Writing Again

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I want to take a few minutes out of my Friday to talk about writing…again. Over the past two months, I have been taking a much needed break from writing. Well, I should rephrase, a break from writing a novel. I did plenty of blogging, and brainstorming, and worked on scripts for the webseries I’m doing with a group of teen writers and actors, but not a word was written in a manuscript.

My first novel took a lot out of me. One friend compared the experience of finishing a book (and by finishing, I mean being done with revision) to post-partum or baby blues. I loved this comparison, because it gave a rhyme and reason to the utter sense of emptiness I was left with when it was over.

Beyond emptiness was exhaustion. Beyond exhaustion was nagging, terrifying fear.

What if I had put all my writing talent into one book?

How did I do it?

Can I actually write an epic fantasy sequel?

Why did I decide to do a book that would require a sequel as my first novel?

Side question: Why the hell did I pick fantasy with extensive world building?

These are just a few of the questions that began to surface in my time off, leading me to a paralytic state whenever I sat down at my computer. The first few weeks off were bliss. I was in Hawaii. I was hanging with my son. I had long lunches and martinis.

It did not last. It wasn’t an issue of not being busy enough — please, I have a four-year-old son, an acre and a half of land, and plenty of extracurriculars to fill my day — it was the not writing. It was the fear of never really being able to do it again.

And it was this that finally forced me, beyond all other voices, to sit down (wine in hand, because, well, liquid courage) and write the opening pages to my sequel. Upon doing so, the whispers of inadequacy and trepidation ceased. I could only hear my main character talking to me, telling me she wasn’t done. Her voice reignited proved something very simple to me.

I can do it again, and it is very much just as it was the first time. I do have more in place to work from. I do know the general direction I’m going. I have a world already built and characters developed. I do know that it will be utter, hopeless shit for a long time. And that is OK, because somewhere in revision I learned to accept the shit for what it was: the first step in the creative process.

At dinner last night I was discussing this with my husband, and we got around to trying to figure out how many words I had written total. The first draft was 76,000 words. From that draft I either cut or revised close to 50,000 words. The next drafts went much the same, only with adding in characters and many world building elements, they grew to somewhere in the 90-96,000 word mark. My most recent revision, which also saw major reworking, is 104,000 words. For YA fantasy, this is about as big as you can get and not threaten turning people off to your MS. ( I would like it to be shorter, but can’t seem to get it there.) Just guessing, my word count total into this novel so far is somewhere around 500,000 words.

The encouraging thing in this comes from the fact that seeing all of that in print doesn’t make me less excited about doing it all again. In fact, last night I decided I am ridiculous with anticipation about the prospect of another book. I am so excited I may try writing two at the same time. (I may also just be a lunatic.)

What you should be taking from all of this is? Fear can be your friend, but it is never a reason not to do something. I would argue, it may even be a reason to do something. I am a writer, not because I want to publish a book. I want to publish a book because I am a writer. Writing is my way to balance and maintain all the other aspects of my person. It makes me solid in the world when I want to float away. I am writing again, which means I am me again.