Friday, March 12, 2010

Plow Ahead


Thanks Elizabeth, for hosting me on your (terrific) blog. I'll try not to alienate any of your regular readers.

Every writer has his or her own unique style/method/routine. There's not a right way or a wrong way--only your way.

Here's my method for writing the first draft. Maybe you'll find something here to help you (I won't be offended if you decide that doing the exact opposite is your best course of action!).

After I've completed my (fairly sparse) outline and drawn up character sketches for the main four or five characters, the prep work is done. Now it's time to park my butt in the chair and start grinding out the words.

And that's what it is for me--a grind.

My only goal is to meet my daily word quota. I've been known to walk away from my computer in the middle of a sentence, if I've nailed my quota.

First, I'll reread the last few paragraphs to see where I am. If I'm beginning a new scene, I'll make a few notes. What is my purpose in the scene? How will I drive the narrative forward? Who will be in the scene? Where will it be set? I want to have an idea of where I'm headed. My key concern is the scene's conflict. No matter what else happens, it's got to have some conflict, however forceful or subdued, overt or covert (yes, inner conflict counts, at least in my books).

Then I'll start writing. The first paragraph is key. I try to set the scene in an engaging way and imbue the sentences with a good rhythm. I may take a few extra moments to make sure I've got it in reasonably good shape, then I'm off to the races.

I trust myself to write a decent first draft. I think this trust is important because it gives you "permission" not to be perfect. You don't have to go back and make sure everything is exactly how you want it the first time through. Repeat after me: "That's what the revision process is for."

As I write, I'll correct obvious misspellings and bad grammar, but I try not to spend much time on what I've already written--I'm focused on what's ahead. Ever forward. Words, words, words. It's all about the words.

If I bump into a fact I need to know but don't, I'll type "XXX" and keep going. I don't want to interrupt my flow to look something up, and I don't want to waste precious minutes lost in some crazy Internet search for the capital of Mongolia (and my, what cool traditional garb the Mongolians wear, and look, isn't that a neat recipe for Mongolian stew, and is there a place called Inner Mongolia, and, boy, I sure could go for some Mongolian barbecue right about now, and...). I need to keep my eyes on the goal. (Super Tip: Turn off the Internet when you write, or allow yourself only three minutes per hour to check email.)

If I know, right then, that something will need attention, I highlight it in red. Ditto if I make a note to myself. Otherwise, I plow on (in the picture above, that's me, dressed in my typical writing outfit, working the plow, imploring my muses to mush).

Every so often, I'll check my word count. If it's less than my goal (usually 1500 - 1750, depending on what I'm working on), I'll keep going. If I've achieved my goal...I hit the save button and move on to something else.

Usually lunch.

DIAMONDS 72 Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, will be published in April by Midnight Ink. The first in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit