Friday, January 15, 2010

Knocking Out that First Draft

Snow in Knightsbridge by Stephen Bone --1904 - 1958 After my post, Time, I got an email regarding my first drafts and the speed with which I write them. The reader was interested in getting some tips on speeding up the process.

There are a few things that help the first draft go quickly for me. Deadlines for two series have something to do with the motivation, for sure. And practice helps, too.

But there are some steps I take that help make the writing go a little faster.

I do an initial brainstorming on paper, before I start the project, for random ideas. Sometimes I don’t end up even looking at the paper again, but it does help to get the creative juices flowing.

I’m writing series and have a particular pattern to my books. I like to start with a prologue (I know. They’re not popular with editors, but…I’m all about rule-breaking. And they seem to work for me.) I usually follow up the prologue with a surprising conversation. I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about how I want the book laid out because I figured that out a couple of books ago.

I have a storytelling voice, so I treat the draft as if I were transcribing a story that I’m telling someone. It’s conversational. The story unfolds in an easier way that way. I ask myself “what if” as I go along. Telling the story aloud helps, too—as long as I’m not out in public where talking to myself is frowned on.

Sometimes, as I write, I’m not happy with the direction I’m taking the story in. I start taking the story in a new direction at that point and flag the point where the storyline changes so that I can come back and fix the text before that point during the second draft. I don’t stop at that point and rewrite the older scenes. That's a revision task. The mark I make with Word's Track Changes or with Word's Highlighter makes the editing easier later, though.

I don’t like big outlines, but I do like small ones. I’ll sketch out what I want to accomplish for the next page. It’s got to take the plot somewhere.

When I finish my writing for the day, I make a note of where I need to pick up the next day. I never read the text I wrote the day before. It completely messes me up—it not only makes me feel insecure about the project, but it slows me down.

Since I’m writing series, many of my characters and settings have already been established in a previous book. I can easily pick up with those characters just like I pick up with an old friend I haven’t seen for a while. Since my protagonists are established, I'm not spending time trying to figure them out as I write--I'm working on character depth.

Also…genre mysteries run around 75,000 words. I’m not writing literary fiction, which runs a lot longer.

I’m writing primarily from one POV. Sometimes I’ll let the reader into another character’s head—but it’s just for a second or two. I’m not developing complicated storylines for multiple POVs.

I’ve learned to write anywhere and with any noise level. This helps tremendously since some days I’m doing my writing on the run. The ability to adapt to any environment I’m in makes the writing go faster.

I love writing and reading dialogue. To me, it’s the best way to have characters interact, to create conflict, to include backstory, etc. Dialogue is also the quickest thing for me to write. And…it uses up a lot of space on the page, just by its nature. There are lots of indents and short sentences with dialogue.

I type fast. Really fast. It does help.

Also—I think it’s really, really important to set an attainable goal for yourself. And I mean really attainable. Mine used to be one page a day. It didn’t matter how I scraped together that one page—some of it could be on sticky notes in the car that I gathered up later. But I always got that one page. This made me feel really positive about my progress—after all, if you write just one double-spaced page a day then you’ll have a first draft in less than a year (assuming you’re not writing something really long.) When I felt positive about the progress, I usually found myself going over my goal. But even if I did go over my goal, I still wrote my one page the next day.

I write every day—even on weekends. Even on holidays. I don’t want to get right up on my deadlines, which would really stress me out.

Before I know it, the first draft is done. And boy, it needs work! I’ll go back and check all the notes I left for myself in Track Changes, and return to the highlighted text and edit like crazy. It takes another 6 weeks to get the thing in shape for submission to my agent or editor.

To me, the most important thing is that I’m writing every day. And reaching my goal…no matter what that goal is.