Ksenia Anske has a wonderful post up about how to write a rough draft in 20 days. I think 20 days is a very realistic goal for the average rough draft, honestly, and she makes great points about how she does this with every book. Her process in drafting that vital first run at a story is similar to the one I use for most of my stories. The post got me thinking about my PR for rough draft writing: I wrote the first draft of my 88k adult urban fantasy that got me picked as an alternate in Pitch Wars last year in 10 days.
Pick up your jaws, fellow writers. I wanted to share with you how I did this because, even for my fast fingers, it was an anomaly. I’ve been working on the sequels to that book, and they haven’t come as fast or furious to me. This hasn’t ultimately been a problem because 4000-6000 words a day gets the job done just fine. But let’s dive into my PR (personal record) for rough drafting, shall we?
- It was first love. That’s ultimately how I ended up sustaining several days of writing 10,000+ words. I was more excited about writing than I had ever been since I was a wee little one churning out original fiction without a care in my parent’s basement on our old Dell PC circa 2000. I wrote and wrote and wrote without regard for who would see this work or how good even I ultimately thought it was. And I loved every minute of it. This was how this rough draft was for me. I told myself a story I needed to write, and I loved it.
- I had an outline that I knew would work for me. I make these 8 point flow chart style outlines, and that took me through the entire story. I fleshed out the finer details for the chapters as I went along. I planned about a fourth of the book at a time, then wrote for 2-3 days, then at the end of that section, I planned the next fourth for the next 2-3 days…you get the idea. But that master outline? It kept me grounded.
- My characters had a single phrase to sum up their life philosophy, and I expanded them from there. I’m not sure this was ultimately the best way to write these characters, but it helped me keep them consistent during the first draft.
- Speaking of characters, the three main characters and the relationships and plot between them was something I conceived long ago. I scribbled the basic idea down in a notebook, and that was a life saver! Keep a writing notebook! DO IT. You want to keep a log of these story nuggets. I don’t have a full story for every single one of the things I’ve written in that book, and I probably never will, but there are several basic ideas in there I keep mulling over and coming back to. This story was one of those ideas, and keeping the names of the main characters and the title on hand was a life-saver when I did eventually sit down to write this behemoth.
- The notebook was crucial in another way: I needed two more HUGE plot ideas for me to make this story happen, and those came almost two years after the initial idea I had about these three characters. But when they did? I knew exactly where they fit. The thought process was literally, ‘Well, this could be X character’s back story, and they could do Y job…and thing Z could be part of the world building…STORY TIME!’ Well, not quite. I told myself several versions of this story before I wrote it down, and I got so excited about the one version that I committed it to an outline and wrote the thing.
- Notice how much writing I didn‘t do? This story lived a lot in my head before I made it real on paper. I needed to tell this story to myself in several different iterations before I found a version I loved (and I’m STILL working on that version). Could I have drafted an earlier version of this story? Sure. Would I have loved it the way I did when I finally wrote it? Nope. There’s a lot to be said about writing everyday, Art Harder, and grinding things out, but there’s also something to be said about creative fallow periods. Letting this idea develop while I worked on other stories (hey there, God’s Play!) was crucial for finding the version of this project I really loved. I didn’t force it, collecting the pieces as I figured them out. I’m still doing that, but if I hadn’t given myself time with the characters and the world-building initially, I’m 100% sure I would’ve written myself into a corner like I do when I jump into a project a bit too soon before I know it’s ready just to write something for the sake of getting the words down. It helps to get the words down, but having something half-baked does bother me, and it’s always a thrill to be able to tell the complete story to myself when I do write it.
- I had tunnel vision. Someone could’ve snapped their fingers in front of my face–I wouldn’t have blinked while I was daydreaming up scenes and plots for this. I was obsessed and kept grinding out more plot because I couldn’t put my own story down; the words were flowing like booze at an open bar, and who doesn’t love one of those?
- This story? Not perfect. The rewrite involved chancing the tense of the book from present to past, which was a HUGE pain, but necessary to make this story work. The third draft? It’s involving a bigger, more momentous chance than that! (This is because I’ve written the 2 sequels since then and realized there were things that needed to change in the first 1/3 of the book to make the entire series work.) But while writing the initial draft, I didn’t care if it was crap or not. I was on the roller coaster of insanity with my characters, and I was freaking exhausted and proud when I got off.
There’s not really a process here, but if you’re dreading the rough draft or ragging on yourself for not writing enough, I understand. But planning and patience can result in a killer story. This is ultimately what this book taught me: keep good records and give myself time to tell the story I want. Because that story? That’s the story I’ll love.
Let something like this sit. For months. You have to pull away from a story you love this much or else you won’t see it’s flaws. That part is hard for me, honestly, but after a month and a half, I made the changes I needed to make before submitting it to Pitch Wars. Now, I’m reworking it again, and I’m hoping you guys get to see it in 2015!