Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Three Drafting Lessons from a Brand New WIP

Learning how to write a book is such a long, long process, isn't it? I find myself constantly thinking, “Huh. Well that's something to remember for next time.” Each new book comes with new lessons and new insights to carry into the next book.

For the past month and a half I've been in new book! mode. So far, this has been one of the most enjoyable first draft experiences I've ever had. I think there are a few key factors to making it so much more successful, and they're all going on the “remember for next time” list. Here are the top three:

1. Planning Ahead

In the past I've tended to be more of a pantser than a plotter. For the longest time I cringed at the thought of planning out a book, because as soon as I wrote an idea down on paper to “plan” it, all of my inspiration dried up.

I'm not sure what's changed or why, but my process is completely reversing. This time I kept note cards (no, I don't have Scrivener yet) of all the scenes in the book. I could flip through them and see the plot taking shape. I could rearrange them as I thought ahead to what came next. Those note cards helped me visualize the arc of the book.

The unexpected consequence is that my finished rough draft is only about two thirds the length that the final book should be. As I've tended to go too long with my previous projects, I'm a little baffled by this result. But I'm also glad. I think in the past a lot of that word count was extra fat from rambling on in a scene instead of transitioning into the next scene. Now I have the leisure to go back and add in more meat where I actually need it to go.

2. Knowing the Characters

In addition to keeping note cards of all my scenes, I've been keeping note cards of the characters as well. I created all of them before writing the first draft, and added information such as characteristics, flaws, speech patterns, and perhaps most importantly, a brief life story.

Some of these I've added to while writing. Others I've changed drastically. Overall, though, I went into the book knowing a little more than I usually do about the people I was working with, and that has made a huge difference for me.

Writers often say that their characters take on lives of their own, and will often do completely unexpected things. These surprises can be really exciting. They've happened to me, and they've always taught me a lot about my characters. But they've never happened as much as they did in writing this first draft. Knowing a bit about them ahead of time gave them so much more room to show me new things about who they were. And I've been so happy with the results.

3. No Re-reading

I've heard authors say before that the best method of drafting is to end in the middle of a sentence one day, and the next to pick up in that same place and keep going without looking back.

Until this book I had never actually tried that. I would spend the first half of a writing day going over the scene from the day before and tweaking it to excruciating degree. Only when I was satisfied with it would I move on to the next scene.

This time I ignored everything that came before and focused only on what came next. And the results? Wow! The words came so much more fluidly. The scenes, while less “perfect” than they would have been under my previous method, are still quite good enough for a rough draft, and they're still new and fresh. When I do go over them again I'll be able to look at them with a more critical eye. I'm SO glad I finally followed that advice.

So how about you? What new lessons has your writing taught you lately?


  1. I finally got Scrivener a few months ago and LOVE it! Now my notes and summaries are all in one place and easily within reach while I'm writing. And don't even get me started on collections-one of the MANY methods of organizing your work in Scrivener. Now I can easily track the progress of the story through a single character's perspective. Totally awesome. There's still a ton of stuff I have yet to discover-there are so many options and methods of organization it can be a little overwhelming at times. I think you just have to find what's logical to you personally, depending on how you organize yourself in general. Anyway, I know you've probably heard this a gazillion times, but I HIGHLY recommend making the switch. :)

    1. Well that's pretty high praise! I'm almost convinced to go get it right now based on that. I'll have to see if it's in the budget.

  2. I've had a similar experience, I've done a lot more plotting for this WIP than others in the past, to good results. Also, this is my first WIP that I'm writing in Scrivener, and I highly recommend it too. :)

    1. Hm, may have to ask for it as my birthday present :)

  3. One of my recent lessons is to mark the first place in the book / chapter / story, whatever where things happen. A couple of times now, I've found its later than I thought it was.

  4. You've inadvertently stumbled on one of my tactics: underwriting the rough draft. I've found it very helpful. For me, it lets me work out the muscle and bone of the story, which I try to bring out to around 75-80K. Then in my first crit sessions, the key questions become, "What else did you need to know about? What characters need more depth?" I find weaving in more things during second draft is more effective (for me) than finding things to cut out.

    1. Yes! That sounds about exactly how this project is going for me. And while my experience with the method is still pretty limited, it's looking like a great approach. With only the bones I can focus more on the structure, make sure the plot is doing what it should.