People often talk about the all-important first draft. After writing the past hundred or so years (a bit of an exaggeration there) I realized early on several important facts about writing.
· Set a daily writing routine.
· Set goals.
Daily writing routine – Let’s give this some thought. We are by nature creatures of habit. We generally get up around the same time every day (most times it’s because we have a JOB) and we get home around the same time. We also eat and go to sleep about the same time every day. So why not start and stop writing around the same time - unless you’re in a ‘writer’s surge’ and nothing – but nothing should stop or interfere with that wonderful experience.
What works for me? I make deals with myself. I finish the book by my deadline I’m treated to a night out with hubby to my favorite restaurant to celebrate. He loves celebrating with me! Okay, now if I finish early, which is generally my ‘internal goal,’ I am rewarded a new top or pants (I don’t remember the last time I wore a dress) along with dinner out with hubby. J You see, rewarding yourself not only makes you feel good about yourself, your accomplishments, and your confidence, it gets you ‘stuff!’ A win-win all the way around –LOL.
Setting Goals – Anyone who knows me – knows I’m a fanatic about setting goals. I always think about the comment – if you’re going on a trip to - let’s say Glacier National Park in Montana - wouldn’t you plan it out, maps, miles, costs, stops of interest along the way, hotels, etc.? Of course you would – or you might end up in California or Alaska!
Same thing applies to writing. You have an idea (general plot) you have a feeling for the beginning, middle, and even end (not that our characters always go in the direction or do what we want them to do). We know how long we want the book to be, therefore, we know how many chapters. You know your writing style and how long it takes you to write a chapter. (If you’re a beginner – just dive right in. You’ll see a pattern forming after your first few books.)
My chapters are almost always fifteen pages each, so I know I can write a chapter a weeks (give or take – I do work full-time and it’s summer). So, twelve chapters will take me 12 weeks to write. I give myself four extra weeks for life’s interruptions so I’m not stressing myself. I write because I love to write – but I don’t plan on exhausting myself or ruining my health to do it. So now I’ve committed to writing four books a year, unless life decides to interrupt with something serious (like cataract surgery or wrist surgery). Not every year goes as planned – but it’s not about how many books I can write – it’s about writing and creating books that make me happy.
That rough draft – A writer is a fool to think they can write the perfect story from start to finish and never have to do a re-write. There’s no such thing as the perfect first draft. One can wish – but it’s just not going to happen. A rough draft is meant to be exactly that, rough. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and have flaws; they can be fixed later.
When starting your book, as I mentioned before, you know about how many chapters your book will be and that also tells you the word count. Today most adult fiction novels are between the 60,000 to 70,000 words (different genres have different word count requirements. Be sure to check the requirements for your genre before plotting out your goals.)
Many writers shoot for ‘words a day,’ instead of ‘hours a day.’ I don’t write with the pressure of ‘words in a day’ because sometimes I write faster than other days. Sometimes research interrupts my word count. So I shoot for two hours of work on week nights and eight hours of writing over the weekend.
Keep a notebook – Early in my writing career I chose to jot down information on my characters in a pocket notebook. It keeps me on track for eye and hair color. Names and relationships. I have pictures of geography where the story takes place. Anything that could be significant in for my story is in this notebook. I have sticky tabs that break my notebook into sections.
· Plot theories
· Random thoughts.
I might be at work and a plot change might occur to me … or even a scene – and I must jot it down. Oh, I could put it on a piece of paper, but then I’d most likely lose it (that’s happened to me – and it’s extremely frustrating.) Have a spot in your notebook for random thoughts. It doesn’t matter if they make sense or not. Pay attention to the world around you and heighten your powers of perception – then jot those ideas down.
Notebook and pen at bedside – A bit of advice. If you write – always keep a notebook and pen by your bedside. Why? Well once, just before truly falling asleep, I had an incredible story idea. It was so fabulous I was beyond excited. Since it was such a great idea – I knew I’d remember it. Wrong! I only remembered it was the most exciting idea I’ve had in years, but not the idea. I will never make that mistake again.
Free rein – So you have a nice synopsis of your story. Great. Never – never – never try to control your characters. Give them free rein to behave as themselves. Let them come alive on the page. If they swear- let them swear. If they want to take a left at the stop sign, turn left . . . surely something more exiting is going to happen in that direction – I promise you.
That first draft isn’t about perfectly spelled words or making sure there are no dangling participles. It’s about getting the excitement, the flow, the characterizations, and the plot. Get it all down in your first draft and then fine-tune it into a well written, exciting, emotional, book you can be proud of.