On Writing a Novel: Drafting until it’s Drafted

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Drafting — or as I described it in my post on planning and research — the horrible, rough, manic, shit-storm that makes beautiful novels possible.

Just as planning and research is accomplished in different forms depending on the specific writer’s process, drafting happens for each writer in a way only they can truly understand. It is a little bit magic, a lot determination, fueled by adrenaline and insanity and caffeine. While there are different processes and methods, there are some constants that most every writer adheres to, and those are what I will focus on in this post.

Write Tip #1: You can start at the beginning. You can start at the end. You can write the inciting incident because it is the seed idea and therefor all you can actually see. But one thing is certain…YOU MUST WRITE SOMETHING.

There is a safety in research and planning, an insulation around your idea and it’s fragile bones that makes opening a blank Word document and actually writing feel a little bit like throwing your precious into the middle of a tornado. It will be tossed around some — this is a reality you must accept. Your fear is not a reason to stay in the safe zone.

I have written some horrifically bad sentences in my first drafts. Bad enough that I cannot even believe I am showing one to you. Nevertheless, here is a line from the first draft of my novel Redhunt:

I step onto a landing that opens into the kitchen and it’s dark, lit only by the morning light through the window.

With revision that sentence was cut. The scene around it was also cut and forgotten until today. It served its purpose — its only purpose really — to facilitate the forward motion of drafting.

Write Tip #2: Keep writing forward. You can do some minor revision as you go along, reread the pages you ended with during your last writing session to jumpstart, but the key to finishing is to not look back for long.

You will realize there are problems in your manuscript as you are writing it. Every single writer, whether a first timer or seasoned pro, has inconsistencies in their first drafts. The purpose of a first draft is to get the story out of your head and onto the page (or screen). A common mistake in drafting is going back to read through what you’ve written. Thus begins the eternal edit loop that will kill your momentum and silence the creative voice inside your head.

Instead, reserve any major revisions until the end of the manuscript. This is what you should especially do if you have attempted to write a novel before but never completed the task. A writer who has a few manuscripts under their belt might be able to seamlessly jump from past pages to current, revising and drafting at the same time, but that takes a level of skill most of us won’t achieve for a very long time.

Write Tip #3: Find rewards for hitting word count goals, or scene goals, or plot point goals. Further, make sure to set a goal when drafting and find a way to keep yourself accountable.

If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I frequently update my feed with progress reports, failures, reward system announcements, and any other thing I can think to Tweet that will mark my progress.

I have used caramels and alcohol, an episode of a TV show that I am really into (Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, Game of Thrones episode largely featuring Jon Snow, etc.), pages in a novel I am currently reading and dying to get back to, as a reward for meeting my drafting goals.

Write Tip #4: Set a deadline to finish. I am a goal oriented person, which you can probably tell by the above tip. But having a deadline is less about a goal, and more about prioritizing your writing over watching TV, shittin’ around on the internet, or, yes, even reading.

No one is going to finish your book for you. Writing is you and your characters, their story, and nothing else. It is a dark room of silence. It is screaming into the void of your imagination. You can have a gaggle of cheerleaders at your back, but if you don’t sit your ass in that chair and turn thoughts into words on a page you will never have a book. If you cannot complete a draft, you cannot revise.

In order to be an author you will have to meet deadlines. Start now. Maybe you don’t make it, but don’t plan on failing. Don’t let yourself off the hook. The misery of beating yourself up about a deadline is the joy of finishing on time.

Write Tip #5: Finish it. Make is messy and wild and break every rule in the book. You can fix it later. You’ll slash sentences and circle paragraphs, writing in red ink WTF?, when you do your read through. Don’t stop until you have typed THE END.