Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writing A First Draft

I've had a couple of people who've told me they have ideas for stories, but they aren't sure how to write them. There are a lot of different ways to write a first draft. The most important thing is to sit down and write. Whether you're writing in a notebook or on a computer, set aside chunks of time, be consistent, and write whatever comes to you.

Not For Robots, by Laini Taylor, is a collection of essays on writing. If you're at all interested in writing, I highly recommend clicking the link and reading what she has there.

Some people write outlines first. I've tried that. Following an outline doesn't work for me, but it might work for you. I like to have an outline in my head. In other words, I have an idea of where the story is going before I start, but I haven't planned out everything. If I get a better idea, I use the delete button. Yes, I do edit while I'm writing my first draft. Some writers don't.

Even when I think I know how a scene is going to go, it changes as I write it. Last night, I finished a scene where I'd planned on having X take presents to Z. I wanted to have Y go along as well, but then realized he couldn't because of an injury. Oy! So, as I'm writing, Z shows up at X's door. X and Z have an interesting conversation (in terms of plot and characterization), during which Y and Z fail to recognize each other. There were a lot of other things that clicked into place that wouldn't make sense out of context, but the scene that I wrote was so much better than the one I'd planned.

Usually I can't see more than a paragraph or two ahead of where I am in the story, but as long as I keep writing, the story keeps coming. And it's exciting to see how the story unfolds.

I average about 500 words an hour, if I'm focused on what I'm doing. That's an hour of actual writing. Checking my e-mail or googling who knows what doesn't figure into that. So, if I plan on writing a 60,000 word first draft (not that I write to fill in a word count), it's going to take me at least 120 hours. I reward myself for every thousand words by writing it on a calendar. That may seem silly, but it makes me happy, and it lets my family see where I am (or warns them that I'm functioning on less sleep than I should be).

If I get stuck, I analyze why I'm stuck. If it's because I don't know my characters well enough, I free-write about a particular character until I understand what motivates them. If I'm not sure what to do next, I'll skip to a scene that comes later and write from there. I don't stop and let myself have "writer's block." If I get out of the habit of writing, I start to dread it, and it becomes a bigger deal than it should be to get started again.

Writing is work, but I think it is worth it. I love when the pieces come together and form a picture that suddenly feels 3-D, and I love when the words sound perfect. I like falling in love with my characters and rooting for them. In a lot of ways, it's like reading, only harder and more fulfilling. You'll have to decide what works for you and whether or not it's worth it.

If you've written or are writing a first draft, I'd love to hear what works for you.



  1. Myrna! I'm writing a first draft again, too - and it's not the first draft I mentioned last week. I had this idea a couple of nights ago right as I was falling asleep, and it kept me up for another hour just thinking about it:) Now, three days later, I've written 5,500 words, and I am in love, love, love, love with this new project.

    Interestingly, I knew this was probably going to be the One when I had a hankering to start outlining. I was seat-of-my-pantsing it with the other first draft I started, but I wanted to get some scene ideas down on paper for this new, new idea, and that makes it feel more real to me. I'll have to send you an e-mail to tell you more about it.

    Thanks for this post. I love hearing more about other people's writing methods.

  2. I am not an obsessive outliner, but I do have to have some idea of where I am going or I can't get there. I feel like writing is kind of like when I take a complicated bus/train ride. I need to plan ahead where I am going and when, or else I can't get there at all, but what exactly happens when I get there is a mystery until I get there.

    Wow, that was circuitously written. Blame the paper I should be writing right now!

  3. Oooh, I like what you said about getting stuck. I think I should analyze why it is that I'm stuck right now. And then make myself write!

  4. This was cool to read, Myrna. I don't outline either. I think it's more fun *not* to outline. And I love it when a scene works out better than you plan. :)


  5. You're welcome, Krista! I'm excited about your new idea. I'm going to laugh if you finish you're first draft before I do. I'm shooting for the end of April.

    Q, I always have a pretty good idea of how it's going to end before I start.

    Write, Debbie, write ;)

    Thanks, Amy! It's like magic, isn't it?

  6. I'm a diehard outliner. Sometimes I think I should try writing without one, just to see what happens, but I'm afraid I'd get hopelessly lost and have to tear the whole thing to shreds to get it to make sense. It's funny how we all work so differently!

  7. I keep my fiction writing to short stories because I just don't enjoy the process enough to do a novel. I think it's a matter of patience.

    I have written three books, but they were non-fiction. Funny that I never get tired of spouting off my ideas about any given subject...


  8. For me, it's all about just doing it. And I have no idea how many words per hour I average. That would be an interesting thing to know. I might try to time myself the next few times I write to see.

  9. I don't write, I suck at it. In fact, Denver is not doing so good in English either. We need help! I had him stay after school to be tutored and he still got a D on a paper. What do I do?

  10. I love the calendar idea! I'm totally stealing that.

    One thing that works for me is making sure a certain time each day is specifically for writing. I guard that time with my life, even it's only for 30 minutes, it makes me feel like I'm moving forward with my writing.

    Have a great weekend, Myrna!

  11. I WISH I was working on a first draft! I am stuck in revision land.....STILL.

    Enjoy the wildness of the First Draft.


  12. I outline chapter by chapter. There are still some loose ends, but I overall know what's going to happen.

    I don't look at word count, but when I'm drafting I aim for 3 or more pages a day.

  13. I love reading about other people's process. I'm a little further on the outliner side of the continuum, but my characters have been known to surprise me and take on a life of their own (and that's usually where the best parts come from).

    And that's interesting about the 60K because that seems to be my first draft sweet spot, too. Later versions push that word count up. Sometimes, I wish I was a long first drafter. Cutting is easier than adding for me.

  14. Hey Myrna- I've outlined my WIP but not my completed novel. I'm tryi9ng it both ways. It's nice to be able to consult the outline, but I'm not sure if it works for me yet.

    And I read "The Blue Sword" after your recommendation and LOVED it. Thanks so much. I'm ready for whatever you recommend next:)

  15. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for a great insight into your writing.
    I write to a rough outline, but it is very loose.
    Like you I find my scenes change as I write them.
    It really does feel like my characters take control. Usually they are pretty flexible and I can pull them back if they are going somewhere I don't want to go. Sometimes they won't listen and I end up with a problem to solve.
    Valentina is behaving that way in my current WIP. I have written nearly 30,000 words of her story, I just can't fit that in my outline. So much for a secondary character in a sub-plot.

    I write best if I actually disconnect my PC from the web. If I have to go and plug back in my modem I'm less likely to be distracted by great blogs like yours :-).

  16. Susan, I like that we work differently. And I like writing outlines, but writing them takes the urgency out of writing the story, and I don't follow them.

    Sue, I'd enjoy your non-fiction. What are the titles?

    Abby, my output varies, but I like having a general idea.

    Vicki, you call that friend, the one you used to help with her math. Or something like this works too.

    I'm glad you like the calendar idea, Jackee. I hope it helps.

    I love hearing how other people work, Medeia. Thank you!

    Karen, I'm the same way. I almost doubled Star Swans with my second draft.

    I'm glad you loved THE BLUE SWORD, Kelly. Robin McKinley has a lot of great books. And I'm still figuring out how I work best too.

    Your last bit made me laugh, Al. I'm the same way. I write on a computer that isn't connected to the internet. Maybe Valentina needs her own book.