Thoughts on first drafting.

I am always surprised all over again at how effective NaNoWriMo / Camp NaNoWriMo is for throwing me back into my work after a weird slump. It’s so good for shaking things loose and getting my brain unstuck — and I’ve been feeling very very stuck for the last couple months. Now I’m having fun again, which is important. (Though this new project is still so damn hard.)

Seven days into the month, and I’m at 14,521 words. My goal is 60,000 brand new words in April — I’m definitely on track!

These are some thoughts I’ve had during this past week of marathon drafting. I’m recording them here as little tips / reminders for myself. In no particular order:

1) Don’t look at any writing advice. The other week someone on Twitter linked to some advice and I made the mistake of clicking, and of course a few things from the list wormed their way into my brain and made me question all my instincts. The first draft is not the time to pay attention to any “tips” or “rules” — unless they are about how to sit your ass down / stand your feet in place and focus your brain enough to write the words. It’s meant to be messy. It’s an exploration. The first draft never looks anything like the final draft, so fuck it. Nothing matters but getting those new words out.

2) Don’t think about what’s not working. Don’t dwell on it for even a second. As already mentioned, the first draft is guaranteed to be absolute shit. There will be a million problems. Ignore them, and march forward. Fix the problems later — that’s what editing is for.

3) If it’s not fun, find a way to make it fun. Because if the writing of it isn’t enjoyable, the reading of it won’t be enjoyable. If a scene has gone stale, look for a way to spice it up. Find a new angle. Light a new flame. Usually, staleness means the tension has leaked out. In which case, time to create some new (even if super tiny) point of tension.

4) Don’t skip scenes. This is always so tempting to do, but the problem is that skipping the difficult sections prevents me from doing the work that makes the novel interesting. If I get stuck, it’s usually because I’m bored. So, forcing myself to push through that stuckness — and doing so in an interesting way — that’s when the novel finds new and exciting turns. That’s when my characters grab each other’s hands and bolt, leaving me to shout and chase after them, until we’re all tunneling down some dark but fascinating alley that I never saw on the map. For me, that’s where the real first drafting work happens.

5) If the abovementioned feeling of being stuck is actually because I’m not sure what comes next, don’t write aimlessly. The most useless paragraphs that come out of the marathon-drafting process are the directionless ones. If I’m not sure where I’m heading, pull back from the keyboard. Pause a moment. Don’t outline — but figure out a vague sense (like a bullet point pitch) of where I’m going, and then follow the characters.

6) Think about how the characters take up space. Think about how they move, how their bodies physically interact with the world and people around them. Use this to bring the world into sharper focus.

7) Be careful, during this lightning fast drafting round, not to run into the problem of all the characters sounding the same. Find each of their unique voices, and listen to them. Because if I get those voices wrong, they will be the most annoying thing to have to fix later.

8) Break the daily word count goal down into bite-sized pieces. “200 new words before lunch” sounds so much easier.

9) Don’t give in to the temptation to switch projects. It comes so often. The mind begins to wander. Shiny new characters and shiny new plots break the surface, flailing, trying to catch my attention. But the point of this month of speed drafting is to get through as much as possible of one book. Plus, those other projects only look shiny precisely because I’m not letting myself work on them.

10) Not every day will feel sunny and magical. Those are the most important days to keep writing and push through.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on first drafting.

  1. Couldn’t agree more with #10. It always feels like it’s going to be a TERRIBLE day for writing – at least, until I start writing. Then, I feel really good just to be writing something, ANYTHING. The hard part is staying on task…


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