10 Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

I think the hardest part of writing a novel is the middle part, where you don’t remember why you started and can’t imagine how you’re going to finish. – Sarah Rees Brennan

I don’t like referring to my first draft as my First Draft. I prefer Rough Draft like when you rough out a shape in a painting that you hope to fashion into a tree or a building or a face. A bit of shading, a line or two, maybe a single colour – red or blue or green. That’s where I’m at with my novel manuscript. Cluster. Even the title is a placeholder. And the middle? It’s rough alright.

I still can’t believe I finished the first draft of my manuscript. This is the furthest I’ve ever gone with a piece of long writing and I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting this far. Usually, I would have given up by now. So I thought I’d take the time to go over some of the things I’ve learned through this process – some things I already knew without knowing, some things that came as surprises, good and bad.

  1. After the initial heat cools off from the first writing sessions, writing is damned hard. There will be days when it seems easy again. Don’t be fooled.
  2. Keep going no matter what. You may feel like you’re walking on mush, slipping and sliding on what used to be solid ground until you were too far along to turn back. Keep going. Run if you have to.
  3. Don’t miss days. Write every day if you can, by a set schedule if you can’t. Whenever I miss a day, I inevitably miss another and another and another… Too many days away from the story and I start to forget – if not the story, then the feeling of the story. It’s hard to get the feeling back.
  4. If you do miss days, don’t quit altogether. So you didn’t make your daily word count yesterday. That was yesterday. I’m a perfectionist. If I miss a day in my diary or flub the dates in my agenda or make a mistake in my notebook, I want to throw the whole thing out and get a new one (which is why Discbound notebooks are saving my skin)
  5. Word count goals are merely something to shoot for. In your daily writing and in your manuscript word count, write the number of words you need to write to get the story told. If the story is told in fewer words, don’t add filler. It will only make editing a nightmare.
  6. Starting with some kind of outline is easier than starting with none. With an outline, I have an inkling of where I’m headed next. Since I started paying more attention to my prep work, I’ve had less of an issue with writer’s block.
  7. Outlines are made to be broken. Go where the story takes you even if it’s into the mush (see number 2). Outlines are not scripture. Rewrite it as many times as you need to. Yes. Outlines also have drafts.
  8. Somewhere in the middle, your story will become a many tentacled beast. There will be multiple story lines and alternate versions. POV and tense will flip and flop all over the place. This is normal. This is ok.
  9. The first draft (the Rough Draft) doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Scenes may be working against each other. Characters may sprout out of nowhere or disappear after the first chapter. That weird dream you had the other night? That was a Rough Draft.
  10. That said, try to get as close to a beginning, middle and end as you can so that you have less work later, both in your scenes and in your story as a whole. This is something I’m learning right now, the hard way, as I begin my first edits.
  11. BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.

Pinterest for Writing Inspiration

If you’re a writer who hasn’t looked around Pinterest lately (or at all), you’re in for a treat. How to articles, word definitions, quotes, you name it, you can probably find a board dedicated to the subject. You can save your favorite images and articles to your own Writing board for a tailor made info bucket to fit a variety of writing needs. Looking for a few good words? Curious about how other writers use their writing journal? Looking for handouts for your writing group or medieval clothing ideas for your historical novel? Pinterest has got you covered. Or maybe, like me, you just want some inspiring quotes and how to’s for those can’t get started days. My writing info bucket is full of writing tutorials and quotes to give me a kick in the pants.

I love word definitions and have a board specifically made for Definitions that tickle my fancy. Sometimes I find story ideas in the definitions that I’ll use later.

Discoverability

The best part of Pinterest is it’s related pins section visible on each pin’s page. Using this feed of related materials is like surfing an internet filled only with the stuff you’re interested in. Save liberally to an existing board or create multiple boards for each topic. Access you saved pins on your profile and quickly add more from the related pins. It’s a researcher’s dream.

Addiction Issues

If I have one criticism, it’s how addictive surfing pins can be. Once I get started, it’s very hard to stop. With constantly changing feeds of related material, it’s easy to get carried away for hours “researching instead of writing”. When I feel myself getting sucked in yet again, I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. In fact, there are boards dedicated to the condition which fills me with a sense of belonging.

Discbound Frenzy

I am in love. How have I lived my life unaware of the existence of this miraculous binding system?

It started with a trip to Staples. I had in mind a binder to use as a writing journal/planner to help me generate and organize my writerly thoughts. Nothing extravagant, mind you. A generic three ring, some paper, maybe a pocket or two. Big and bulky but reliable. A classic.

Then I saw it. The ARC display. A system for creating notebooks of any size, geared to my needs, expandable, and endlessly customizable. If you notebook gets to big for your discs, simply swap them out for bigger ones.

A handful of accessories such as pockets, tabs, zippered pouches and paper inserts were available but the best part was the punch. With the punch, I could create my own inserts. All the inserts.

I gotta say, it’s been tough sitting down to write when all I want to do is make notebooks, planners, manuals, etc. I’ve also made a half dozen or so templates that suit my needs and the creative juice generated by workers no out my system has sparked my writing in a big way. I’ll share my templates once I’ve tried them out for a while and worked out the kinks.

The picture above shows my current three book set up. The big blue leather one is my writing planner. I keep track of my writing goals and schedule and track my progress in there. In the middle, my writer’s notebook is my creative space for brainstorming, novel notes, story ideas, etc. the final book is my craft notebook. That’s where I put notes on the craft of writing – lecture notes, workshop assignments, writing tips, etc.

If you’re familiar with the ARC system, you’ll see some additions not offered by the system. The book bands were found on Amazon and work perfectly. The silver discs are from a clearance Happy Planner I got from Michael’s. I also cut down the month tabs from the Happy Planner to use in my writing planner, thanks to the punch.

Oh yeah. I made this cute little notepad that fits in a pocket or purse for those times when I’m traveling light. It holds 3×5 notecards as well as paper.

That’s a bit of the old Happy Planner cover, cut down and punched.

The tabs sticking out of the notebooks are from Levenger, the Cadillac of discbound systems. I drool over their site several times a day. I find that the ARC tab dividers stick on the discs while the Levenger ones provide a smooth turn. Same goes for the clear covers I’m using with my writing journal in the centre. Those are Levenger too. I’m going to pick up another set for the craft notebook.

If you’re like me, constantly changing your notebook needs, if you hate being constrained by fixed bindings, and love to customize, discbound books may be for you too.

My 85k90 Report

Has it really been this long since I’ve posted on my blog? I had no idea. I’m terrible at this.

On the other hand, I’ve been writing in my writer’s journal almost daily although, I must confess, the entries haven’t been exactly post worthy. They’ve been a series of two parters. I start by writing what I want to accomplish during the day and then finish off in the evening by recounting what I actually did. So far, it’s been working to keep me accountable. I’ve fallen off of posting my counts on the 85k90 site. I just didn’t find it helpful to me. I prefer the NaNoWriMo incrementing counting you fill in each day but even that would be too much over the long night haul. Keep it simple. Get it done.

I finished March off 15,000 words short of my 85k goal. I’d started out in front at the gate but then life and laziness overtook me and I started missing days, and then whole weeks, of writing and now here I am and it’s April.

I’m still writing. April is a flex month and I’m writing every day, even on the weekends when I prefer not to. I’m not writing a lot each day. Only 500 to 750 words. Having the goal post so low gets me in the chair because I know it won’t take long. So far it’s working out. I’m almost at 75k and 20 days left in the month to write 10 more.

And, really, the numbers don’t mean as much as the direction I’m headed in as I slowly creep toward the finish line.

85k90 – Day 10 – Cut and Paste

Yesterday’s cut and pasted scenes from the past couple of days really needed to be dealt with today. I had to stop cutting and pasting and start going through the material with fresh eyes, rewriting much of it and fleshing out the scant details from the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo version. I thought it would be a chore – messy, hard to pick up. I’ve had that experience in the past working on another manuscript during an earlier NaNo attempt to write a novel. It was dismal and I soon gave up.

This time, it wasn’t bad at all once I got going. In fact, it came together well, thanks to my ongoing novel journaling and Scrivener‘s ability to cut up blocks of text into individual scenes. If you don’t know how to do that, let me give you a little tutorial.

First, I cut and pasted in a large section of text into one of my scenes. After reading it in this new context, I saw that the second half of it needed it’s own scene – perhaps even it’s own chapter – and that I needed to add a scene between what I had previously written and the first half of the pasted text. No problem.

First, I placed my cursor where I wanted to split the file in two. Then I went to the menu at the top under Documents -> Split -> at selection for a simple splitting into two documents in the binder.

If I’d wanted to, I could select some text and split with the selected text as the title of the new file but it’s not necessary here. I had a new scene to work with and it was already started!

I also needed another scene before the new one so I created a new scene file and tucked it in between. I added synopses to these three scenes to remind myself what I wanted from each of them and I was ready to go.

Right now, I’m still working on the first of the three new scenes in which one of my characters, Steph, arrives at work and chats up her friend Wanda. Because I’ve organized the cut and paste into three distinct scenes, I have my writing sorted until the weekend.

Hot damn, it feels good.

85k90 – Day 9 and Novel Journals

Today was an average writing day. I ended up with about 1000 words although a lot of that involved copy pasting from my NaNoWriMo draft. Mostly, I wrote in my Novel Journal which, as it turns out, is what the writing I’ve been doing in my Planner Pro notes is called.

According to James Scott Bell on the Writers Helping Writers blog in his article called Using the Novel Journal for Writing Breakthroughs, keeping a journal specific to the writing of a novel or lengthy work gives the writer a place to explore possibilities, dive into backstory or character/setting sketches, ask questions and express frustrations.

If I wanted to, I could do this work within my Scrivener project which I have done in the past, creating a Notes folder outside of the Manuscript folder for this purpose. For some reason, however, I’m finding it easier to focus my thoughts when I’m away from the project space. I feel free to write whatever comes into my head without trying to fit into the current logic of the piece.

I have tried something similar to this in the past, free writing by hand before each writing session as an brain exercise but, while fun, didn’t seem to help me, when it came time to working on a specific project.

Bell quotes Sue Grafton explaining her process in using novel journals which is where he first learned of the idea:

The day’s date and a bit of diary stuff, how she’s feeling and so on. This is to track outside influences on her writing.

Next is notes about any ideas that emerged overnight. I especially like this part, because the writer’s mind has been working while I sleep and I want to pour out everything I can. The trick here is not to think too much about what you write. Just let it flow.

Third, Sue writes about where she is in the book. She “talks” to herself about the scene she’s working on, or problems that have arisen.

This is exactly what I’ve been doing and it’s making a big difference both in the amount of work I’m able to accomplish and my ability to focus on where I’m heading in the story.

Choose a format that works for you and give novel journaling a try.

85k90 – Days 7 and 8

Yesterday was a wash. Dealing with continuing condo issues left little energy for writing. That’s ok because today, I more than made up for it with two good writing sessions and a copy and paste of some writing I’d done for NaNoWriMo that folded into the scenes I’m currently writing ending the day with a gain of 2,437. All is well with the world again.

I’m finding that reading for an hour before writing and mapping out my writing day (whether or not I follow my map) is helping a great deal, both in preparing the writing part of my brain and in avoiding the blanking out I get when I sit down to write without first choosing a direction for my thoughts.

Also, my daily checklist. Why haven’t I done this before?

85k90 – Day Six – The Day of Water and Ice

Today hasn’t been much of a writing day. It’s been more of a candle lighting, hot water boiling kind of day.

This weekend is the coldest on record for this area at this time of year. During the night last night, the power blew in our high rise and we switched over to emergency power. Emergency power doesn’t include heat. We spent the day trying to keep the apartment at a reasonable temperature which, it turns out, is pretty time consuming and stressful living with the knowledge that the remaining electricity could go at any moment. I stayed away from my iMac just in case.

Around dinner, the heat came back on. Hurray! Heat! Hot water! But not for long. Within about an hour, there were reports of water filling the lobby. Water rained down from the pot lights in the ceiling. The heat and hot water vanished again..

And that’s where we’re at right now. I’m using my iPad to write this post. I hope I’ll have power to upload once I’m finished. I will do a bit more writing throughout the evening. So far I’ve written 400 words which is all right considering the circumstances.

I hear it’s going to heat up this coming week. I can hardly wait.