Power Through Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 book write writing magnifying glassYou’re doing it. You’re writing your first novel. You’re determined to make the reality as shining as the concept. So you fret over every word. Every character. Every plot point. You pelt your writer’s groups with questions, begging for advice. You go back a hundred times and change everything. And you end up laboring for five years over your first book.

Writers who are still early in their journey tend to get hung up on their first books. They’re not quite sure yet what they’re doing, and they’re devastated when the story that ends up on paper isn’t as epic as the way it existed in their mind. What’s going wrong?

2016-05-11 Power Through Three First Drafts

First Draft Sucks

2016-05-11 typewriter writing write keyboardPart of what’s so hard about being a writer is that, before your epic story becomes reality, you have to write this monstrous thing called first draft. And when you’ve never written a book before, first draft is daunting. Terrifying. First draft sucks. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth. First draft is not about writing epic fiction. It’s about puking your ideas out onto paper.

I don’t know why first drafts have to be so horrible, but they are for the vast majority of authors. So if this is your first novel, the easiest thing you can do is accept that your first attempt at writing your epic story is going to fall far short of your visions for it.

So, should you fret over every word, character, and plot point? No. You should accept that first draft sucks and puke it up onto paper. You can iron out each and every one of those horrible problems in subsequent drafts.

Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 three books writing write four books pen readingBut how can you swallow your fears of your finished book being as terrible as your first draft? Here’s an idea. Power through your first book. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write a completely different book. Power through it. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write another one.

By this time, you’ll probably realize that first draft simply sucks. And that’s okay, because it’s meant to.

THEN go back and rewrite your first book. Polish it up all pretty. Submit it to your critique group. Give it to trusted friends and family. Offer it to beta readers. And when you’ve re-written it a dozen times, hire an editor.

Then publish it.

Then go back and do the same with your second book. Then your third.

This, Too, Shall Pass

2015-06-08 WriterBy this time, here’s what I think you’ll have learned: First draft is a brief, passing thing. Everything you wrote in first draft can be upturned in second, third, or fourth. Nothing is set in stone until the ink has dried on the page.

While you’re writing first draft, and you’re tempted to halt and submit a life-and-death question to your writing group–STOP. Guess what? It does not matter. Why? Because it’s first draft! You should be writing crap. Absolute crap. Eventually you’ll realize that first draft really doesn’t matter. It’s only the final draft that needs to read well.


Embrace the Muck that Is First Draft

2015-07-13 Handwriting2Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines! When this post goes live, we will be four days deep into NaNoWriMo – a.k.a., National Novel Writing Month. I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about embracing the muck that is first draft.

How the heck are you supposed to write an entire novel in just 30 days, anyway? It’s so easy to obsess over every little detail while writing first draft – particularly if this is your first book.

Maybe it takes you two hours to fill out one page because you keep going back to research something or edit the preceding paragraph. Or maybe you get in the zone and dash out 20 pages in one sitting – only to re-read it the next day and conclude that your masterpiece doesn’t deserve to live under a rock in the desert.

Either one of these problems can really put a wet blanket on your momentum, grinding your NaNoWriMo challenge to a halt. How do you overcome?

2015-11-04 Embracing the Muck That Is First Draft

Flawed Is Beautiful

Keep in mind – first draft is not about perfect. It’s about getting the story out of your head. Subsequent drafts are about making it perfect.

I vividly recall the light-bulb moment one of my college classmates had in English composition – when he realized he didn’t have to write everything perfectly the first time; that writing could be broken down into pre-planning, a wretched first draft, not-so-horrible subsequent drafts, and the beautiful final draft – and that he wasn’t such a bad writer as he thought!

If first draft is good for one thing, it’s for being as intensely imaginative as you can possibly be. So what if you flung your hero’s car off a cliff in one scene and have it up and running again in the next? Be a child again. Anything is possible. Just keep writing. First draft is for you, final draft is for your readers.

But how do you turn off the inner critic and get that challenging first draft out?

Sign Up for NaNoWriMo

2015-11-04 NaNoWriMo Logo ShieldYou’ve already accomplished the first step! By challenging yourself to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have no choice but to tie up your inner editor and get the book written.

Keep the Pen Moving

Photo of pen and journalOr pencil. Or cursor. Set a timer, start writing, and don’t quit or go back until the timer rings. You can also use a page goal – don’t stop until you’ve filled one page. Or two or three – whatever you set as your goal. Or you can use a book-oriented goal. Don’t stop until you’ve finished one scene. Or one chapter.

I find this exercise works great for me – particularly since I’m also guilty of a wandering mind! I write by hand, and instead of concentrating on the actual words I’m writing, I strictly focus on whether or not words are flowing out of my pencil. If I notice that words are no longer “magically” appearing on my page, I just get that pencil moving again with whatever is next word in my head. I let my subconscious handle the rest – and when I look at it again later, it usually isn’t half so bad as I feared!

Love the Ugly Ducklings

2015-06-08 EditSometimes, when you’re having a really bad day and can’t find the zone and every word you write is truly a piece of trash, you have to simply love your ugly ducklings, in all their horrific gangliness.

Again, instead of making it your goal to write something good, make your goal so many words, so many pages, so much time, or so many scenes. It doesn’t matter one bit of nasty gray down if those words are disgusting.

They exist, therefore they are beautiful. Embrace them because they are written, make a note of how you plan to make them much better in second draft, and move on.

Those are my top three tips for embracing the horror that is first draft, whether you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo, or just chipping away at your WIP. What are yours?

How I’m Writing a 30-Day Novel – NaNo Week 5

Camp NaNo Participant

If you’ve been following this series, you know I’m documenting my effort to write a first draft in 30 days. Here are the links to the previous posts in this part of the series.

These are all Phase 2 of the series. The actual writing of the novel. In July, the series began with four posts on some of the ways I prepared to write my first intuitive novel in several years. Here are those links.

This week covers the final week of July and of the Camp NaNoWriMo writing challenges.

A Change of Tactic

Last week, I began working on the fourth quarter. Part of that process was laying out the quarter by chapter.

I continued that work this week, but changed my methods slightly.

I tend to write in short chapters. Usually 1,000 words or less. That works well for thrillers of any type and for many other genres, as well.

But having so many short chapters didn’t feel right this time and because I’m writing intuitively, I needed to pay attention to those little promptings. I also needed to find a better way to lay out the story.

As I looked at the list of chapters (over 40 in the final quarter), I realized I was describing scenes, not necessarily chapters. So I made a very simple change. I replaced the word “chapter” with the word “scene”. The layout went from this:

  • CHAPTER 4.01
  • CHAPTER 4.02
  • CHAPTER 4.03

To this:

  • SCENE 4.01
  • SCENE 4.02
  • SCENE 4.03

That may look like a small change (and it was), but it made a big difference in the way I was able to work with the story.


Because when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of writing, stories aren’t made up of chapters. They’re made up of scenes. A story is written scene by scene. For some writers–including me–chapters and scenes are interchangeable. One scene per chapter; one chapter per scene.

As I’m fond of saying, there is no one method that works for every writer all the time and this time, that chapter/scene idea just wasn’t working. Once I made that change, the scenes fell together in a much more orderly fashion and progress was much smoother.

Another Change

Up to this point in the NaNoWriMo challenge, I followed the story. If there were ideas for scenes at the beginning of the story, I wrote them. If the next day’s work was on the end of the story, that’s where I went. Sometimes, I was able to string together a number of scenes along a particular story line.

For the final four days of the July NaNo challenge, I went back to the beginning and began working my through the first quarter of the novel, chapter by chapter. This time around, I wrote each chapter as close to completion as possible. I also added scenes and chapters to introduce characters who had appeared during the month.

In addition, I began weaving individual story lines into the novel from the beginning. As disjointed as this method of writing seems, it was much easier to add these new scenes and chapters now, after I had a good working understanding of each story line, than it would have been earlier.

Challenge Mission Accomplished… Sort Of

From Monday through Thursday, I averaged over 5,151 words a day. Two days were over 6,000 and one of those was a surprising 7,037 words. It was the best week of the month and made for a very strong finish.

When the challenge officially ended at midnight July 31, The Candidate  was 77,720 words long. That’s the validated total. My total was actually a little bit higher. To get a manuscript that long, I’d written, planned, and journaled a remarkable 103,369 words. That’s an amazing amount on a good month. Considering all the other things that happened this month, I was amazed. Totally amazed.

The Candidate  isn’t complete. By my best estimate, it’s between 70% and 75% complete. Too close to set it aside.

So I ended July and began August with a new goal. Finish the first draft by the end of August. That will take about 2,500 words five days a week for each of those weeks.


Camp NaNoWriMo is over for July. I made excellent progress toward completing a brand new novel. I also had a ton of fun writing by the seat-of-my-pants. As I said at the beginning, it’s been almost five years since the last time I wrote this way. Now that I have, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that writing this way is both the most writing fun I’ve had in a long time and the most frightening writing thing I’ve done in a long time.

But then those of you who write this way all the time already knew that!

For those who might be thinking about NaNoWriMo or writing intuitively or maybe both, don’t let the fear get in your way. Sometimes the only way to find out whether or not something works for you is to jump in with both feet. NaNo is the perfect place for that.

How I’m Writing a 30-Day Novel – NaNo Week 4

Camp NaNo Participant
Here we are, talking about the fourth week of July Camp NaNo already. Where has the time gone?

As you know if you’ve been following this series, I’ve been documenting my effort to write a first draft in 30 days. The novel is The Candidate, a political thriller with a touch of Bible prophecy. It is the first book in a series.

If you’ve missed the previous posts in this series, here are the links.

These are all Phase 2 of the series. The actual writing of the novel. In July, the series began with four posts on some of the ways I prepared to write my first intuitive novel in several years. Here are those links.

Now, for these week’s installment.

Making Up Lost Ground

Week 4 of Camp NaNoWriMo was the first week in which I didn’t have major outside plans or unplanned emergencies, so it was an excellent writing week. So good, in fact, that I reached the weekly goal of 18,700 words on Thursday. That was definitely a boost to morale. I finished the week with over 25,000 words. The best week of the month.

But I also caught up on monthly word count by the close of the day Wednesday. The last time I was caught up was Day 3. I wrote 6,195 words on Wednesday of this week, the high count for the month. That accomplishment took some of the pressure off the rest of the month.

Writing The Fourth Quarter

I usually think of novels as quarters, whether I actually divide the manuscript up that way or not. With The Candidate, I had everything together in one long (and getting longer!) manuscript. Up until this week, I had only a vague notion of how the story was going to end. No one idea seemed best.

Early this week, I decided to physically divide the manuscript and I decided to start with the end. I opened a new document and began writing chapters intuitively, beginning with what I thought might be the first scene in the fourth quarter.

Throughout the week, I continued revising and adding to the fourth quarter.

All of the new chapters were new writing, but I pulled ideas from old scenes that had either not been attached to specific stories or had only been loosely attached. Those old scenes provided the impetus for the first day of work, but I soon found the fourth quarter going in another direction. Dutifully, I followed along. By the time I finished, those old scenes had been discarded or so deeply rewritten, they were unrecognizable.

When I realized the end of the story wanted my attention, I set an intermediate goal of finishing it by the end of the day Saturday. That seemed like a tall order, but by Friday night, the fourth quarter was complete. Every chapter was either written or summarized. On Saturday, I plugged in the chapters written earlier in the month.


From Monday through Friday, I averaged over 4,000 words a day. One day, I wrote 6,169 words. All of the ground lost during the first two weeks of July was regained and I reached 60,000 words on the manuscript on Thursday. That’s a major milestone for me. Bigger than 50,000 or 75,000.

The week ended with a total story word count of 23,000 and word count for the month of 68,454. That leaves a little over 7,000 words to write the final four days of July.

75,000 words is still my goal. But even if I make it early, I plan to keep pushing until the end of the month. I estimate it will take at least 100,000 words to finish The Candidate. I hope to have the first draft finished by August 15. If I can maintain current momentum in August, fifteen days should be just about enough.