Why writing a crappy first draft is important.

It may seem paradoxical of me to be writing this post from the depths of revision #832-B in my current project, but the fact I would quote such a number, even in hyperbole, should convey something in and of itself about the mutability of a story and how frivolous it is to try to get anything right the first time.

There are two major reasons it is useful, even necessary to write the most horrible first draft you can:

  1. The one you hear all the time: Because it’s the only way you’ll FINISH the darn thing! Creating an entire story and funneling it from your head onto paper is difficult enough without wanting it to glow in your first draft. I think many writers dive into a project with high energy, but then they lose steam in the tough spots because they want the prose to be just right, the plot point to be just right, the transition to be just right, and when it eventually, inevitably isn’t they get stuck and frustrated and jump ship. With the first draft, you just have to let loose. Hokey pokey, being bad is what it’s all about! Write with reckless abandon, worry about the fine stuff later. Who cares if it’s full of holes when you finish? That’s what revision is for!
  1. The one you hear less often, because many manuscripts never make it that far: The story will fluctuate with every revision. Sometimes in colossal ways. You will add one scene and cut another. Write a character in or out. Work things up, work things down, slash whole chapters, change the ending, adjust a huge plot point that has repercussions all throughout the book. Writing a crappy first draft is important because you need to get all the pieces on the board before you can step back and see the story objectively, in its entirety, and figure out how to adjust the parts to make the whole better.

What’s your first draft process like? Any tips for first-time novelists? Share in the comments below!

Julie’s Guide to Writing a Novel (12 Stages)

Writing a Novel in 12 Stages

Let me just say, even though I’ve committed a certain formula to illustration here, the novel writing process is just that: a process. It is full of trial and error, it changes, and with each repetition you improve it. In fact, the process I went through with my first novel was very different from what is pictured above. What I’ve drawn here is based on my own experience and what I have learned. I can already tell you that in practice, there may very well be even more drafts. And cupcakes (one hopes).

Please feel free to use this illustrated page— share it, print it, color it, mark it off like a checklist for your own book– and, if so inclined, share what your own book-writing process looks like in the comments below!

NaNoWriMo 101: An Introduction

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a writer’s challenge in which, during the month of November, participants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. This equates to approximately 1,667 words a day for 30 days.

Cactus SPIKE! Did you say 1,667 words a day?

Yes. Yes I did.

That might seem like a lot, but with the right mindset, effort, and time, pretty much anybody can do it.

I don’t believe you.

It’s true.

Any Converse-wearing wannabe can throw down effort and time, but what is this “right mindset” you speak of?

The fast pace of Nanowrimo is designed to be a push for all of us, but especially for us hardcore edit-as-we-go types. What I mean by the right mindset is the witting knowledge that this is your first draft: it doesn’t matter how messy, haphazard, or even downright reckless it is. The important thing now is to get the story out. Edit later.

Say it with me now: Write now. Edit later.

In fact, for the month of November, say goodbye to your delete key.

What! No! But I love my delete key!

Tough cheese. In my experience, succeeding in Nanowrimo means granting yourself permission to tell a story and tell it poorly (because you will improve it later*).

Here’s a suggestion for those that really struggle with turning off the internal editor.

Step 1: Think of three adorable animals.

Step 2: Draw minute versions of said animals on tiny scraps of paper.

Step 3: Attach/tape one tiny animal picture (let’s say a baby seal, a baby panda, and a kitten) to each of the following computer keys: INS, DEL, and BACKSPACE.

Step 4: EVERY TIME YOU PRESS INS, DEL, OR BACKSPACE A FAIRY [baby seal, panda, kitten, etc.] DIES

A less dramatic idea is to write with the screen brightness all the way down or using a tool such as Write or Die, which discourages distraction, procrastination and editing with negative reinforcement.

A completely drama-free but arguably difficult approach is to simply be disciplined and not let yourself edit.

Uh, okay…But why was there an asterisk in that last bit?

You can always go back and improve something you’ve written…provided that you save it first! (See the First Rule of Writing: Back It Up.) And be sure to save your Nano writing, like any document you care about, in more than one location! Use zip drives. Email the latest versions to yourself. Dropbox and other save folders that update automatically are especially useful. That way, if anything happens to your computer you’ll be covered.

Save often, and always save in more than one place!

Any other resources I should know about?

Nanowrimo.org is the official website for Nanowrimo and offers cool tools for tracking your progress, prize incentives, and forums for connecting with other writers taking the challenge. Many cities also have local chapters, and if you sign up with Nanowrimo you may be able to find gatherings in your local neighborhood.

There are many other resources out there to help you plan, organize, and write your novel, but the most rudimentary and really the only necessary one is a writing implement.

Other Nano basics?

Share your experience in the comments below! What Nano survival advice would you give to those just starting out? What resources would you recommend?

Forum Friday: Research in Writing

The floor is yours, fellow writers:

What is the most recent (or most interesting) thing you’ve researched for the sake of your writing?

I’ll get things rolling with a few things I’ve researched for my novel-in-progress recently:

  • Pretentious first names
  • Pretentious last names
  • Cloning (long-term research)
  • How to read people. I found this incredibly interesting (not to mention useful for narration!) and ended up spending several hours reading through search results. Here were some of my favorites: 1) How to Read Body Language 2) 18 Tips for Reading People) 3) 25 Common Gestures

How about you?