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Strangely, there is a raw emotion that comes from writing something so fast you don’t have time to noodle it to death.
How excited are you when you first start fleshing out a story? How amazing does it feel to start naming your characters and setting up their scenes in your mind? Fan-freaking-tastic!
This is because you are in the beginning of a book affair.
Writing a book is like having a relationship. In the beginning, it’s like a honeymoon! You feel all the emotions. Love and pain and excitement and lust. Well, okay. Maybe not lust. Paper cuts hurt, so let’s not go there.
The point is the first draft should be all elation and honeymoon.
Leave the nitty-gritty for your fifteenth edited draft. You don’t want to be sitting in a rocking chair with your first draft complaining about how much he snores before you even get to edit.
Taking years to write that first draft can land you in complacency town before you cross the finish line. Pour your heart and soul into the rough draft with reckless abandon.
“Pour your heart and soul into the rough draft with reckless abandon.” – Michelle Rene
“But nothing good can come from my sloppy first draft if I write it in a few weeks,” says the nebulous reader voice in my head that’s starting to sound whiny.
Please refer to the infographic below. It lists some of the most popular books and how long it took the writer to finish them. While Lord of The Rings took a whopping sixteen years to complete (no shocker there), I’d like to direct your attention to roughly a quarter of the chart that indicates books written under three months. If the Boy in the Striped Pajamas was written in two and a half days, you can write something of quality in four weeks.
Editor’s Note: This is an awesome chart. I’d say awesome enough to print it and display it in your writer’s lair to spur you on. Michelle’s post continues after the graphic below.
Why Write This Fast?
Nothing kills a book faster than never finishing that initial draft. A malaise sets in, often slowing a writer down to a crawl while they chip away over a long time and often give up entirely.
“Will I ever finish this book?” the writer asks, (fists raised to the sky for dramatic effect).
Maybe. Maybe not. That first draft is possible if you pick yourself up by your metaphorical bootstraps and do the work every day, but a large percentage of writers never cross the finish line. What a shame that is!
To reiterate: Strangely, there is a raw emotion that comes from writing something so fast you don’t have time to noodle it to death.
How Do I Start?
Let’s begin with talking about the snarky, three-hundred-pound elephant in the back of your mind.
Your inner editor.
We are going to bind and gag that jerk, and it may take fifty shades worth of rope because it’s three-hundred pounds and takes up a lot of headspace.
Sarah Bale, an extremely prolific romance writer, has similar advice for your would-be-elephant editor.
“I think the biggest mistake an author makes when writing a rough draft is stopping and rereading/editing their work. The key is to keep moving forward and get the whole story out. Know the beginning and the ending. If you have those elements, the rest is easy.”
“The key is to keep moving forward and get the whole story out.” Sarah Bale
The passionate ideas come when the critic in our mind is silenced. Allow yourself to fall head over heels in love with your story.
Build your characters. Plot the story fast and loose. Fall in love with your story. Get down and dirty in that honeymoon phase…but not literally because remember the paper cuts. We talked about that. If not, we will.
And finally, outline!
For the love of all that is holy, outline your story! Do not do this flying by the seat of your pants. That is a sure-fire way to crash and burn. It doesn’t need to be an in-depth outline. On the contrary, keep that pretty loosey-goosey, too.
My outlines are often little more than a few sentences for each chapter.
The Middle Stick
It’s right around the 30,000-word mark that this happens. The Middle Stick is what I call the point where your initial enthusiasm begins to wane, and your progress gets sluggish. What began as “yay, I’m writing a book” turns into “I don’t know if I can do this.” It happens to everyone.
This is where participating in programs like NaNoWriMo can be helpful. Having other writers in the same place can be encouraging, and they can hold you accountable. If you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, I suggest getting a group of like-minded author friends to do this together. This is also where writing ahead of your minimum word count helps because The Middle Stick will almost certainly slow you down.
Here are two helpful tips for when you are in the “saggy middle”
- Go out of your comfort zone and experience something related to your book. For example, if you are writing a western, go see a rodeo. Get away from your computer. (Or in Covid days, watch YouTube videos specific to your story or go for a walk or take a hike or try a new recipe that your protagonist would enjoy. – Kiffer)
Multi-award winning author, Janet Shawgo, has this to say about immersing yourself in your research outside the page when she was researching her book, Look For Me, set in the Civil War. “What helped me was putting feet on the ground at Gettysburg to get a feel of the area, what my characters saw, what they heard. To try on costumes true to that era. I walked some of the roads soldiers did in Virginia. If at all possible, put yourself there.”
- Switch up your chapters. This is where outlining really helps you. If you are hitting a wall writing chapter thirteen, jump forward and write chapter twenty. Sure, you’ll have to go back to that chapter eventually, but this helps you jump over that block and continue to get your word count in.
I wrote Tattoo entirely this way. It’s made of seven parts of a story told chronologically backward. I didn’t write any of those parts in order. Not one. Yet, I still managed to piece them together in the end.
Just keep moving. The momentum will pick back up. You can do this.
PICTURE SELF in the FUTURE with a Completed First Draft!
Hurray! You Did It!
Go celebrate. Treat yourself to a fancy dinner. Toast your deed with some friends. Eat a whole chocolate cake. I don’t care. Party it up because you managed to do what the vast majority of humans on this planet cannot do. Most people never dream about writing a book. Fewer attempt it. Only a small fraction actually finish a draft.
You are spectacular.
Now, put the book aside for at least a month (more like two). You will eventually go back and edit. You will fill in those empty brackets.
You will allow that annoying three-hundred-pound editor elephant back into your life. But not right now. That’s for another day.
STAY TUNED for Michelle’s Next Chanticleer Writer’s Toolbox blog post on:
- Time Management
- From Snail to Sprint
- 90 second exercise to keep you on track
- How to Not Fall into the Black Hole of the Internet While Writing Your First Draft
Michelle Rene, the author of this blog post, is a creative advocate and the author of a number of published works of science fiction, historical fiction, humor, and everything in-between.
She has won indie awards for her historical fiction novel, I Once Knew Vincent. Her latest historical novel, Hour Glass, won the Chanticleer International Book Awards Grand Prize for Best Book. It was released on February 20th to rave reviews from Chanticleer, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Her experimental novella, Tattoo, was released on March 7th.
When not writing, she is a professional artist and self-described an all-around odd person. She lives as the only female, writing in her little closet, with her husband, son, and ungrateful cat in Dallas, Texas.
Chanticleer Editorial Services – when you are ready
Did you know that Chanticleer offers editorial services? We do and have been doing so since 2011.
Our professional editors are top-notch and are experts in the Chicago Manual of Style. They have and are working for the top publishing houses (TOR, McMillian, Thomas Mercer, Penguin Random House, Simon Schuster, etc.).
If you would like more information, we invite you to email Kiffer or Sharon at KBrown@ChantiReviews.com or SAnderson@ChantiReviews.com for more information, testimonials, and fees.
We work with a small number of exclusive clients who want to collaborate with our team of top-editors on an on-going basis. Contact us today!
Chanticleer Editorial Services also offers writing craft sessions and masterclasses. Sign up to find out where, when, and how sessions being held.
A great way to get started is with our manuscript evaluation service. Here are some handy links about this tried and true service: https://www.chantireviews.com/manuscript-reviews/
Thank you for reading this Chanticleer Writer’s Toolbox article.