Step One: Pre-plan
I didn't always pre-plan. I, like many of you, read On Writing by Stephen King and decided, "Yes, I'll just pants my way along and a gem will appear after all my toil." However, I missed one important point. I'm not Stephen King (a surprising fact no-doubt). But, pre-planning doesn't have to be highlighted grafts, two tons of sticky notes and color-coded pie charts. I do it rather loosely. My research is in the form of websites, articles and pictures, anything that paints my world in brighter colors. It's sloppy plot outlines and character sketches written in a google doc that no one will ever see. It's a map so I know where I am going and where I am going to end up. It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to get me there.
Step Two: Set a goal
I stick to 1000 words a day and more if I can carve out time. I work full time and have two little children, so time is like gold in my hands (I couldn't resist a Joe VS. the Volcano reference. Fans? Anyone?). However, having little time is no excuse. Let me repeat: Having little time is no excuse. I've learned along the way that anything could stop me from writing: a bad day, indigestion, a poopy diaper (my kids, not mine). I'd never write if I let any little issue stop me. So I do 1000 words a day, six days a week. No excuses unless someone is bleeding, dying or on fire. (Or if Downton Abbey is on. Hey, a girl has to live once and a while). 6000 words a week will get you done with a rough draft in three months. Not too shabby.
Step Three: Write, darn you, write
Here's the thing. Whenever I sit down to write, for the first five minutes I am always thinking I can't. When my little fingers touch the keyboard I think, "I've got nothing left. Whatever is inside my head feels more like moldy swish cheese than brains. I'll just do it tomorrow." See, our brains are condition to avoid something hard like creating a new world. Writing is hard work. But, we have to fight our brains. How, you ask? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that's how.
You don't need a psychologist. What you need is a set of mantras. Below are the ones I use to kick my lazy brain into gear.
- If I just get started, I'll write something. And something is better than nothing.
- I've felt this way before and been able to write by just making myself. I can do it
- It is okay if I write crap. I know I can always change it later.
- At least if I start I can meet my goal and feel good about myself, no matter the outcome.
Once I give myself a good talking to, I write. No excuses. Remember: bleeding, dying or on fire.
Step Four: Go Forward. Always Forward
Now once you're happily typing away, don't stop. No, really, don't stop. You may want to read the last few paragraphs and tweak them. You may find errors, spelling, something you missed. You may think that by fixing these things you are doing yourself a favor. You are not. This is your sneaky brain tricking you again. It thinks, "Boy, it's easier to fix what already exists, so let's just do that instead." Don't let it fool you. You must get words on the page fast or your momentum will die. This is the secret that those 90% that never finish don't understand. Words on page. Do. Nuff said.
Step Five: Stop for Nothing
Imagine writing is an all night road trip from Florida to Michigan with two children under the ages of five crying in the back and your husband is throwing up in the seat next to you. (This really happened to me. No joke.) You are tired and sick. The smell from your husband is nauseating and you kind of want to put him in the trunk. You know you must get home or face trying to sleep in a Motel 6 with your fussy one year old while bed bugs climb up your nose and give you Herpes. Stopping is not an option. You pound two Red Bulls and you just keep driving.
Writing is like this. Don't stop and come up with an awesome metaphor that takes you two hours to create. Write something like, "PUT AWESOME METAPHOR HERE," and keep on truckin'. Need a funny line? Write, "MAKE THIS FUNNY HERE," and go. Remember, momentum is your friend.
Step Six: Finish. Like a Boss
Do the above for ninety days. Moses wandered the desert for forty years. You can write 1000 words each day for ninety days. Man, it feels good to write THE END. Kick the pants off the rest of the 90% who will never cross that finish line.
Step Seven: Celebrate for One Day. Then get back in the saddle
You get one day off for good behavior. Go out to eat. Watch a movie you haven't seen (and believe me there will be many to choose from). Frolic in the gales. Enjoy it.
Then get your butt back to your computer and fix all the crap. And believe me there will be a lot of crap.
But, Katie, you say, haven't you just accomplished writing a hunk of junk? Yes, but it is a complete hunk of junk and you will be surprised at how many things actually make sense. Sure there will be a million things to fix, but none of them would even exist if you hadn't made yourself bang out the draft. Remember, it is easier to fix something than to create something. So, you've just done the hard part. Congratulations.
That's my take for good or ill. I'd love to hear from you on what works in your drafts. So, what about you? What techniques do you use to write a first draft?