Welcome to part two of the How to Create a Writing Process That Works series! (ICYMI: In order to help you discover your own process, I created a writing process series with tips for developing a process that works best for you!) Today we’re going to talk about drafting. You can find the post on brainstorming here! Keep an eye on in the coming weeks for a post on revision and editing.
Drafting is obviously one of the first biggest challenges in finishing a book. You will never get published or reach any kind of writing goal if you can’t finish your project. Drafting can also be really hard. It’s the worst your book will ever be and it can be challenging to keep writing when you feel like you can do better. But you need to keep writing, and I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to do that when you figure out a drafting process that works best for you. In fact, once you do, drafting can get a lot more manageable and even be fun!
Here are some tips to help you figure out how you draft best!
Brainstorm or not to brainstorm
First, decide if you should brainstorm before you draft. I’ve found that brainstorming is really helpful for people who have a hard time thinking about their story and writing their story at the same time. For more on this, check out the brainstorming post from this series!
I think there are typically two main schools of thought when it comes to how quickly a draft gets done: fast and reckless or slow and methodical. (But of course, you may fall somewhere in between.) Drafting quickly tends to mean writing carelessly. There will be gaping plot holes, characters that randomly appear or disappear halfway through, and details that you just can’t seem to keep straight. Quick drafts are the very definition of a shitty first draft. You’ll likely have a TON of work to do in revision before the book is in any kind of condition to be read. But you also won’t really know your story’s strengths and weaknesses until it’s complete. Drafting quickly means you’ll have a finished book to work with ASAP. The sooner you get a draft down, the sooner you can get to work on assessing your books problems and creating solutions.
Drafting slower and more methodically means you think a lot more about your book ask your write it. You may do half or even a quarter of the daily work the quick drafter does, but hopefully being more purposeful will mean you need less revision.
Should you set a daily word count goal? Or should you set aside a set amount of writing time and track how much work you get done within that time? Ultimately, it depends on what motivates you and what frustrates/discourages you. If setting a daily quantifiable goal will keep you going and give you a sense of accomplishment, then daily word count may best for yours. Daily word count goals keep your book moving forward at a consistent pace. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment in knowing you’re getting closer to a book-length product, regardless of the quality of the writing.
On the other hand, if you find that word counts are meaningless if you hate what you’ve written, then you might be better off ignoring your word count and instead focusing on setting time aside to move your book forward in a positive way every day. But be careful with this approach. If you get too caught up in writing well while you’re drafting, it might be easy to quit if you’re not liking what you’re writing. Focus on moving your story forward, but do everything you can not to edit what you while you draft.
With both of these options, the key is commitment. Commit to writing the number of words you say you will, or commit to working the amount of time you say you’re going to work.
Sequentially or Out of order?
This one is pretty straightforward. If you’re someone who drafts sequentially, you write your book in order; so, chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three. If you write out of order, you might hop around and write scenes or chapters from any part of the book as you see them in your head. Writing sequentially allows you to build momentum within your story as you write. Writing out of order allows you to write your book as it comes to you, so you don’t get hung up on “what comes next.” This really comes down to how your mind works best. The more logical you are, the more sequentially will probably work for you and the more abstract you are, the more it may help to write out of order. When it doubt, give both a try and see what works better!
How I learned what works for me
For a long time, I thought I was a methodical drafter. I would set hours aside and work with no thought toward word count or speed. And while I did tend to write quickly when I knew where my book was headed, it wasn’t my goal. My only concern was moving my story forward and enjoying what I was writing. It took me years to complete books, but I was typically pretty happy with the drafts I completed. Then I started my MFA program. My first class was, essentially, an extended NaNoWriMo. The number one goal of the class was to leave at the end of the semester with a completed draft of a book. I had to learn to write quickly and I had to be aware of my word count. Ultimately, I found it to be one of the most freeing experiences of my writing life.
I learned that the quicker I write, the less time I have to focus on what isn’t working and the more I have to pay attention to what is. And because of that, I’ve found that it’s easier to enjoy drafting. And since I spent two books drafting fairly slowly prior to this, I learned that my quicker drafts weren’t all that much worse than my slower drafts, but drafting quicker means I get to revision as soon as possible.
Some tips to help you find what works for you
Like I’ve said in the past, try everything at least once. Consider committing to NaNoWriMo, or at least the idea of writing a book in a month–even if you don’t wait until November to make it official. Then if that really doesn’t work for you, abandon this approach and try working slower. Then try setting a word count goal and don’t call it a day until you meet it. If that’s really frustrating or stresses you out, switch it up and try to focus on setting time aside for your writing projects.
You should definitely experiment with different combinations, but if you’re looking for a place to start, here’s something I’ve noticed. People who outline tend to do better drafting quickly with daily word count goals, and people who don’t outline tend to be slower, methodical drafters who do better setting time aside to get the work done. Neither of these approaches may be true for you, but if you try them both out, you can play around with until you find the right combination.
As always, I hope this helps! Check back in the coming weeks for part three of this series when we take a look at revision and editing!
Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get a bi-weekly email with posts like this one (plus a handful of email exclusives) delivered directly to your inbox!
Now it’s your turn: Do you draft better slowly or quickly? Do you set word count goals or make time commitments? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!