Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Secret to Completing a 1st Draft

My mind is full of characters. Some have names, some have faces; some have both, some have neither. Evil villains, fantastical creatures, ordinary woman, handsome men, troublesome children, meddlesome grandmothers, disillusioned side-kicks, slobbering pets...

My mental notebook is full of plots: Historical battles, mythical lands, scandalous adventures, surprising coincidences, mistakes, mayhem and even ordinary days...

My electronic files are filled with character charts, plot lines, mind-maps, research, writing resources...and, unfortunately, a whole lot of unread, abandoned and incomplete stories.

What is the secret to completing a first draft?  

There are a lot of us who’d like to know the answer to that question. To those of us who’ve never done it, it seems like a big mystery. How do you start? How do you finish? How do you make your characters real? How do you drive the plot? How do you fix the middle—how do you get a middle?

So, like I’ve done with any other question I have had in the past ten years...I Googled it.

Not surprisingly, “write a draft novel” turned up a number of results. (I wonder if there is a statistic on the number of people trying to write a novel?) The first result was a link that led to a page of ads—not helpful. The second link was about writing using the Snowflake Method (I have one very advanced plot thanks to this link—the novel is still unfinished though). The third link talked about manila envelopes??? The fourth had a few helpful tips like “write every day” but nothing in the way of a concrete strategy.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of helpful information out there. So, how do you do it? How do you get all your ideas down on paper? How do you make the characters and events in your head come alive? How do you make them real for other people?

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. (Sorry if you thought I had some magical formula.)

But I do know what won’t work...

My Top 10 Ways to Ensure You Will Never Finish a First Draft
10. Make writing it your 2011 New Year’s resolution.
9. Sit in front of a blank screen and wonder what to write about.
8. Worry about what other people will think.
7. Forget to write.
6. Research without a specific goal.
5. Delete everything you don’t like.
4. Find the perfect words.
3. Wait until you have time.
2. Tell yourself you can’t.

And the number one way to ensure your will never complete your first draft....

1. Don’t try.

Maybe some of the draft-writing pros out there can help the rest of us. How do you go about writing your first draft? What does your first draft look like? How do you keep yourself on track? What motivates you to keep writing? What is your secret? 


Paula R said...

Hey Anne, thanks for the blog today. I have heard of the snowflaking method, which I believe is a fave of Suze Brockmann. So, it is definitely worth a try. Thank you for posting the top 10 things that a new or accomplished should not do. Before I dove into the pool of writing, I let doubts plague me and I worried too much about what people said. But, now I am just writing for me. If I am lucky enough to publish, that is just gravy. Your message was very apropo for me today. I have the perfect opportunity to work on my wips today, since there is no school. Thank you for the reminder.

Peace and love,
Paula R.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Paul! My inner critic never rests, but I am finding ways to mute it. Congratulations on moving to a place where you write for you! Good luck with today's writing.

Karyn Good said...

Well, I'm certainly no authority on completing first drafts but I have managed to do it twice. The last time was with NaNoWriMo and the went much faster than the first time around. I would highly recommend NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) as a way to get a first draft down and I'll definitely be attempting it again come this November. The SRW's BIAW every January is also a good opportunity to work on a first draft. These types of writing challenges really motivate me and help me keep pushing forward. I love the companionship that comes with these opportunities, too.

What do my first drafts look like? A mess!

Love your list, Anne. My personal favorite is No. 5 Delete everything you don't like. That's the hardest one for me to get past when writing a first draft!

connie said...

Hi Anne
Good blog, but you have given me a major guilt complex about the many first drafts all mixed up on a couple of USB sticks
I plan to write about the SNOWFLAKE METHOD in my next blog.
It looks pretty good.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anne,
I agree with Karyn that things like BIAW and NaNo are great for writing first drafts, partly because of the encouragement from fellow writers and partly because you're writing everyday with a definite goal in mind. I find that when I write everyday I get in "the Zone". I'm thinking about the book all the time and I can better see all the possibilities. Unfortunately, I'm not always able to work that way.

Preparation works for me as well. Nothing will kill the excitement of writing a first draft for me than getting to chapter four or five and having no idea where to go. Or discovering that my conflict is too weak, and the motivations of my characters feeble. If I think about those things ahead of time - goals, conflict and motivation - it helps to create characters that drive the plot.

What do my first drafts look like? A total mess that I won't show to anyone until I clean them up some.

Good luck with that first draft!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good post, Anne. I love writing the first draft and like others, I like the excitement of doing it during Nanowrimo and BIAW.

What motivates me? My love for the story I'm working on.

I recently bought Randy's Snowflake method and haven't used it yet. As an avid pantser, I'm not sure I'll use all of it but I'm eager to try. Usually, I just write. Like your list, I've found you have to just write and keep writing because a blank screen is useless.

Great list. Good reminders.


Anne Germaine said...

Hi Karyn,
I would really like to do NaNoWriMo. One of the frustrating parts of writing is the distraction of every day life. When I finally get back to writing, I've lost my excitement for the project.

Anne Germaine said...

The Snowflake Method is really good for people who need to structure their writing. I look forward to your post Connie!

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Jana! Staying in the 'zone' can be tough--but it's necessary!

Crystal Posey said...

Nice post!

Helena said...

You are certainly on target with your post today, Anne. From the perspective of someone who has NOT completed the first draft of a novel, I appreciate your list of top 10 how-not-to's ...

For everyone who has mentioned the intensive writing experience, such as NaNoWriMo, or the self-imposed retreat with a single objective of writing from an earlier post of Jana's, I second the motion. And Book-in-a-Week has an official website (SRW members have an adapted version) which may be the answer for the person who has difficulty keeping the "butt in the chair."

I have spent years (literally) trying to get a novel through to the end of the first draft, and thanks to many BIAWs, etc., I'm almost there. One of the worst habits I had to begin with was to stop and revise as I went along -- definitely a no-no for me. (But I keep all my versions, just in case.) What good is a 10th revision of chapter one if you can't get past it? So now I write without regard to how each word, sentence, scene, or description will look in the final draft, because I'll never get to the final draft if I don't get the messy one completed first. (This is what Anne Lamotte refers to as the shitty first draft. Usually it includes everything but the list of what you had for lunch, sometimes even that!)

The good thing is that we know we are not alone with the struggle. Thanks for tapping us on the shoulder, and giving us a little shove today.

Janet said...

I believe you and I are related - my mind is full of characters, too, and plots, black moments, chance meetings...

I don't, however, have character charts, plot stuff and the like because I am a plotter (they say that admitting the problem is half the battle - or is that some other kind of addiction?).

Great post, Anne. And a great list (I found myself nodding my head more than once). And I think the number 1 thing on your list is motivation enough for me. Don't try is like sticking me with a cattle prod - I will try, thank you very much!

Good luck finishing that first draft, and the one after that, and the one after that. With all those ideas, once you find the perfect solution for your issues (because everyone is different and what works for one...)you'll be a prolific writer.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Helena! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who struggles with this. (misery loves company, right?) I am a constant reviser as well. It is encouraging to hear that you are almost there. It gives me hope!

Anne Germaine said...

Janet...the only thing that keeps me going (other than I don't really have a choice--stories keep coming to me) is that I believe once I figure this out I'll be ready to go. Once I figure out what the secret formula for MY writing is there will be no stopping me!