As some of you know, I have been knee-deep in COVID doctor-y stuff since the beginning of March. I'm one of the physician leaders at my hospital, and the non-hospital clinic has been crazy pants. And over the past several weeks we've had a lot more sick patients -- things are starting to heat up. And the meetings just keep coming. My brain has had one setting and it's: COVID COVID COVID 24/7.
So for months, the only writing work I've been able to successfully accomplish involved not CREATION but only REVISION. These are not equal activities. I can tell a big difference between CREATION which takes a clear, uncluttered mind and longer periods of blank, free time -- versus REVISION, with I can do in short snippets and in between non-writing activities. (And while on call, true.)
I have two different books out on submission right now. (commence the nail biting!) That means waiting and doing ... something. So, the best activity is to write the second books to follow each of those submitted ones. Mission accomplished on one of them (I wrote book #2 a few years ago, thank goodness!). But the other book/series? I turned in the 2nd book for submission in June and immediately started thinking about a sequel. Every day, think, think, think. Come on, sequel. No words would come out. Weeks went by. I'd hit a terrible wall. Then came a little kernel of idea. A snippet of dialogue. A scene paragraph. But that was it. Nothing more would come.
The more I fretted about the lack of words, the less the words came. A vicious dive down a black hole that kept getting worse and worse.
I even managed to come up with a very rough outline. It was ... meh. As they say in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "...dry like toast."
Then I did what any good doctor -- I mean writer -- should do. I took a dose of my own medicine!
Why was I starting with a plot point or a need to write a sequel? Why, when every other book I've written has started with the tiny kernel of idea and ... CHARACTERS.
You see, I had committed a key writing sin. One that I did years ago on my most difficult book to write so far. I didn't create my characters first. Didn't do the 10-page character interviews. Didn't use character motivations to generate conflict or plot. I had skipped a big step. Tried to jump straight to the drafting stage, which I know is quick and relatively painless for me. In short, I GOT GREEDY. Or lazy. Pick which word suits.
Here's what I realized -- the reason the drafting process had been relatively quick and painless in the past had to do with the fact that I had done my homework: character interviews, events/plot points, outline, and a super detailed outline. Then -- and only then -- came drafting. Come on, writer, you know better than to take shortcuts!
What do you know? Those detailed character interviews and insights led me to the conflict and plot. And bingo, bango -- we've got a book to draft.
Moral of the story: 1) don't take shortcuts and 2) when you find a process that works, don't mess with it!
Recently, I had a great time at Emerald City Writers’ Conference and did a talk on Fastdrafting 101. A few questions came up after this talk that I wanted to address here. I may have answered some of the questions, but honestly, the first 20-30 minutes of that talk was like an out-of-body experience, due to nerves. Also, if I cussed during that time, I'm super sorry... (sometimes I say bad things when I'm super nervous)
As we approach NaNoWriMo, the fastdrafting materials might be helpful for those WriMo-ers out there gearing up for November!
Here are my prior fastdrafting blog posts, if you would like a refresher/cautionary tale…
Part 1: I've got an idea!
Part 2: Bad decision making, for sure, but what could possibly go wrong?
Part 3: Uh oh...
Question): How many documents do you prepare before the fastdrafting begins?
Answer): 3. The outline which gets revised several times before it becomes final. This is a handwritten document. I’d show you a copy, but no one can read my handwriting. The second item is the character interviews (hero/heroine/villain). And any pictures for character or motif inspiration. Other than that, the only other document is the fastdrafted word document. (Yes, I use Word. Yes, I know I’m probably supposed to use something like Scribner. I know.)
Question): Do you format as you go?
Answer): Absolutely not. I don’t even count chapters as I’m going along. Instead, I write what I think is a chapter, insert a page break, and then start the next chapter with one word: “Chapter”. I don’t center the word, don’t worry about spaces down the page. Same thing goes for section breaks. Just get some kind of item in the text to indicate a break – use an asterisk or ampersand or something. Then I keep writing.
Question): What was the fastest time from first idea to final draft?
Answer): First of all, final draft tends to go much longer, as I consider the final draft to be the final product that goes to print. But for the purposes of this discussion, if we assume the final draft is the best I can get the book before it goes for editing with the publisher, then the fastest time is a few months. Fastest pre-writing/interviewing was 2 weeks, 4 days of fastrdrafting, then 4-6 weeks of editing. So let’s say fastest possible is 2 months, but most drafts are more like 3-4 months. As we discussed, you pay back that time efficiency from drafting quickly by needing a longer editing process.
Good luck with your novel draft -- however you get it done.
Just get it done!
Recap: Because of some questionable decision-making on my part, I ended up fastdrafting a paranormal romance novel over an approximately 4 day period. Part 1 and Part 2 give a good recap of those four days of insanity.
So, the first draft of the novel was completed as of 2/23/16. Deadline to send it to the developmental editor: 3/6/16. My personal preference? I hate being late, so I generally try to get things in a little early, mostly to reinforce to my latent OCD. So late is not an option.
That meant I had to take the novel from first draft (37K words) to ~45K words – my second stage goal. No, the book is not done yet – not by any stretch – but I wanted it layered enough for the editor to take a look and make revision suggestions before I go back for another rewrite and expand it some more.
Disclaimer: I make no claims as to the quality of the manuscript. Also, no claims as to any expertise other than how dumb I was to attempt something like this in such a short period of time. Making bad choices? I'm a level 11 certified expert.
So. 12 days to revise the book. 160 pages divided by 12 = 13.5 pages/day. Should be easy, right? (Spoiler alert: This scheme doesn’t work well if you have a day job.)
Let’s count those days down and see what happened.
12 days to go: Back at work, trying not to make mistakes because my brain is fogged from 4 solid days of writing. I have a hung-over feeling, minus alcohol the night before. Editing tonight? Bwahahahahaha! NOPE.
11 days to go: After work, barely made it through the first chapter revision, then gave up and stared at TV for an hour, still kind of numb.
10 days to go: Got 2-3 hours of revisions done that night. Still behind on the pages/day. The other problem? IT KEEPS GETTING LONGER. Pages/day calculations get bigger the more I revise. The finish line keeps moving further away.
9 days to go: Friday, yahoo! Uh oh. Sick. Started feeling like death at around 2pm. Finally got the crud after seeing 7,230,102 sick patients this winter. To bed at 7pm.
8 days to go: Boom goes the dynamite! Back from the dead. Re-edited first chapter, then got another 40 pages or so. This took me about 6 hours.
7 days to go: Another 40 pages. Ok, so I’m halfway through the edit, factoring in the fact that the end point continues to move.
6 days to go: Monday. Nuttin’ honey. Worky work and no writing tonight.
5 days to go: 2 hours of editing. Made it to page 90. This is not going well. Beginning to panic.
4 days to go: Driving 5 hours to teach at a medical course. 6pm meeting, got to hotel at 8pm. 3 hours of editing. Late night.
3 days to go: Frantically reviewing notes to teach this obstetrics course since I didn’t prepare a super lot, because…writing. Good news is I taught the course a few years ago, so I can wing it if need be. Editing 1 hour total during breaks in the course, and then another 3 hours in the evening, which made for a very late night.
2 days to go: Have I mentioned panic? I’m only on page 110, and my endpoint is currently 180. While teaching workshops on maternal resuscitation, part of my brain is thinking, Oh my gosh, when will I have time to edit? Drove back 5 hours that evening, the whole way I’m thinking about how much I’d like to be editing. Got home at 8. Managed to squeeze in a few hours of editing before I couldn’t stay awake any more.
1 day to go: Ok, focus. No surfing the internet. No social media. Got up at 7, thanks to the cats. Wrote until 1pm in panic-induced altered state of reality. Made it to “the end” at just under 47K words, and just under 200 pages.
Hit “send” and relaxed. Holy cow.
Bonus list: Things I did not do during the past 3 weeks.
#10) Spend as much “nothing” time talking and hanging out with hubby.
#9) Laundry. (thank you, hubs)
#8) Take call. TBH, there would be zero way I could do that much writing during my 7-10 day call block.
#7) Train for marathon. This is no joke. Ok, here’s what’s obvious: I only have the energy for 2 out of these 3 things: work, write, train for marathon. Work is not optional. Zero energy left over to do 5-8 mile runs. And if I run like that, I can’t stay awake to write late at night. Might need to downgrade to a ½ marathon…
#6) Clean. At the end of this stretch, the scuz in the bathroom had evolved to the point where it developed sentience. And that’s not a good thing. Took care of it with toxic levels of bleach applied with extreme prejudice to all surfaces.
#5) Marketing. I can either write/edit a lot or market. Cannot do both in the time available.
#4) Queries for another book. Nope. Same reason. Literally every spare second was spent writing or editing.
#3) Sleep. Except for the night where I had to sleep off the bubonic plague, my normal nightly sleep time was around 6-7 hours. Dr. Jill does not recommend.
#2) Do fun stuff with hubs. He’s a really understanding guy. It helped that I gave him permission to go ice fishing as much as he wanted during all the weekends.
#1) Think up new book ideas/revise other manuscripts. Are you kidding me?
For more fastdrafting adventures, please check out this more recent 2017 post, which really should be titled "More bad ideas when it comes to trying to write a whole book in a weekend."
in the last post, we talked about what IS fastdrafting. Now I'm going to share how I tried it. Yes, everyone is different, but maybe this will give other folks good ideas for writing to work for them.
What are the rules?
As far as I can tell, there’s nothing set in stone, but here’s what I needed to pull this off:
Here’s what happened (times are approximate)
Friday 7-9am – Shiny object! Day off work! Surf Internet and read other folks’ blogs and writing articles. Polish up website. Check electronic medical records (EMR) at work to sign off orders and put out fires.
Friday 9-12 – Guilty about not writing, so wrote nonstop. Took breaks q15 minutes to check Twitter/Facebook because I’m easily distractible.
Friday 12-5 – Lunch, then more writing. And 30 minutes on the treadmill + shower in there somewhere. One more round on the office EMR.
Friday 5-8 – Hubby how-was-your-week time. Took him out to dinner this evening, BTW.
Friday 8-midnight – Writing lots. (end of day = approx. 6K)
Saturday 7-8 – Surfing, emails, checking office stuff one more time because…kind of a workaholic, yeah.
Saturday 8-2 – Hubby is fishing, hooray! Other than the occasional text of some brownish green fish of indeterminate size he’s obviously proud to show me, I am writing uninterrupted and feeling like stuff is flowing. Like, I just look up at the ceiling, think about the scene and type away. That kind of zone.
Saturday 2-5 – Hubby is back home, chatting about fish size and then dinner ensues. Also got 55 minutes on the treadmill + shower.
Saturday 5-12 – Lots of writing. End the day at 16K words, feeling pretty stoked. But I’m going to have to turn up the afterburners to get to goal.
Sunday 9-2 – Writing. (Slept in because up late the night before) Hubby is nice enough to go shopping and to the coffee shop to give me some quiet time. No treadmill today. Too tired.
Sunday 2-7 – Cleaned portions of house, by no means complete. I knew the environmental conditions were deteriorating beyond human tolerances when hubby announced he would “take care of” the vacuuming. He only does that when the dust bunnies unionize and revolt. Also hubs and I watched The Martian which was a good movie but the book was better, IMHO.
Sunday 7-1am – Wrote my little heart out, interrupted a few times by hubby wandering in to ask random questions and see how things were going. He went to bed at 9. I kept writing… Ended day at 24K words, feeling really good, almost on a high. Could be lack of sleep.
Monday 7-8 – Went to check on patient at hospital. Yes, I’m on vacation. Yes, it’s a long story. Please note the 6 hours of sleep. I did not believe I could complete the project near target on that little sleep.
Monday 8-12 – Wrote like my pants were on fire. Hubby at work. Only occasional “I’m bored, send kitty pictures” texts from hubs.
Monday 12-5 – More writing + lunch + 30 minutes on treadmill. By a miracle of God, finished up at 7pm with a decent “the end” and 37K+ words. (Target goal 35-40K)
Now, time to let the manuscript marinate for a few days and revise, which of course takes longer when you fastdraft, and for obvious reasons. But now I have the really big picture and that’s when other questions and hole-fillers appear. So we’ll see if I can get the revisions done in time for deadline. I will update if the final product fails to materialize as a result of fastdrafting.
What I learned:
I hope this gives folks who write but also have a “day job” some hope or at least some ideas to get their book created faster. If you have any comments or questions, let me know. I’m not an expert in anything but what I just did here this weekend. And chocolate. I'm at expert level 10 for chocolate and could be quoted liberally in the press regarding chocolate consumption.
For more fallout, check out Fastdrafting Part 3: Revisions
There have been lots of great articles on fastdrafting, but I wasn’t a believer…
Until this last week. You see, I had a four-day weekend earmarked to write. I had a deadline for a developmental editor pass in two weeks. And before this last weekend started, I had…no book.
So I figured, why not? Let’s try fastdrafting. And I mean really fast. Could I crank out my usual first draft of a novel in four days? (Usual first draft for me = 35-40K words FYI)
What is fastdrafting?
Basically, it’s writing the first draft of the book without stopping (editing) and just getting the ideas and words down on paper. Some websites shoot for getting a book done in one, two, or four weeks with this method. I think it must also depend on the length of the book.
Who benefits from fastdrafting?
At the risk of being blunt, people who aren’t full-time writers will benefit. Maybe even some folks who are full-time writers. Fastdrafting is a great time-management tool when writing time is sparse/sacred. I understand that all the articles and advice say: “Make time to write every day.”
Well, okay. But when the day job can go 60-80 hours/week and the hours are unpredictable (I’m a family doc who admits patients to the hospital and delivers babies), then an hour/day of writing is frankly unrealistic.
Enter fastdrafting. I did a modified version of this in October 2015 when I wrote the first 50% of my novella over ten hours in an airport and finished the novella over the next two weekends. (35K words when all said and done final -- not initial -- draft) But it wasn’t a true fastdraft.
I wanted to try it on a regular book-length book. (Book-length for me is final product 50-70K. Again results may vary depending target lengths.)
Who also benefits from fastdrafting?
People who can produce an outline beforehand and make decisions to deviate on the fly from the outline while mid-manuscript.
Also, writers who are okay with an imperfect, incompletely researched first draft. For example, I’ve left out place names or even certain character names, rather than stop and look them up to find just the perfect name. It can be added later!
Check out the next post for "what happened" during the fastdraft experiment!
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to duct tape folks together and help when I can.