I’ve made it to the end of the first draft and it’s as long as a full novel. Or close enough. Eighty-seven thousand words. Most of the notes I left along the way point to more writing to be added, including two additional chapters. If anything, the second draft will go over the 100,000 word target.
These reports are about lessons learned. On this long project, I’ve seen the proof of a lesson we all know.
The More You Write, the Faster You Write
The outline took eight months plus six weeks of outline changes in the middle of writing the first draft. A total of nine and a half months to write 8,000 words.
The first draft took ten months less six weeks of revising the outline. A total of eight and a half months to write 87,000 words.
Part of the difference is in the density. An outline is a much denser story than a first draft. On the other hand, nine times as many words is a lot of difference.
What has changed? I’ve noticed a couple of things.
One is that I’ve developed the ability to begin writing something as soon as I find my place. In the past, I spent a lot of time working out exactly what I wanted to say next. That was a final draft writing style. It wasn’t necessary. Any bad writing can be fixed in the revisions.
Another lesson is about character development. As they move from being just names to being full personalities with desires and flaws, it becomes easier to write what they will say and do. That can and did change the story. To reduce the interference caused by developing personalities, the solution is to have those characters well described at the outline stage. There’s another document I don’t talk about much – Notes.
“Notes” is a file with people, places, revision notes, and anything else I might need to look up many times. It gets updated as I write. If the characters were fully developed there before writing the first draft, it would limit the amount of damage caused by flat characters becoming three dimensional.
There were times while writing that I thought, “This is going to be a great book” and others when I thought, “I’ve failed. It’s a disaster. There’s no way this is any good.” But, I kept writing through both kinds of feelings. If anything it was almost easier to write when it felt like a failure. I didn’t have a high standard to live up to.
Both extremes seemed to be an interference with my writing progress. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s try not to evaluate an unfinished manuscript. It doesn’t help.
Speedier First Drafts by Analogy
The first time you read a textbook chapter for university or college, you don’t try to “get” every concept or memorize every table. You know you’ll be back around after it’s taught in class and before every test. That same logic can be applied to first draft writing.
While writing the first draft, problems will come up. Many problems. When they affect what’s already written, the only sensible solution is to go back to the chapter that needs changed and leave a note. Re-writing could hold up the draft indefinitely. At least I did that during this first draft.
If we apply the first reading of a textbook to writing first drafts as an analogy, the logical method of dealing with problems blocking progress is to write a brief note about the problem and keep writing. I failed to do that many times. Weeks were lost working out solutions. Now I know, and so do you, that it makes more sense to leave a note and move on. The problem will still be there during the next draft, just like those difficult concepts will still be there during the next textbook reading.
How About Those Revisions?
Novel reports on the revisions will be a bit different. Some revisions will be huge and there’ll be a report. Others are small and I’ll combine several into one report.
I never thought to track the amount of time spent on the outline or first draft. Because of the reports and mentions in a few Writer on Fire articles, I was able to work out how much time I spent on each. If I’m going to learn to write faster, I need to track how much time I spend on these tasks. Time spent tracking writing is time not writing, but without quantification I can’t tell if I’m improving.
Popular advice says to take a break between drafts. Since I have some other writing I need to do, I’ll let the novel rest for a couple of weeks. I’ll still be working on Writer on Fire articles concurrently. See you again soon.
Article by Ivan Izo.