Wednesday, May 8, 2013

First Drafts


The scariest moment is always just before you start.
Stephen King- On Writing

How do you go about writing a first draft? Everyone has a slightly different approach, every book requires its own pace and techniques, this is my way... (for the moment !)

The Words
Writing a novel can seem like a huge undertaking, but like anything else if  its broken down, made bite sized; its much more doable, and not so scary. That's why I count words. It doesn't sound like the most romantic/inspired way to write, but inspiration has little to do with a book getting finished. I count the daily word count and set short term goals and deadlines for myself. And post these on the fridge in bossy handwriting :)

Everyone has a different approach to a first draft, some write an outline, you can do this by writing a couple of pages summarising your novel, or making a list of scenes you need to write, or drawing a graph. It's like having a map. I prefer to work blindly and feel my way through the first draft. I'm not sure if this is the best way, it doesn't suit everyone, I'm not even sure it suits me :) 

Whether you  use an outline or not, you need to count words, you need to decide how many words a day you want to achieve and how many hours a week you can get to the laptop/notebook. Even if you only write 500 words a day, 5 days a week, you'll have a novel written by this time next year. A log book is helpful, a small notebook where you write the date and your word count, its also encouraging to see the numbers rise.

 The Talismans
Though I don't outline, I do collect images and pin them onto my notice board. For my last novel I had a box filled with old newspapers from the period I was writing about, for this new novel I keep paint brushes in a small jug  by my keyboard, and photos of an artist's studio on my noticeboard. These objects become totemic, they represent the world of my novel and help me make the shift from the real world to that world when I sit down to write. A poem or quote can help you along the way, I like this one by William Stafford.

The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The Heebie Jeebies
There might come a time, maybe half way through, maybe before that, where you'll have a crisis of confidence, just keep counting those words, keep moving. Don't judge your novel at this stage, leave that till later, just get the words done. And when they are done, celebrate and take a well deserved, but not too long, break. 

“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind – they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. The tale’s narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace. Worst of all, the excitement of spinning something new begins to fade. The work starts to feel like work, and for most writers that is the smooch of death.”
Stephen King- On Writing 



I ama wordcounter too. I aim to write 500 a day. Most days I won't reach that. Some days I go beyond it.

I also keep objects by me and pictures. They help, I find, to keep me focussed.

As for the heebie-jeebies? Well, they come daily. But I'm a determined chicky so I soldier on!

sukipoet said...

In my past incarnation I published one novel, but wrote maybe 3-4. I never counted words (LOL) though I did pages in a vague way. I like the idea of counting words, to keep on track.

I will see if amazon USA has your novel.

and love the William Stafford quote. I always put it to myself that beneath the everyday me was a train on a track that no one could see. Similar.

Good luck with your new novel. Sounds intriguing by your signposts.

Titus said...

I just love 'the smooch of death'.

Old Kitty said...

Ooh I do like your box of talismans! I also like to work blindly as you say - well I start blindly but unfortunately have this annoying habit of going over a scene rather than just carrying on - the end result being I take forever to get to chapter 2! LOL! Take care

Words A Day said...

@thanks for that Nuala, soldier on :)

I like that -'beneath the everyday me was a train on a track that no one could see.'

watch out for it, hope you never get smooched ;)

@Old Kitty
Youre a perfectionist :)

Donna Hole said...

Nice plan, one I need to adopt.


Rachel Fenton said...

I'm a word counter and a talisman keeper - a mudstone out on the patch of the deck where the morning sun hits, where I am apt to stare into day dreams, and it brings me back to the work. My heebie-jeebies come at the half way mark and just after I finish that first draft - I don't think there's a cure for them...

Theresa Milstein said...

I think whatever work for you, works. There's no right way, even though there are volumes of books and thousands of workshops that lead us to believe otherwise.

Thanks for sharing the poem by William Stafford. I may have to memorize it.