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1st Draft done and a Scrivener post

🎉 🎉 🎉

The first draft of book 6 in my series is done! There are few things that feel better than finishing a book. Especially since this one took longer than usual, for no discernible reason—other than maybe a few world events messing with my concentration…?—and it feels great to have the hard part done.

Now on to revisions, edits, copyedits, book cover… Look for Blind Trust in October!

For my Scrivener fans, check out today’s post at WriterUnboxed.com about features in Scrivener 3 that make finding your projects easier. As always, I’m answering questions, so I hope you’ll stop by!

Getting started

It’s hard to determine a story’s turning points if you don’t know where it begins. Duh, right? But a large part of my pre-writing phase has been focused on figuring out what is back-story and what’s not.

It sounds like such a simple concept, but beginning too early or too late can be the death of an otherwise good manuscript. In my experience judging contest entries—and with my own writing—the temptation to start too early is especially strong.

In our desire to make sure the reader understands what’s going on, we’re tempted to throw in everything that’s happened to the hero since birth. While some books do this well, in my opinion the best books start with a change, or a foreshadowing of change. That is, a spark or catalyst that logically sets things in motion.

I recently judged a contest entry where the writing—the element of getting words on the page in a coherent and interesting fashion that makes me want to keep reading—was good. Unfortunately, the author started too far back and I eventually grew impatient for the “real story” to start already.

In my own manuscript, Slow Burn, I originally had opening scenes where the hero’s brother is kidnapped, the hero gets shot, and later the heroine escapes from a boat into the ocean and then struggles to survive the cold water. Some of those scenes were pretty exciting, but when I tried to figure out what the goal of the scenes were in relation to the story I realized I’d started too early in the characters' lives.

Where did things really change for them in a relevant way? When Steve found Libby floating in the water.

That was the inciting incident. (And coincidentally, or not, that scene was the original spark for the whole book.) It brought them together, started them on their initial journey, and paved the way for my first turning point. Everything I’d written before that became back-story that I sprinkled throughout the MS.

And in fact, not immediately knowing how or why Libby ended up in the ocean creates a story question that hopefully entices the reader to keep reading.

What about you? Do you struggle with where to start?

Getting messy

I’m learning how to get messy again. No, not like rolling in the mud, though that might spark some creative thoughts as well. I mean get messy with my writing. Why? Because I’ve spent the last two years learning about the craft of writing, and with each subsequent lesson, it gets harder to turn off the internal editor and just write.

When I started writing seriously in January 2009, I had no clue what I was doing. I was an avid reader with a story idea, and I was having a blast. I wrote into the mist, made u-turns, and head-hopped my way to the conclusion of a 50,000-word book. I wasn’t tracking word count, or following an outline, just following the joy.

Well, I want it back. And Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, reminded me how. In her chapter on Perfectionism, she basically recommends puking all over the page, writing whatever comes to mind, and worrying about sifting and deleting later.

This chapter, incidentally, comes just before the one on Shitty First Drafts.

Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature, overwriting in order to glean one small gem is hard for me. Some writers pound out 200K tomes and then edit them down to 90K. I tend to get the whole thing done in about 65K and then sweat to layer in the emotion, setting, and senses that I missed in the first pass.

So, I may never throw up all over the page or produce six-digit first drafts, and I still intend to have a basic outline before I start, but I’m learning how to gag that little editor who likes to sit on my shoulder and point out the word tics, passive sentences, and passages of “telling”.

How? First, I set high word count goals. Well, high for me, like 2000 words per day. If you're writing 10K per day, great, but I don't want to know about it. And I hate you. But back to getting messy… Next, I set the timer (I like the Mac Tea Timer gadget) for one hour, and try not to stop to stew over my prose.

Finally, when I find myself agonizing over a sentence or a paragraph, I smack the editor and just keep writing. The beauty of first drafts is that no one else has to read them. Only I need to know just how bad they really are. And the more I spew, the more my brains turns things over and comes up with great ideas, either to fix something, or for what's coming next.

So it turns out that of all the things I need to learn to improve my writing—both the quality and the experience of it—one of the most important is something I knew from the beginning: Just write.