How to Write a First Draft: 15 Writing Tips

How to Write a First Draft

Every stage of the writing process is challenging for different reasons. But in a lot of ways, first drafts are the most challenging.  This is when your story goes from an idea in your head, to becoming an actual book. It’s the first major hurdle to clear if you have a goal of publication. Because of that, it can be the hardest. 

To help you clear this first hurdle, I put together fifteen tips to help you write your first draft:

1) Tune out doubters 

There will always be people who say you “can’t.”  There will always be people who point out how hard your task is or how unlikely the chances of success are. This is especially true if you’re writing your first first draft. Learn to tune the doubters out from the very start. These people are not you. They don’t know what writing and your story means to you. They don’t know what you’re capable of.

However, if it’s difficult for you to tune these people out, then consider keeping your circle very small and only telling people you can trust to be supportive.

2) Don’t try to be “good”

First drafts are by nature, a hot mess. Ideas that seemed good in your head may not work on paper. Additionally, it can be hard to think about the story and write the story in polished, easily understood language all at the same time. Because of this, being a “good” writer should be the least of your concerns when you’re at this stage. The only think you need to worry about is making it to the end with a completed draft. It doesn’t matter if your language is repetitive, choppy, or unclear. Just get to The End.

For more on why your writing doesn’t have to be “good,” check out this post!

3) Do You

It’s not a bad thing to read about how other writers approach first drafts, but ultimately, you have to do what works for you. If you’re someone who does well with a plan, then take the time to brainstorm and/or outline before you start. If you’re someone who does better figuring it out as you go, just dive right in and get working.

Try techniques that appeal to you, but don’t feel like there’s any “right” way to approach a first draft. The right way is the way that gets you a finished novel as quickly and painlessly as possible. Do whatever works for you to make that happen. 

4) Try different techniques if it gets “hard”

If you find yourself truly struggling, it’s very possible that you’re following a technique that just isn’t working for you. I’m a firm believer in the idea that writing can be challenging, but it shouldn’t be “hard.” If showing up to your book to write becomes something you’re dreading, consider trying a different approach. If you’re a planner, try abandoning your plan and either making a new one, or diving into your story without any idea what’s coming next. If you’re someone who always gave yourself plenty of time to write, consider writing on the clock to keep yourself moving. 

I’ve got a whole post that talks about why writing doesn’t have to be hard, so if you want more on this topic, be sure to check it out!

5) Set manageable goals

Set goals that you know you can meet on a regular basis. When you first decide you want to write a book and tackle a first draft, it can be easy to get swept up in your story and in the idea of writing your book. You may look at the calendar and decide if you can write a chapter a day, every day, you’ll have a completed book in about a month. And while that math may work out, reaching that goal on a day-to-day basis may quickly become unsustainable.

If you set a goal you can’t keep up with, you’ll likely find yourself falling behind. And once that happens, you may start to get discouraged and think you can’t do this. But you can! You just have to make sure you create goals that fit into your life–even if your book takes a little longer to complete than you’d like. 

For more on setting manageable writing goals, check out this post

6) Set quantitative goals

Additionally, when it comes time to set goals, focus on setting quantitative goals, not qualitative ones for a first draft. Like we talked about earlier, the main goal of a first draft is simply to finish. Don’t let yourself get caught up in getting a specific scene right or nailing a chapter. Worrying about quality at this stage holds you back. Instead, set a goal you can measure numerically. I’m a fan of word count goals, but if you’d rather do page count or something else, that’s fine too! When you hit your numeric goal, let that be your win for the day, even if what you wrote is terrible. 

7) Commit to your goals and plans 

Now that you have your plans and goals, it’s important to commit to them! If you don’t commit, your book will never be more than an idea in your head. It will always be something you wished you could write. Committing is what will make your goals a reality. For more on how to commit to your writing, check out this post

8) Write when you don’t feel like it

If you’ve committed to your plans, that means showing up when you don’t feel like it. That means turning down fun things so you can get your writing in. It means putting the time in even when you know your story isn’t working and you’re probably going to have to rewrite and revise. Your goal is to get to the end. If you planned to write, show up and do something that gets you closer to that goal, even if you don’t feel like it.

9) But take time off when you need it

I know, I know. I just said to make sure you don’t slack off. But if you genuinely need a break, it’s okay to take one. Burn out is no joke and if you feel like you’re well and truly fried, you’re better off taking a day or two away, even if you planned to be writing. This is the difference between taking a genuine sick day and playing hooky. It’s important to take care of yourself. You will not reach the end if you’re brain is too fried to put a sentence together.

For more on this, check out these tips on taking care of your writing brain, and things you can do when you’re too drained to write.

10) Get a support system, but be selective

It’s a good idea to have people who can encourage and support you throughout this process. They can be other writers, but they don’t have to be. You really want people who love stories, creating, and believe you can do this. However, be selective about who you trust. There’s a reason the first point in this post is about ignoring doubters. Be sure you’re entrusting your dreams and goals with people who will build you up. You don’t have time for negativity.

For more on how to find these people, check out the post on finding the right early readers for you book. You can apply a similar principle here.

11) Leave placeholders for revision

As you draft, you may come across details that you didn’t think to develop or whole scenes that you know need to happen, but just can’t figure out how to execute. Don’t let those things hold you up. The goal of a first draft is to have a complete book–as in, you want to have a beginning, middle, and end. There’s nothing that says every scene and element needs to be in place. If you’re really struggling with a transition scene, it’s okay to write [ADD TRANSITION SCENE HERE!!!] and move on. 

Similarly, don’t let the fact that you forgot to come up with a character’s last name or some other small detail slow you down. You can just write LASTNAME for now and drop the details in later.

12) Don’t rewrite as you draft

You may write some scenes that you know are terrible as you’re writing them. Or you may figure out a key plot point halfway through the book that will mean a handful of scenes you already wrote don’t work anymore. I would advise against going back and rewriting before you finish the draft. There will always be things that needs to be fixed in a first draft. If you stop moving forward to fix every problem that reveals itself, it will take you forever to finish (if you ever finish at all). Instead, keep a notebook or a blank word document open on your computer and make note of the changes you want to make. This way, you’ll be sure you won’t forget the change, but you won’t stop your progress.

13) Celebrate small victories

Writing a book is a long process and, like we’ve covered, first drafts are typically a hot mess. That means you need to find your wins wherever you can. Celebrate every day you show up and meet your goals. Celebrate every week. And celebrate every milestone–making it to 10,000 words is a big deal. Making it to 100 pages is a big deal. Do something to appreciate and reward yourself. Then get back to work and start aiming for the next goal and milestone. This will help keep you going.

14) Remember why you started

If you find yourself struggling to stay motivated, remember why you started this. Remember the excitement you felt that brought you down this path. Remember how it feels when your story is really fun to write. If you felt those things once, you will feel them again. But that will only happen if you keep writing.

Which brings us to the last point:

15) Don’t. Give. Up!

If a completed and/or published book is something you really want, don’t let yourself get discouraged by the time it takes, the quality of your first draft, or the people who say you can’t do this. I promise you, every published author has been in the same place. They persevered. You can too.

I hope these tips help you get your first draft down!

Now it’s your turn: What do you struggle with when you write your first drafts? What helps you power through? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Write Your Book This Year: 10 Writing Tips

How to Write Your Book This YearSo many people talk about writing a book but never actually sit down and do it. If this sounds like you, make this the year that changes. Make this year you finally write your book! (Or if you’re already working on it, make this the year you finish!)

This post is going live in December, so it’s intended to be setting you up to write your book in the upcoming year, but you can use these tips to write your book in ANY twelve-month window. Don’t let the calendar hold you back!

Here are ten tips to help you write your book within twelve months:

Sit with your idea and get excited

It might be tempting to dive right in a get writing, but that could backfire on you. You run the risk of going too hard, too fast, and burning out before you hit ten thousand words. Instead, take a moment to make a plan and savor your idea. Let your characters cook in your head for a month or so while you get your act together. Jot down some notes and ideas to keep your excitement up, but try not to start writing until you have some kind of plan worked out.

Set a reasonable goal for one year from now

Now that you’re excited about your idea, set a REASONABLE goal for what you hope to have accomplished one year from now. Reasonable is key! As nice as it would be to have a book that submission ready after a year, if you’ve never written a book before, that’s a massive goal. If you set your goal too high, you might get discouraged and give up. So if this is your very first book, a good goal might be to have a complete first draft at the end of a year. If you’re in the middle of a draft, you might want to have a complete draft and a revision plan. Or maybe even to finish a revision (depending on where you are in the process). I can’t tell you what a good goal for you is, but I will say that it’s important to set a goal that’s achievable, while still being a challenge. If you need some help figuring out the right goal for you, check out these posts:  How to Set Manageable Writing Goals, The Importance of Setting Manageable Writing Goals.

Consider a light brainstorm/outline

Brainstorming isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve never written a book before, I would suggest giving it a shot. I’ve always found that I am a more efficient writer when I know where I’m going. I’ve also found that it’s a lot easier for me to walk away from my work or skip writing days if I don’t know what comes next. You don’t need to come up with a deep or extensive brainstorm, but consider giving yourself some plot points and an ending to shoot for. If you need help getting started, check out this post for brainstorming beginners. And for more on brainstorming, check out the brainstorming tag.

Come up with a reasonable, sustainable schedule

Now that you have a reasonable goal and a decent grasp on your story, it’s time to come up with a schedule you’ll be able to sustain throughout the year. If you’re going to write and finish your book, showing up on a regular basis is essential. Like goal setting, sustainable is the priority here. Take a look at your current schedule. Consider activities that you can shorten or cut out to make time for writing. You don’t have to write every day, but I would suggest at least a few days a week. For example, if you can find one hour, three days a week, that’s awesome! Then, if you shoot for 500 words every hour, that’s 1,500 words a week. Which means at the end of a year, you’ll have 78,000 words written. That’s a book!! As the year goes on, you may find that you’re able to find more time or that you write faster once you get in the groove, but at this point, your priority is creating a schedule you know you can maintain. For more help on creating a sustainable writing schedule, check out this post!

COMMIT

Now that you have your schedule, you need to commit to it! This book will not get written if you slack off. Sure, life happens from time to time and you may have to concede your writing time. Some days just won’t go your way. But if you start caving every time something more enticing or seemingly more pressing than writing comes up, you will not write your book this year. If you want to meet your writing goals, it’s on you to prioritize them. For tips on how to commit to your writing, check out this post.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect

Perfectionism will kill your writing. Writing is a process for a reason. It takes time and several drafts to get it right. But one of the best parts about writing is that you can always fix it later. It’s okay if chapter three is terrible in your first draft as long as it gets you to chapter four. Don’t let the quest for perfection hold you back. If your goal is to finish a first draft, it’s okay if it’s a terrible draft! It just has to be finished. If your goal is to get a revision done, it’s okay if there are still things that need to be fixed as long as your book is better than it was before. For more on embracing imperfection,  check out this post!

If writing gets hard, change things up

Your writing will challenge you. That’s good. It’s supposed to challenge you. When you find yourself facing a particularly challenging scene, it’s important to keep writing. Maybe you’ll write slower than you have been, but as long as you can put words on the page, keep going! However, if writing every feels painfully hard, consider that your writerly instincts may be trying to tell you something. Perhaps the direction you’re taking your story in just isn’t right. Or maybe your approach is all wrong. Unfortunately, only you will be able to work out what the root of the problem is, but if it feels like you’re suffering, then I would advise against pushing on. Instead, take a time out and work out what your roadblock is. For more on why writing doesn’t have to be hard, check out this post!

Find some go-to places for inspiration and motivation

Inspiration and motivation will ebb and flow. It’s nice when you feel it, but you can’t always rely on it to meet your daily and weekly goals. Instead, find a few go-to locations or websites for when you feel like you need an inspirational pick-me-up. Maybe you have a story inspiration board on Pinterest. Or maybe you find motivation by bribing yourself with a reward after you meet your goal on a particularly challenging week. You know yourself best, so consider what will give you enough motivation and inspiration to power through. Be ready to call on those tools when you need them.

Get an encouraging friend or writing buddy

It’s easier to stay on top of your goals if you have a friend who will encourage you and hold you accountable. A writing buddy is really ideal. This way you can both check-in and support each other, but it’s okay if you’re the only writer you know. All you really need is one friend who appreciates stories, creativity, and commitment to cheer you on. Make it a point to check in with them on a regular basis and ask for support when you need it. If you don’t think you have anyone in real life, consider making an online friend. I’m not on facebook, but I hear there are writing facebook groups you can join. You can also feel free to connect with each other here in the comments section, or on another form of social media.

Let showing up an finishing be the success

Lastly, reconsider how you measure success. It’s easy to think of a published book or a massive bestseller as success, but there are a lot of other wins along the way that need to be appreciated and celebrated. The first big win that needs to be given its due is simply showing up on a regular basis and producing. It doesn’t matter if your book is good while it’s in the early stages. Finishing a draft and meeting your goals is a success. Let those wins count! For more on why your writing doesn’t have to be “good,” check out this post!

I hope this helps you write your book this year!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your plan to make sure you write your book this year? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process-Part 5: Editing and Polishing

My Process Editing and PolishingWe’ve reached the final post of my writing process series: editing and polishing. ICYMI: in this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first four parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting, Part 4 – Revision.)

If I’ve reached the editing and polishing stage in the process, I’m feeling pretty good about the book. I feel like the story is working, there aren’t any more glaring problems or inconsistencies to tend to, and my book is almost ready for an agent or editor. But before I turn it over to anyone, I want to make sure the project is as shiny and polished as I can get it on my own. Here’s how I approach this final stage.

Critical read

Most of this part of the process happens during one or two critical reads of the book. Mistakes jump out more to me when the book is printed out, so I print a copy of my draft, put it in a binder and go over it with a green pen. In the previous reads, I typically make notes in the margins or circle/point out problems to consider later. This is the only stage where I write the changes right into the book. This is largely because in the previous drafts, those changes require more thought and planning. But at this point, the corrections are a lot more obvious and it’s easy enough just to note them without having to pause my read.

Typically, I’ll read through the draft looking for a handful of elements that I’ll talk about in the next few points. I make note of the changes, then go through my document and input those changes into the computer. This also gives me the chance to double check the corrections as I enter them.

Check all previous changes

One of the biggest things I pay attention to this round is that all of the previous changes I made in the story. I want to be sure they fit into the story seamlessly and don’t require any additional attention. If it turns out I missed something big, then I’ll make note of it and revise like I do in the previous stages. If it’s a more minor change (like adding or revising a sentence to a paragraph), I’ll likely write the change in the margin just like the other changes at this point in the process.

Check on the clarity of sentences/ideas

Up until now, I haven’t paid too much attention to my writing on a sentence level. My priority has been the story. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to worry about the quality of my sentences when there’s a good chance I’m going to have to rewrite most of them. But now that the story is set, I want to make sure all of my sentences are as clear and concise as they can be. I’m also checking to make sure the ideas I’m trying to express are coming through. I consider the editing phase to be when I start looking at things on a sentence and language level.

Vary language

This is a big one for me towards the end of the process. Similar to my sentences, I’m not all that concerned about my language choices until I reach this stage. I will often lean on the simplest or most common words to get my point across just to get the story down as quickly as possible. But at this point, I want to make sure I’m using a wide variety of words and actions.

If I start to notice words, phrases, or actions that I’m using way too much through the whole book, I make note of them on a separate sheet of paper and do a search for them on the computer after I finish my read through. Then I can see exactly how many times I’m using the word/phrase/action and how close together the repetition is occurring. If I’m using the word/phase/action as frequently as I suspected, I’ll brainstorm a list of alternatives then go back through the document and vary the repetitions as need.

Check grammar and typos

I do my best to catch as many grammar errors and typos as I can before I turn my book into anyone. It’s also worth noting that some grammar errors and typos are expected by agents and editors. They know writers are human and probably won’t catch everything. But It doesn’t look good if a manuscript is riddled with careless errors that are hard to maneuver around. I read the book once or twice and do my best to catch as much as I can, but I try not to obsess. You should absolutely do your best to be as thorough as possible when you’re editing, but  I don’t think it’s good to hold a book back just because I might have missed something. It keep you from reaching your goals, but errors like this can always be corrected down the line.

Pay extra attention to my most common errors

While I’m editing for grammar and typos, I try to keep an extra special eye out for my personal most common errors. For example, I’m known to either repeat or skip words, or sometimes use the wrong homophone. Since I know these are areas of concern for me, I try to slow down and really look at what I’ve written. A lot of times these mistakes are hard for me to pick up on because my brain seems to know what I meant, and I don’t always register what’s on the page. I’ve found giving myself plenty of time and reading slowly can be beneficial with this. It helps me pay more attention to what I actually wrote, instead of what I meant to write.

One last read from critique partners and myself

Before I really declare a book “done” I have my critique group, who has read every draft, sign off on the final version. I also have a couple of readers who are particularly good at catching grammar, typos, and my most common errors read it over. This is helpful because not only do I get to pass off a more polished draft, but I get a final fresh perspective, which is so valuable at this stage. If these readers have any other bigger notes, I do my best to incorporate them, then (depending on how much I changed) give it one final read.

Send it out

Once I feel like I have the book in the best possible shape I can get it in, I send it out. Before I had an agent, this is when I started querying. Now it goes right to my agent. For more on how to tell when your book is done, check out this post!

I hope this helps you with your own editing and polishing!

This is also the end of My Writing Process Series. I hope I shared something that helps you build your own process!

Now it’s your turn: How do you edit and polish your novels? Do you have any editing tricks to share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process – Part 4: Revision

My Writing Process: Part 4 - RevisionWelcome to Part 4 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first three parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining, Part 3 – Drafting.) Today, we’re talking about Revision!

Yes, we’re at the revision stage! What that means to me is that I have the skeleton of the story figured out. I know who the characters are, I understand the world they live in, and I know what the beginning, middle, and end of the book will be. However, often times it takes writing the book for me to really understand those elements, which means they may not be fully realized in the drafts I have. That’s where revision comes in.

Read for character, plot, and world

Before I do anything, I sit down and read what I wrote. In the drafting post I mentioned that sometimes I won’t bother reading old drafts if I know I’m going to change a lot. By the time I get to revision, I’m definitely reading the book. I go through it with a green pen and a notebook. For earlier revisions, I’m mostly focused on the big picture issues in the characters, plot, and world. I’m looking for inconsistencies and out of character behavior, plot holes or incomplete plots, and elements of the world that are unclear or just don’t make sense. For even more details on what I’m looking for, check out the post: How to Identify Your Novel’s Problems (and keep in mind at this stage, I’m only really focused on the early stage revision problems).

I don’t do too much writing in the book itself at this point. I may box out or make notes about a big section, but typically the issues are bigger than any one page, scene, or chapter. Instead, I make notes on paper about the problems I come across and the chapters or page numbers I find these problems. Here’s an example from when I was working on Enemy Exposure:

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Freewrite/Brainstorm solutions

Once I know what my book’s major problems are, I brainstorm solutions by freewriting. This is similar to how I brainstormed at the start of the book. Up until this point of my process, I’ve moved more or less chronologically through the book as I worked. (As in, I focused on chapter one, then chapter two, then chapter three, etc). Now I start jumping around focusing on each individual problem. When I brainstorm a solution, I freewrite that solution out in its entirety, even if it means skipping whole chapters/sections that have other issues. I’ll freewrite until I feel like I have a good working solution, then I move on to the next problem. I’ll repeat this until I feel like I know how to solve each of my book’s issues. Here’s another example from my Enemy Exposure revisions:

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Make a revision plan/outline for each problem

Once I know how I want to solve my problems, it’s time to figure out how to practically apply my solutions. I take my freewrites and I go through my book and figure out which chapters and scenes need to be changed to incorporate my solution. Like in the last step, I tackled this problem by problem (as opposed to planning changes chapter by chapter). This keeps me focused on working in the necessary changes without getting caught up in the other moving parts of the book. I make a plan/outline for each of my problems, which looks like this:

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For more on how to make a revision plan, check out this post!

Make a revision schedule

Since I made my plan, I know exactly how much work I have to do. To keep myself on track, I make a revision schedule so I know what my goals and objectives are each day. I typically work from the biggest problem to the smallest.

Part of this is for practical reasons. It makes more sense to me to make the big changes first since they typically run through more of the book and are more likely to interfere with a smaller problem. I’d hate to take the time changing a small problem, only to realize a bigger problem’s solution interferes with my new change and I have to change the smaller problem again. The other part of this is about momentum. I typically have more momentum and enthusiasm at the start of a revision, so it’s psychologically better for me to use that energy up front, then work through the smaller problems, which are usually much quicker to work in. Comparatively, if I take out my smaller problems first, the big problems feel even more intimidating if I’m losing steam at the end of a revision.

Revise by problem

Just like everything else so far in this stage, I revise by problem. Not only does this keep me focused on fixing the one specific problem at a time, but it also makes my book new again when I go to read it. When I read my book after a drafting phase, I typically have an idea of how the book will read since I drafted sequentially. But when I read a revision, I have no idea how my changes will work in the book as a whole. Revising out of order gives the whole project a fresh perspective that I desperately need when I’m three drafts in.

Get feedback

At this point, I know my book pretty well. Even though revision makes my book new to some extent, I still need to hear from people who have no idea what happens. So I seek out some trusted early readers for some feedback. I did an entire series on feedback, and you can find the first post here!

Repeat once or twice

I repeat this process until I feel like I have a book that’s really working well. Typically I put a book through at least two or three revisions, but sometimes it’s more than that if the book needs it.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I revise and I hope you find something here you might like to try!

You can find the last part of the series, Part Five: Editing and Polishing, here!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your approach to revision? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process – Part 3: Drafting

My Writing Process Part 3: DraftingWelcome to Part 3 of My Writing Process series! In this series, I break down my writing process and share what I’ve found works best for me in the hopes that some of my process might help you too! (Missed the first two parts? Find them here: Part 1 – Brainstorming, Part 2 – Outlining.) At this point in the process, I’ve thought and I’ve planned, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what I’m going to write. Which means it’s time to start drafting! I consider the construction of the first two drafts to be my “drafting” phase. Let’s take a look at what they entail!

Draft One

Set project and daily word count goals

At this point, through trial and error, I’ve come to learn what my general goals should be for a first draft. Typically, I shoot for a 60,000 word count draft goal. I tend to underwrite my early drafts, so while my finished books have been between 80k-100k, they’ve all started with 60k first drafts. If you’re someone who overwrites, you might want to shoot higher and be prepared to cut. Publishers like most novels to fall between 70k-100k (with exceptions, of course), but there’s no “right” number for a first draft. It really comes down to your writing style and how much or little details you like to write while you figure out your story.

The daily goal is dependent on the book. If I’m writing a book that’s more fast-paced, I tend to write quicker and move from scene to scene pretty easily, so in those cases, I start with a higher goal. But if the book seems a little more methodical, I tend to write slower, so a lower word count goal makes more sense. Typically, my daily goal is usually 2,500-3,000 words a day, and that’s something else I’ve figured out through trial and error. As a writer, my goal is to write as much as I can each session without killing myself. Any more than this and I feel fried and even a little burnt out.

Create a writing schedule

Once I know my goals, I get a calendar and plan exactly when I’m going to write. Typically I write 2-3 hours a day, 5 days a week, so a draft can take me anywhere from a month to six weeks. Again, this is something I figured out through trial and error. I tried being a writer who writes every day and I burned out pretty quickly. Even writing less, but writing every day, didn’t work for me. I need a few days where my brain can turn off and completely reset, so I take weekends off as much as possible. I’ve learned I can do a six day writing week if I have to, but five days a week is my ideal.

Daily drafting

I do my drafting in Scrivener, but any word processor or notebook will work! Some people draft best if they write slowly and take breaks. I’ve found I draft best when I draft fast and messy, and if I let myself get totally locked in and power through my session. My only concern for a first draft is to follow my outline and to meet my word count goal. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if the writing is bad or scenes don’t completely make sense, or if I lose a character or contradict myself. I’ll fix it later.

To keep me from overthinking, I try to plan my days to the minute when I’m drafting. This limits my writing time so I don’t have any extra time to think too much. If at the end of the day, I reach my word count goal and moved my outline along, I’ve had a good day, regardless of the quality of my writing or the book as a whole.

It’s also worth noting, that I started writing on the clock when I tried writing “out.” So if you want to learn more about the benefits of writing “out,” I’ve got a post for that too! And for more on drafting on the clock, check out this post.

Dealing with issues

Since I’m prioritizing quantity over quality, there are A LOT of issues that come up as I write. The most important thing about a first draft is that it gets finished. Because of that, I don’t want to stop to writing to fix every problem that springs up. Instead, I keep a notebook next to me and jot down all the problems I find as I write. This way, I can keep moving forward without worrying I’ll forget what I need to fix later. As long as an issue doesn’t prevent me from moving forward, I keep working.

If I figure something out that does significantly change the course of the rest of the book, or if what I’m writing feels so wrong that pushing through is truly painful, then I will stop, re-outline, and create a new schedule. Typically, this happens pretty rarely thanks to my outlining, but it does come up from time to time.

Take a break

After I finish my first draft, I try to take about a week away from the story to clear my head and give me a fresh perspective. If I don’t feel fried, I’ll work on another project (learn more about a creative shift here), but if I do feel fried, I take a complete writing break and catch up on some TV or do something else that doesn’t overtax my brain.

Draft Two

Read the last draft (or not)

I usually don’t share my first drafts with anyone, largely because I don’t need help or feedback yet. At this point, thanks to my own notes, I have a good enough idea of what I need to do, that I don’t need anyone else to weigh in. Sometimes, I’ll read the first draft and take more notes about the changes I want to make. Other times, if the book really felt like a total disaster while writing it and I know I’m going in a very different direction, I won’t bother reading it. I’ll go right into prepping the next draft.

Brainstorm and outline

Once I have my notes and changes, I go back through and brainstorm and outline just like I did for the first draft.

Open a blank document

Because I drafted so quickly, I change A LOT between my first and second drafts. So much so that I’ve found the best thing I can do for myself is to retype the second draft in a blank document. I’ve found that because I change so much, it’s easier to start with a blank page than try to squeeze changes into the terrible draft I have. I don’t get rid of the first draft entirely. I print it out and keep it next to me so I have easy access to the good stuff, but I retype everything–even the stuff I plan to keep.

Sometimes, I will completely trash the draft altogether if I’m changing it that much, but often times, I’ll end up retyping at least half the draft. It sounds a little unconventional, but approaching my second drafts this way really opened up my writing process. I did a whole post about this technique, so if you want to learn more, check it out here!

Draft again

Then, I start drafting again. I follow the same approach as the first draft. Typically by this point, I have a better understanding of my story and my world, which means there are more aspects I want to explore. Because of that, I usually increase my word count goal to 70k. I also may give myself a little extra time each day. Now that I have a better idea of the story, I try a little harder to write the story I envision. There’s still a fair amount that I will need to fix later, but I try to be a little more purposeful with what I’m writing this time around. Other than that, my approach stays the same.

Share with Readers

When I finish this draft I still have another list of notes of changes I want to make, but usually by this point, my story is developed enough that I’m ready for other people’s input. I send my book to anywhere from 1-3 people I feel like I can trust to see what I want this story to be, and who can help me get it closer to my vision. It’s important for me to have people I can talk things out with and bounce ideas off of, so my early readers are essential to my process. If you want more on this, I have a whole series on feedback you can check out. Here’s the first post.

That’s how I approach drafting! I hope this helps with your process!

You can catch Part Four: Revision here!

Now it’s your turn: How do you draft? What do you struggle with when you draft? What helps you keep at it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process-Part 2: Outlining

My writing Process--Part 2: outliningLast month I started a series on my writing process! I started this series largely because a lot of you asked for it! The first post was all about brainstorming. If you’ve read that post, you know most of my brainstorming happens in the form of freewriting. Once I’ve freewritten the story to death and I have a good idea about the characters, the world, and the general plot and storylines, it’s time to make it start to look like a book. For me, this means outlining!

Of course, not every writer is outliner. You may have heard that there are generally two schools of thought for prewriting. The planners who outline and try to work out their story first, and the pantsers, who fly by the seat of the paints and figure the story out as they go. I am definitively a planner. What I’ve come to realize is that when I write, I don’t do well when I try to do two things at once. I can’t think about the story and write the story at the same time. Outlining gives me the space to think first and write second. I’ve also learned that if I don’t know what to write next, I’m more likely to let my characters wander aimlessly, and I have a hard time staying motivated and showing up on a regular basis.

I’ve also found that I get the most out of my story if I have a series out outlines that get progressively more detailed and specific. This gives me and my story room to grow and evolve. Here’s how I approach my outlines:

1) Outline the Plot

I already have an idea of what I want the plot to look like from my freewriting stage. Now it’s time to give that plot an actual plot-like structure. My outlining starts with my favorite plot structure is this three-act structure. I like this plot structure because it focuses on consistently raising the tension in the story, which helps create a steady build to the climax. I also like it because it has more crisis points/rising actions than most plot structures I’ve come across. Thinking of my story like this helps me create a more balanced and consistent story. Here’s an example of an early plot outline from Enemy Exposure:

Plot Outline
Click to enlarge

Each important plot point gets its own color in the chart, then I briefly expand on each point around the structure. I don’t plot every storyline like this–just the main plot. That’s what ultimately drives the story, so that’s my main concern. But I do tend to have a bullet point outline for each storyline I use so I know what needs to happen and can plan accordingly when the time comes.

2) Outline the Character Arc

Once I have the plot outlined, I go back and make a second chart just like the first, only this time, it’s for my character. I look at each of the plot points I worked out in the previous outline and I figure out how they tie into my character’s development. Typically in my brainstorming, I’ve come up with one big developmental lesson I want my main character to learn. In order to maximize my plot, I try to make sure that each plot point pushes my character closer to learning this lesson.

For example, in my first book, I wanted my main character to learn to trust people, so I made sure each plot point somehow challenged her to trust the other characters more than she was generally comfortable with. I try to keep the same pacing as the plot here. So, in the beginning, the developmental challenges for my character will be relatively small and grow as the story progresses. This outline typically looks the same as the one above. For more on how I use plot and character together, check out this post!

3) Pacing Outline

Once I have the plot and character outlines done, I start to think about how these points will fit into the overall book. I want to make sure I have the crisis points evenly distributed so there’s a consistent build throughout the book. To help with that, I make a pacing outline. I typically shoot for thirty chapters in a first draft. (There’s no real reason for this–I just found that’s a good marker for me.) I take a page in my notebook and write the chapter numbers down the left side of the page. Then I go through and estimate roughly where I should hit each point of crisis. I put a small dot next to those chapter numbers. Sometimes I have to move them a chapter or two, but I try to keep it close to my original estimate.

Next, I go to each chapter and write one or two key events that happen in that chapter with a focus on building to the next plot point. I’ll also touch on key moments in my subplots, but they’re still not my primary goal. I try to keep it short, but as you’ll see, I typically have a hard time with this and end up squeezing as much as I can onto each line. Sometimes as I’m outlining, I’ll add post-its with key scenes I want to make sure I include in the final detailed outline. Here’s one of Enemy Exposure‘s pacing outlines:

Pacing Outline
Click to Enlarge

4) Detailed Outline

Now that I’ve got my story paced, it’s time to really dig in and figure out what’s going to happen in each chapter. For this outline, I get three sheets of computer paper and position them so they’re landscape. Then I fold them so I end up with six squares. Each square is a chapter. I fill the page front a back, so each piece of paper has twelve chapters. Then I go through and figure out exactly what will happen in each chapter. This is also where I start to really consider each storyline–there’s typically around five or six. I use a different colored pen for each plotline. This makes outlining more fun for me, and it also makes it easy to see if a plotline appearing consistently enough. I’ll use post-its if I want to add to a chapter or make a change based on something I work out later in the outline. Here’s some of an Enemy Exposure outline:

Detailed Outline
Click to Enlarge

A lot of times, if there’s going to be a problem in my story, I find it in the outline. It shows me if a storyline is too flat or if there’s an aspect of my characters or world I need to develop more before I write. However, there’s no substitute for actually writing the story and discovering what it is and isn’t supposed to be. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I still do a fair amount of revision. The biggest way these outlines help me is to give me a direction and a goal. They make it so every day, when I sit down to write, I know exactly what I need to do, which makes it easier to keep moving my story forward.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I use outlining and how it may help your process!

You can find Part Three: Drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you an outliner? How much outlining do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

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When to Submit Your Book Series/Trilogy: Publishing Tips

Today’s post is for all of my book series and trilogy writers out there! I’ve always been a series girl. I love both reading them and writing them. If you ask me, there’s nothing like getting to know a group of wonderful characters and then spending multiple books with them. But if you’re writing a series, it might be hard to know when to submit your book series to an agent/editor.

Should you wait until you finish the whole series? If not, then when? And what else do you need? This post aims to cover all of that! It was also inspired by a Well Told Story commenter! (Thanks, Sarah!)

Just as a side note, this post is geared towards unpublished writers who are looking to be traditionally published for the first time. In most cases, you need an agent for traditional publishing, but some small presses don’t require an agent for submission. Because of that, I’ll be using agent and editor interchangeably.

Here’s what you need to know when the time comes to submit your book series or trilogy:

When to submit your book series

In most cases, the time to start submitting your series is after you finish the first book. At this point, you should have a strong first novel that gives you a good sense of your characters and a trajectory for your series.

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series sooner

Agents/Editors want to read your book to see what kind of writer you are before they make any offers, so you shouldn’t start querying until you’ve finished the first book. You want to make a good impression, so be sure you’re submitting your best work. This means you shouldn’t be submitting a first draft. Make sure you’ve revised and polished your book to the best of your ability! (This much is true if you’re writing a series or not. Finish your book before you submit anything!)

Why you shouldn’t submit your book series later

It may be tempting to wait until you finished your series/trilogy. This would allow you to really tighten, polish, and present a complete story for publication. However, there are two reasons why I would advise against this.

First, your editor is likely to suggest changes to your first book that will significantly impact the later books in your series. These changes can affect any (or every) aspect of your book, including character, plot, and world building. If this happens, it’s very possible you may have to change some of your plans for the series. This is a lot easier to do if you haven’t written the other books.

Second, if you are writing with a goal of publication, you need a first book or standalone to get an agent/editor. A second (or third) book won’t get you anywhere if the first book doesn’t sell, and writing those books without a contract takes valuable time away from another project that might get you an agent or editor. This doesn’t mean you can’t write the rest of the series for yourself if that’s what you want to do. But if you want to be published, I would suggest putting those plans on the back burner and focusing on a new project entirely. Otherwise, you’re putting a lot of time into something that may not get you any closer to your overall goal.

What you might want to prepare

Even though you’re not writing your complete series, you want to be prepared to discuss it with your potential agent/editor. When you go to submit, there are two things I recommend having ready:

First, a plan for the second book. A synopsis is ideal, but if you’re not a planner, try to have some plot points at the very least. Your agent may need you to become a little bit of a planner to sell the series, but they’ll tell you what they need from you when the time comes. Also, don’t feel like you have to commit to whatever you plan. Everyone involved knows that the editing process of the first book may change things, they just want to see what your vision is at this point in time.

The second thing I’d suggest having is a plan for the series. This can be more vague than the plan for book two since it’s farther down the road. Just have a good idea what key moments are going to pop up and how the series ends. That should be enough of a pitch to get you in the door, but if your agent/editor needs more from you, they’ll let you know.

It’s also worth noting that you may not need either of these things. I didn’t, but I know of authors who did. Every agent/editor is different, but I say, it’s better to be prepared than be caught off guard.

My experience

When I was first querying Crossing the Line, I had envisioned it as a trilogy. I’d read some agents asked for a synopsis of book two, so I wrote one, but never ended up needing it. I told my agent it was a part of a planned trilogy and the rough direction when we first spoke. Then when my publisher showed interest, they asked if I’d be open to keeping the books more episodic so the series could be longer than three books if we wanted.  I hadn’t considered anything but a trilogy since I’d finished the first book, but now that it was suggested to me, it made perfect sense.

Ultimately, the sales were only good enough for two books, but I’m still really glad this was the direction we went in. The trilogy was a different story. Thinking of the books a series led me to the story that was meant to be told. I didn’t need to submit any plans for the series to my editor, but that’s likely because I was being asked to change my plans and they knew I didn’t have it figured out yet.

Bonus tip

If you can, do your best not to end your first book on a cliffhanger. This doesn’t mean every single storyline has to be tied up. (Mine wasn’t!) It just means that it would be best if no one’s life is hanging in the balance and if the plot that was the most pressing in this book is tied up. There can still be plenty of loose threads to set up the next book, but it’s typically an easier sell if your agent can say your book is part of a planned series, but also stands alone. It gives your potential publisher options, which they like.

I hope this helps you submit your book series!

For more on querying an agent, check out my querying series! You can find the first post here.

Now it’s your turn: If you have experience submitting a series/trilogy, when did you submit your book series? What did agents and editors ask from you? If you don’t, what plans do you have? Tell me about it in the comments!

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