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How I Wrote 15,000 words in one weekend (Or, fast drafting 101 just in time for NaNoWriMo!)
Hiii! As many of you know, I’m an editor and a writer. As such, I feel the pull of time all the time. It would be one thing if this was just a day job I hated, but I ADORE my job as such I give it a lot of my time, which often means a lot less time for my writing. That’s a choice I make. I’ve become such a stronger editor by being a writer and vice versa. I need both parts. They are, together, my dream careers.
That said, I have writing deadlines, too, and even if I’m not contractually bound by a book deal, like I said, writing is my dream career, too, I need to be better about committing to my work. You can edit a lot yet not a blank page.
And, sure, I’m often the I don’t write every day type and I love that about myself. But, I was starting to avoid writing because I had been in such a bad headspace, overanalyzing everything, faulting myself for every failure. Thank goddess for writer friends. I was pouring my heart out to Akshaya and she said it sounds like you need fast draft this. I went googling, as one does and found this thread from an author I admire a ton Kiersten White:
I was incredibly inspired, very motivated, and I felt I had hit writing rock bottom. So I texted Akshaya and was like I’m going to write it all this weekend and I did.
You can view my tweets from it “the experience” here:
I’m not going to lie, Saturday was much easier and cleaner than Sunday. I also think it would’ve been easier had I spread the drafting over two weeks, like Kiersten White did, as hitting nearly 15k in one weekend was A LOT. That said, I have a few thoughts…well, more than a few, on how to replicate and/or modify my experience fast drafting for NaNoWriMo, for deadlines, and other writerly wants & needs:
Make an outline…know your anchor scenes! I know, I’m a pantser. I’ve broken our sacred code. But, *whispers* outlines are really useful. In fact, I’d argue, they’re necessary with this sort of thing.
To be clear, you don’t have to outline ever plot point. In fact, being the perfectionist I am, I found it served me better to only headlight-outline aka write out what’s upcoming. I knew there was a scene with my protagonist in a boat journeying to a mysterious island. When I was struggling to draft everything previously, I kept thinking about this scene. I actually woke up in the middle of the night about a couple months ago and wrote it, more clearly and crisply than I’ve ever written a single thing. At the time, I was like this so pretty and emotional and true to her character, but it doesn’t fit anywhere. Lies. I was being a perfectionist. So this time, with my “no f**ks given” mindset, it was the first scene I returned to. I knew I had to start with that scene.
Sure enough, I was right. It is my anchor scene. It ties the entire plot together. It is full of despair yet hope. It’s inspired by myths I grew up reading. It’s atmospheric. It is everything I want my book to feel like.
So, I started with that scene and went from there.
I am someone who always knows my ending. I live and die by a three act structure or save the cat (which is roughly a one-act beginning, two-act middle, and one-act ending).
Given that I knew the end of her journey and was already in the middle it was easier for me to fill in other scenes.
I brainstormed, came up with ideas to flesh out said anchor scene, and then came up with two scenes to directly follow.
During the brainstorming, I heavily leaned on my initial inspirations for this story. For instance, I knew I wanted her journey to somewhat mirror Dante’s (yes, I’m a nerd, I know but I adore The Divine Comedy). I threw in a bit of Picture of Dorian Gray, lots of Anne Rice and Arrow and…no idea is a bad idea when you’re fast drafting. I opened the brainstorming floodgates.
Write out of order I swear by writing out of order. I do it normally because you know how sometimes you think, oh this scene must come next, but you really don’t want to write it. But, you do want to write this amazingly dark character death scene (no? just me?). I allow myself to skip those “scenes that must come next that I don’t want to write” and 9/10 I realize they weren’t necessary to begin with. Like Susan Dennard says, "every scene in your story must be a magical cookie scene."
But sometimes you do need something in between and you only know scenes 7 and 10. Well, for me scene 10 was the end, which I knew because it’s anchor scene. I let myself write the ending and I let myself write the climax as well as the “All is Lost” scene (via Save the Cat).
After writing those scenes, it was must easier brainstorm what was in between because:
I didn’t spend hours brainstorming what comes next. I knew what came 50 pages later, so I let myself write it.
It me a strong sense of my characters emotional state.
I knew she was in despair in the “All is Lost” scene. Therefore, I wanted the previous scene to be more hopeful so that when it gets to that “All is Lost,” you, the reader *feels* that even more so. And, woah, did I feel it. I cried in the coffee shop, y'all.
Because I knew her emotional state, because I knew *all* of the characters’ emotional states, it made it that much easier to plan scene-level details that would get them to said emotions
Don’t edit as you go…leave your perfectionist at the door! I cheated on this, I edited grammatical errors that were quick changes as I was typing because I knew it would bother me, but more importantly I knew when I returned to edit the scene (as I’ve learned from previous drafts) I might not know what the word is supposed to be.
Otherwise, I did not stop. I told myself I’d write for one hour and I wrote until the scene was done. And, as you can see from my word count tweets above, I often finished before the hour because I was writing so fast that I was very immersed in the story. I left my perfectionist at the door and thank god, I did.
Leave each chapter or scene on a cliffhanger I didn’t do this on the end of day one. By Sunday, day two, I wasn’t itching to write anything. So, after much outlining and after my first drafting session, I left that scene on a cliffhanger, before taking a break, so that when I came back to write I was riled up and ready to go.
Take breaks The end. You must take them. Truly. Being on Twitter is not a break. You need to not be looking at a screen while you’re doing this all day. I went to the park on Sunday and let the sun beat on my skin for 15/30 minutes before writing outside. I had drink with a friend before beginning a sprint…take care of yourself and take breaks.
Also, get a good night’s sleep. I started drafting earlier on Sunday because I didn’t start drafting on Saturday until the afternoon. As a result, on Saturday, I went until 11/12am, but had to start early Sunday cause work and omg was I exhausted all day Sunday. It was fun. But it was a slog.
Recruit friends I had 3 friends also drafting or revising all week. We had a text group. We set goals. We did sprints. We held each other accountable across multiple time zones. And look, one of them, Janella, recently finished her draft (omg, aesthetics <333)!!
Hold yourself accountable Friends are great but in the end of the day, you have to want this. And I don’t just mean you have to want to write an insane amount of words in a weekend. That’s obvious. You have to want this career. I love what Kiersten White said about how she never misses a deadline because she does the work that needs to be done. That is always the type of writer I’ve wanted to be, in part because missing deadlines makes me extremely anxious, but also because this a career, you have to treat it like one.
She’s the only writer I know who does seemingly “crazy things” to hit deadlines, in fact many writers who coached me about writing while working full time told me sometimes you have to write a novel in a month and sometimes you use most of your vacation time writing. If want it badly enough, you’ll make time for it. That want is what keeps me going.
I love what I do re: being an editor and I want to keep doing it so I meet my goals and deadlines, etc. (even if I am always behind on submissions…who isn’t though?).
You must treat this like a career that you’re incredibly passionate about. And while I agree, some things I did earlier in my editorial career were too much (never stay at an office until 11pm, y’all), I have no regrets. I don’t want to have any regrets about my writing either. It’s the thing I can control, me, butt in chair (or whatever), writing. So, I’m going to control it. After all, I’m a Slytherin and that’s (part of) what we do best.
Take time away to breathe & gain distance Take some time off once you're done. I'm not saying a month, we don't all have that kind of time. But, don’t email your agent telling him they’re the best things you’ve ever written (not that I’ve ever done that…I’m a perfectionist, I would never do such a thing…). They may very well be well written words, but you need to learn & practice sitting with your work. I am the queen of jumping from thing to thing. In the same vein of taking a break during your fast drafting sessions, be sure to take one after. This note, this entire post, is just as much for you as it is for me <3
Also, as an important aside, this is not my first rodeo with this book. I’ve written and reworked many parts of it, lots of it, in many different ways. So, yes, some things were new (phenomenal) surprises, but also I knew the core of the story I was trying to tell…even if I hadn’t previously been listening to that core. When Kiersten White did hers, it was a rewrite. This is not to say that you can’t super-fast drafting from a first draft. But, if you do, you probably are going to need a stronger outline. As, while I didn’t know my scenes, I knew my characters and how they would act in given situations. I also write plot driven fiction so that’s important to note too.
For more advice, I highly recommend this post on Fast Drafting Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo with timeless advice from other authors that PubCrawler Sona put together!
Anyone doing NaNoWriMo here? Have any fast drafting tips? Discuss with me and PubCrawl via Twitter or in the comments below :)