What to do when you’ve written a book – 11 editing steps

Reading Time: 4 minutes
editing with a fine quill pen
Grab your editing tools and start polishing your own first draft into something worth casting in bronze. A quill and poem, Bournemouth, England, August 2017.

How do you turn mush into gold? When you finish the first draft of a novel, you’re on a high. You did it, you put in the hours and you completed a book. Next thing – publication and worldwide acclaim. Right? Wrong. Next is poring over that book, finding its strengths and weaknesses, and making it into something you could possibly put in front of an agent or publisher. In other words, editing.

But how do you do that? Yes, you can hire an editor, but if you want to give them to best chance to focus then your draft will already be in the best shape you can make it. So that means a large amount of self-editing before you share with anyone.

What, then, does editing involve? Spellcheck? Grammar check…? Yes, and more. Here are some broad areas for your post-first-draft attention.

1. Make a scene list and number the individual scenes. Forget chapters for the moment, list your scenes. This gives you a manageable picture of your whole story. A scene list involves writing a line or two – no more – per scene. Highlight its main moment, how the plot moves on and any important setting.

2. Now think about tone. Look at your scene list again and in one word, note the tone of each scene. Gloomy, flirtatious, thrilling? It’s very hard to be consistent over a whole novel, and what starts out light and fluffy may veer into grimdark territory by chapter ten. Ahem. So if your book’s promise is a light-hearted romp through a fantastical landscape, check that what you’ve created delivers that.

3. Think about the must-have scenes. These are the scenes that must happen for the plot to work, the big or momentous scenes,  the ones you want the cinema audience to remember for months after they see the film. Where are they? Do you have everything your imaginary back-cover blurb  promises? Focus on those key scenes. This is another step that helps dodge overwhelm.

4. Consider the structure you want for your novel. This may have changed since you first started writing it. Get out your structure reference sources (I like the structure laid out by Save the Cat. I also like what James Scott Bell does with structure )  -and using your scene list, map your story onto the structure that best fits your genre. This exercise lets you see if your story performs a beautiful arc to a towering climax and perfect denouement… or if it arrows to a peak in chapter three and then meanders for the next two hundred pages. Try to pin your novel’s key moments to that of the structure you want it to have. Does it hit all the key points? What’s missing, what’s repeated unnecessarily, what’s over or underdone? For me this is the hardest part of editing, but it is necessary.

5. Consider character story arc. Now stop thinking about plot and think about character story arc. Now you know how the main plot points work out and fit together, how does that match up with your main character’s personal story? It’s no good him having an epiphany in chapter two and then following the plot for another eighteen chapters, fully developed. His epiphany must come at or close to the realisation of the main plot point; his disasters must coincide with the plot’s low points, his triumphs with its final resolution. Or at last, there must be a correlation between whats going on in his heart, and what he’s trying to achieve in the external world.

6. Check your facts. I prefer not to research in any detail before I start writing. I do a bit of googling to get broad facts right, but leave the detail for later. So now is the time to make sure you know when and where things happened – dates, places, names. If you refer to a train journey, check it’s possible and how long it takes. Maybe like me you write the work CHECK!!! in your manuscript for stuff you know you’ll need to look up later. later is now. Go!

7.Look at the book’s pace. Does the reader have time to breathe, to get to know characters, in between breathless action scenes? Does the story move forward at every point, with no redundant scenes of local colour and texture but no plot? Jack Reacher drinks a lot of coffee, allowing him and the reader to take stock. If gunfight followed gunfight, we’d never keep up. Editing specifically story for pace can fix that. Seek that balance between reader interest and reader overwhelm.

8. Listen to the dialogue. Find your characters’ speeches and make sure that each person sounds like herself, every time. Each of us has a distinct speech pattern and it should be obvious, even without tags, who is speaking. I reckon you could pick out Sherlock, Hermione and James T Kirk from their dialogue. Your characters need to be as distinctive.  Add idioms unique to each person, work on patches where everyone seems to sound the same.

9. Setting check. I’m guilty of under-describing things because I can see them just fine in my mind. This is not good enough. So I spend a lot of my editing time checking that events are not happening in a narrative blank space. Make sure the reader can tell where the action is happening – what it looks like, its atmosphere and weather/lighting. And the time of day. Also make sure it’s obvious when in the narrative this is happening – right after the last scene,

10. Timescale check. Make sure it’s obvious when in the narrative this is happening – right after the last scene, some time later, or what? And make those settings work for your story. If they are a bit generic, make them specific. If they are a bit mundane, make them amazing. Not everywhere needs to be the Paris Opera House in a thunderstorm, but everywhere needs to feel like somewhere.

11. Theme. Make sure that the theme of the book is present throughout the story. You needn’t hit readers over the head with This Is About Friendship! every two minutes, but the motifs and set-pieces where the theme is explored, need to be there. Make sure it’s introduced early and tied up, or at least referred back to, at the end.

12. Spellcheck and grammar check. Now you can do the line edits, sentence structure, scene structure – starting with basic spelling and grammar checks. And check by eye, not by squiggly red line on the screen. Read each word slowly and individually. It amazes me that even after three final read-throughs on my weekly stories, someone (often me) always picks out a typo after the piece is shared in the workshop. Every time.

There are many other things you can do to tidy up the enormous pile of mush that is a first draft. But these few should keep you busy.

Let me know how you get on, or if you have any other tips you want to share. -Sef

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The 100 day book – 10 lessons from this amazing challenge

Reading Time: 8 minutes
100 day book program
This writing challenge was hard work but so worth it. I wrote a complete first draft, with the 100 Day Book program. And now I’m shattered. Levens beach, in Fife, Scotland, September 2017

At the end of August I completed the 100 Day Book program from The Write Practice. From the middle of May, I had committed to a daily word count, and a weekly share of my work, and giving weekly feedback on the progress of other writers in the program. I had slogged and sweated and ignored the housework and at the end of 100 days I had a complete first draft of a fantasy novel.

This challenge is definitely not for everybody. You need to be prepared to work. There’s teaching and support in the program, but that doesn’t write the book for you. You have to put in the hours, every week, and share the results in the private 100 Day Book forum, without skipping a week.

It’s been unbelievably hard work, especially since like most people I have a family and a job. I can’t just swan off to a log cabin and bury myself in my art, tempting as that sounds.

So how do you do it? What does this program involve, and what have I learned from doing it that I would pass on to other writers?

1.Firstly, 100 days is not 100 days. Sure, it’s 100 elapsed days. And you have a word count goal to achieve in that time.  So many words per day, simple, right? But take out your calendar. Here’s that wedding you will be at all weekend. Here’s the go-live on a massive work project. Here are early mornings and evenings where you will be travelling in areas without signal. And in July the kids break up from school for six weeks. How are you going to write then?

Your task is to strike out all the days when you already know you won’t be writing. Divide your word count goal by the remaining days, not 100.

I got to July this year, with nearly six weeks to go, thinking this was easy. Then I realised that from mid July til the end of the challenge, I would not be able to write at lunchtimes or on Fridays – my two main opportunities to write. That meant I had to double my daily word count in the days I could write. Suddenly the task got a lot harder.

Lesson – count up your genuine writing days in advance. Divide your total word count by that number, not 100, to get the number of words you must write on writing days.

2. A writing community is an amazing gift. In the last four weeks of the programs I had a ton of catching up to do, and was posting 7000-10000 words a week in the 100 day book forum. And my readers were reading them – in amongst posting their own massive chunks of novel. I would have been happy for people to skim my posts just to give me a bit of encouragement and pick out a page or two to give feedback on. But they didn’t, they read the lot, they found plot holes and demanded to know what would happen next. So that was awesome, and helped keep me going.

Lesson – writing within a community of supportive, committed artists is a joy, and it keeps you going on days when the words will not come.

3. The 100 day Book program creates an addictive writing urge. When you stop having to write every day you really, really miss it. For three weeks since the challenge ended, I have been totally lost. The story  was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Last week I began creating my scene list, ready to do the structural edit which this book really needs. But even then, halfway through that task, I felt bereft.

I am now back on my 750 word a day general writing target. For now it doesn’t matter what I write* so long as I get back into that habit. So that’s a great takeaway from the 100 day book. It creates a writing habit, to the extent that afterwards you can’t not write. That’s pure gold, right there. Thanks, Write Practice!

(*It does matter what I write. My Type-A personality insists that I am writing towards a sequel or prequel or some other useful piece of work. Jotting down random thoughts does not count.)

Lesson: Writing intensively like this creates a lifelong habit which will fuel your productivity forever.

4. You can’t cheat on a creative promise. Sometimes you simply do not have time to go into the detail that you would give without an excruciating deadline. So you can add notes – ‘brief chapter here where hero explores the city and we see examples of the governor’s cruelty’ as placeholders ready for the second draft. But you can’t just go, ‘oh, here’s a bit where the plot is all solved, tada, I’ve written a book’.

I included a couple of places where I knew the scene I needed to write but had just run out of time. My readers in the 100 Day Book forum didn’t like that. They wanted to see words on the page. That was my promise. So be warned – to-do-later notes are fine, but your outline is not your 100-day-novel.

Lesson – don’t cheat your readers or yourself. You’ve promised to write a book, not a synopsis. Think – adding a load of Do It Later notes just gives you more to do in second draft.

5. The first week is really hard. Not because of the writing. That’s easy. You are the most energised at the start if a big project, brimming with ideas, raring to write the scenes which gleam in your mind’s eye. No, the hard part of the first week of the 100 day book program is having to create your book plan.

That’s right people, they make you do a plan. A synopsis of the story, but also a chapter by chapter book outline, plus identifying the book’s audience and creating a plan for marketing. For once in my plotting life, I had to know the ending before I started writing.

So that first week was a tough one for a lifelong pantser like me. But in the year since I started this blog and began exploring writing techniques, I have come to accept that planning can be useful, even if like me you prefer to do it in your head rather than on a  spreadsheet.

I had to tarnslate my instincts into a formal book plan. I always do know the kind of ending I want (big weather, dramatic scenery, the hero shouting his previously undeclared love across a ravine as the monster rears up to snatch him and the heroine away…) and I know the thing that kicks off the book – but I struggle with getting from A to B. Being forced to write the middle, ugh, the middle, was really helpful.

Lesson – knuckle down and make an outline, even if you hate it. Follow the program’s guidelines for doing this is you’re totally new to it. It works.

6. The synopsis and outline will help with querying later. This is great. Every week on the Write Practice forums I see questions from writers going through the process of submitting their work for publication. And everyone agrees that summarising your art for a potential commercial buyer is the hardest part. If you already have a premise, synopsis and outline, then you have a head start. It’s easier to hone something than to create it from scratch. I’ll be honing like crazy over the next few months.

Lesson – creating a premise is a long term gain.

7. Don’t miss that weekly deadline. I didn’t miss any of my 14 weeks, but if I had, there would have been consequences. In the case of the 100 Day Book program, this was a monetary consequence. You heard me right. You give them an amount of money for joining the program. At the end when you succeed, they give you a chunk of it back. But not if you miss deadlines. Now that’s motivation.

Also don’t miss the deadline because the weekly deadline is awesome. You feel a camaraderie with the others in the program, knowing that across time zones and beyond oceans, all over the world there are other people going, ‘Dammit, Friday already,’ and typing whilst stirring dinner or feeding the baby or sitting on the train. Then as the posts roll into the 100 Day Book forum, there’s that huge sense of relief. People head to the private Facebook page to give metaphorical air punches.

Lesson – deadlines are motivational as well as stressful. And sticking to them gets you cash (back) in the bank. Result.

8. Give feedback generously. Once Friday has passed, there’s a bit of a lull while everyone recovers. But before you start thinking about this week’s 7000 or so words, you need to carry out the final part of your weekly commitment: giving feedback on at least 3 posts from other writers.

In the general Write Practice forum, feedback tends to be critical, in the literal sense – designed to help writers improve and finesse. In the 100 day book program I found that feedback is necessarily a bit softer. After all, these are words typed at speed for the creation of a first draft. Critiquing at the sentence structure level may not be relevant, because the chances are, the writer has barely had the chance to read through what’s been written, never mind start scanning for tone, pace, and dangling modifiers. So I found that offering support and encouragement, and more general feedback -‘this part here was a bit confusing’, ‘this was exciting!’ – was more appropriate than line by line critique.

Also – you’re pressed for time. Even just letting the other person know you read their post,  supports them. ‘Great job, keep going, nearly the end.’ This is what we need to hear on a massive challenge like this. Because we already know it can’t be perfect, and it won’t be the thing of beauty that the publisher gets to see. It’s rough, and we’re awesome for creating, in such a short space of time.

Lesson – giving line edits is great, but giving feedback on any aspect of the work will be gratefully received by people toiling away and courageously sharing the raw output of their creativity.

9. It’s not just the writing, it’s the editing. My words come out rough. I write on my phone, mostly, and autocorrect plays havoc with every sentence. I know what I meant, but to another reader it’s nonsense. For example my phone replaces ‘that’ with ‘tyst’ every time, even though i have removed ‘tyst’ from the internal dictionary and it is not an actual word.

So as well as finding time to write, say 700-1500 words every day, I also needed to find time to read through and correct that week’s 7000-10000 words before posting it on Friday.

I guess I could have posted the original, to show I had done the writing, but it quickly became clear that everybody was turning in really crisp, clear, spellchecked first drafts. I kid you not. So I had to spend two to three hours a week, on top of writing, going through my horrendous mess of work and making it so another human could understand it.

Lesson – go back over that writing calendar and find more time than you originally thought you needed. There must be more housework you can not do, right?

10. Do it. Writing a book is a huge undertaking. I mean, you’re writing a full length book. Novellas do not count in this challenge. Everyone is writing something of 60,000 to 120,000 words long. These are sweeping stories with characters, plot and resolution, or memoirs covering long lives in carefully researched detail. This is not some fluffy ‘you can be creative yay’ type of program. It’s the real thing. Plan it, divide it into weekly chunks, do the work, follow the guidelines and you will turn in a completed first draft on day 100.

When you finish, you’ve done more than write a book. You’ve demonstrated to yourself that you are capable of completing a tough challenge – a technical challenge, an endurance challenge, a time management challenge, a creativity challenge. You can do it. Here’s the proof in the form of this manuscript. For me, that’s priceless. I’ve spoken to many lifelong writers who have the passion and the dream, but who lack confidence. This program gives you that confidence, that inner certainty that if you have an idea and a plan, you will be able to complete your creative dream.

Lesson: do it. Join the 100 day book program. Because at the end of it, you can no longer have any doubt. You’ve written a book. You are a writer.

And so:

I joined the 100 day book program on an impulse one Thursday night, with no book idea and no plan, and a dozen existing commitments in the next three months. I invented a plot on the Sunday and posted it in the forum when the synopsis and outline were due. Then I wrote to a regime for 100 days. And now I have a book, a book which before that first Sunday, I had not even dreamed of. Even better, it’s a book I like, and my readers loved the characters I created, and were invested in the plot, even in this rough early draft. In the world I created, there’s a load more mileage and my writer brain is already itching to start a  sequel.

If I hadn’t signed up, I would have written something, sure, some chapters here and there of various works in progress, some short stories… blog posts. But because I joined, I have instead written a whole book.

That’s what I call a  result.

The 100 Day Book program is run by The Write Practice, with training given by bestselling author Joe Bunting. Details on the program here.

By the way: I don’t work for the Write Practice, I’m not on commission to promote them or anything. I just think it’s a really great community and I recommend it to anyone committed to improving their writing and following their creative dream. You can find out more on their website.

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Tired writing – tech and tips to beat writing fatigue

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Tired writing cures
Use these cures for tired writing and let your prose soar like the Angel of the North.  -Which is iron, and fixed to the ground – another reason for me to find better imagery.  Angel, by Antony Gormley.

I am tired. I’m halfway through a Book in 100 Days program from The Write Practice, writing 1000 fresh words every single day, plus editing a large chunk of those for readability in order to share with the 100DB group every Friday. On top of this, I have a regular writing commitment at Short Fiction Break – next story out this Wednesday – plus, you know, my full-time job. So I’m feeling the hit in my turn of phrase. My characters seem to do nothing but nod or blink; my settings are all silvery, my magic is constantly shimmering.  It all feels very ugh. But I have sought out some tools to help me (when I reach the second draft stage) seek out my tired brain’s repetitions, and correct them into fresh, dazzling prose.

Get the data on your words. The first tool I suggest for tired writing is SpookForge, which analyses your pasted text for repetition, number of unique words and average sentence length. Be warned – this is a massive time suck as you pore over the statistics of your work. At surface level, however, it’s great for spotting words you overuse.

Let a robot tell you if your prose is hard to read. Another old favourite is the Hemingway app, which analyses your ability to present crisp, concise prose. It highlights sentences it feels are difficult to read, points out your adverbs and also shows where you’ve used passive voice. Brilliant!

Find a word well and drink from it. Having identified words I overuse, I can then turn to thesaurus.com. I don’t use it to try to find fancy alternatives for perfectly good words. I mostly use this when a word is on the tip of my tongue and I can’t recall it. It’s also good for brainstorming magical names for things. Type in a word that isn’t quite right, and it will suggest a host of related words. Click one of those, and same again. Another rabbit-hole you might end up going down, but word rabbit-holes are rarely wasted.

Not all repetition is bad. Sometimes, repetition is the clearest way. If you are going to use a thesaurus to replace some of your overused words, be cautious, and avoid the pitfall of elegant variation. If it’s a car, it’s a car. You don’t need to refer to it next time as a vehicle, and the next time as a motorised transport device. It will sound as contrived as it is.

Imbibe someone else’s lovely words. By this I mean read. Put down the non-fiction research books you’ve been devouring in order to support your novel, and pick up fiction. I struggle with finding novels I enjoy, so will often turn to old favourites. Lately, however, I’ve found some new authors whose work keeps me interested, while their phrases seep slowly into my consciousness, enriching my vocabulary and gently giving me ideas. Edward Marston’s Elizabethan theatrical murder mysteries are great, and I’ve enjoyed some seafaring Hornblower from CS Forester, plus Belgravia from Julian Fellowes, he of Downton Abbey fame. These various diversions have propped me up, word-wise. I also try to read a  poem a day, for example at poems.com. Here’s some guidance on reading usefully.

Write like the wind. One thing that I struggle with when tired is coming up with fresh imagery. I can draw the characters’ actions but I cannot describe what the situation is like. I need metaphor. Or simile. But nothing as easy as pie: that’s been done.

This is real writer-work. Really, I shouldn’t be attempting it when exhausted. But sketching a rough idea of what I’m trying to convey now, will help me pin it down in second draft. So I try to invent a new way of showing what I mean, whether it is the motion of waves on a beach (pawing at the shore? water dragging away, like a dog on a lead?) – even when I know my words are, as yet imperfect. Sometimes, just the act of forcing myself to invent as something as a something can inject life into writing. Here’s an article on the fine art of creating metaphors and similes. And here are a handy simile generator and a metaphor generator to poke your brain into action. I just got ‘her nose was like a farm‘. OK, I guess that gives me a start.

Review your descriptions. Check out my article on making description work overtime to provide character, tone and plot.

Those are my go-to ways for reviving tired writing. There’s a list of several more here. And why not try some of these online tools?

The Meaning Generator. This uses words and images – click each image to change it – to build a metaphorical statement.

Adverbless. Identifies adverbs in your prose.

And check out ThoughtCo for a ton of great articles on language, grammar and style.

Word Frequency counter.

I have a pet hate of half-hearted words like almost/barely/ nearly/hardly,  but I can’t find an existing resource about what they do to your writing and how to avoid them, so I’ll write one myself and link back to it when I’m done.

What tools and techniques do you use to keep your words fresh? Let me know in the comments!

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Planning backwards with a scene list

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Floating man, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Floating Man, Newcastle. It might seem backwards, sideways or just crazy to write the way I do, but it works for me – write first, scene list later.*

I’m very nearly done with the first draft of the book. Very nearly. I just have a couple of scenes to write near the end, plus some backfill to do at the start. This means it’s time to do what I always do at this stage of a story, and make a scene list. Which might leave you thinking, What? Make a scene list after you’ve written the book? That’s backwards! What?? I can explain.

I plan backwards. In total contrast to those who write out a scene list at the start of their project, I get down all known parts of my story first, and then shuffle them into shape, ready to go through and add backbone where is needed.
Essentially, the whole first draft of any of my stories is the rough outline, the brainstorm, the freewrite. It’s dialogue, action, description, ideas. The difference is that by the end of my outline, rather than a bulleted list of one line scene descriptions, I have 80,000 words.
I’m not totally ad-libbing it as I go. The shape of the story is in my head when I start, key scenes, all my Would Like To Meets. Writing like this lets my brain off the hook, frees it to make connections and throw in clues I have not yet consciously considered.
At the end, or near it, is when I get the scene list together in order to let me do just that – work deliberately on the structure my brain has been creating as it goes along.
What is a scene list? For me, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a long list of every scene in my book, just a line saying what happened/what the purpose of the scene was. Maybe it’s the scene where aliens arrive; maybe it’s the scene where the hero reflects on his mistakes whilst fleeing a murderous tree.
Sometimes, when I try to describe the scene and it comes out as the bit where my hero dances with his love interest and they discover childhood similarities and get a bit drunk together, I realise that in fact the scene is doing nothing at all except indulging my romantic impulses, and so I ditch it then and there. This makes my scene list shorter.
Losing wordcount is a hazard of writing this way, but generally I’ve got so much by this point that the odd thousand words here and there don’t have a huge impact. And because my writing style tends toward the sparse, I know I’ll be going back in second draft and making it more descriptive and less like a load of dialogue in a bald occasional setting, and that will bring the words back in.
When I write out the scenes, I’m checking a number of things, separately and in this order:
1. Gaps. Has Bob gone from A to B without warning, and does the reader understand the transition? Is another scene needed to clarify or emphasise a key point? Have I referenced Bob’s dog in chapter 20, but failed to mention the mutt in chapter one?
2. Timeline. Do I have the aliens vanishing before the incident which sets free their nemesis? (Yes. This is a problem.) What are the logical consequences of each scene, and does what I’ve got next, make logical (and psychological) sense?
3. A decent shape. Does the story pan out in a way which will keep the reader interested? Are there slack bits which they will skip and if so, can I skip them too? Do the big scenes happen at the right moments, or have I created a three-hour movie where the story is all wrapped up, and then Bond goes off on a seemingly fresh mission for another ninety minutes? I hate movies that do this. If the story you started with is resolved, then stop. Doctor Who has become guilty of this lately, and the Mission Impossible franchise. Boo.
4. Clues. Is everything needed to resolve the story, shown to the reader early on? Agatha Christie-style last minute convenience is not allowed. You cannot have the hero suddenly find a Planet Salve in his pocket just as the world needs a solution for massive nettle rash. For a perfect story, in this respect, see Star Trek Beyond. All you need to know is set up in the opening scenes. Nothing is wasted and nobody pulls any rabbits from space hats.
5. Tone or mood. Glancing through, I check that the mood shape works with the story shape. This is hard to formulate, but basically, I check that I don’t have a happy-go-lucky scene right after a tragic one, unless that makes emotional sense in the story. Do I need to move my comic moments around, or add more? Do I need to hint at darkness sooner in the story?
When I’ve done all this using my scene list, all plot holes should be filled in, and the shape of the story should be pretty reasonable.  I’m then free to write the remaining scenes in the light of the scene list.
And once that’s complete… I’m ready to start on the second draft.
Lots of story methods use scene lists, but they are generally written before you begin. I have tried this, and found that I lasted less than two weeks of writing. By trying to nail down my story shape too early, I stretched my suspension of disbelief and got tangled in theoretical plots and subplots before I even had a clear voice for my heroine. That might mean I was doing plotting wrong, or it might be the way my mind works, but anyway the result was rubbish.
Anyway, for the traditional approach to scene lists, try the first two of these links below. They make perfect sense, even if they don’t work for me personally. And although I’ve yet to read it, the third is on my list to read next and seems to be right up my street.
  1. The Write Practice on scene lists for planning and productivity
  2. The Snowflake Method of novel writing, which uses a scene list as its core
  3. James Scott Bell, Write Your Novel from the Middle

How do you plan your writing? Or do you work in a more backwards way, like me? I’d love to know!

  • For a better picture of Floating Man than I was able to take, see here.
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First Draft Forgiveness – let yourself off these ‘writer sins’

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Fast First Draft Tips
Do not let concerns about plausibility – or style – slow you down in your first draft. Snakes-head exhaust pipe on classic sports car, Liverpool 2014

I’m currently writing a fast and horrible first draft. Fast because I have the attention span of a gnat on Red Bull, and horrible because I need to just rattle out ideas regardless of style or grace. To do this I need to forgive myself a host of writing sins. I’m finding this very useful and rather relaxing. Here are my top 6 things I cast gleefully aside in order to get the words out.

  1. Adverbs. Oh, how the adverbs spill out joyously, easily, triumphantly once you switch off the inner LAZY WRITING alarm. My characters are free to speak firmly, to turn awkwardly, or swoon completely away. It’s bliss, I must say. Strong verbs, take a break. I’ll be back for you later.
  2. Accuracy. Was Hyde Park in existence in 1820, so that my characters can go for a drive in it? Does it take two days to get from London to Hastings, or only one? Or a week? Is my novel in fact set in 1820 – or some other year when there may, or may not have been the Napoleonic Wars still happening? I’ll look it up when I’m done with the plot.*
  3. The exact order of events. Often I’m flying along in Chapter Six when I realise that something ought to have been referenced in Chapter Five, but I forgot to mention it. Quick, go back and between some asterisks, insert the line which will tie it all together. So what if it breaks up the flow of the dialogue? It’s one less thing to remember for the second draft.
  4. Typing and punctuation. Obviously. Unless it makes your writing incomprehensible, leave all the your/you’re stuff for later. Especially if, like me, you’re typing it all on your phone, under the tyranny of the AutoCorrect. Every single ‘the’ autocorrects to ‘Rye.’ All of them. It’s highly irritating, but I’m not changing them now. I haven’t got time.
  5. Repetition. Your hero just flicked his fingers at a servant, and then two paragraphs later, your heroine flicks a crumb from her skirt. Aarrgghh. Never mind, you can thesaurus.com it in the second draft.
  6. Finding the exact right word. Sometimes I can see the scene very clearly but cannot pinpoint the specific thing which will call it perfectly into the reader’s mind. When this happens I just write all around it, hoping that when I return to it, my mess of over-description will prompt me to the phrase I need. The sky was, um,  dull, silvery, grudging, the colour of a dented teapot at a service station. One of those will call up the required mood, and I’ll decide which one on the way back.

Those are the main things I throw out of the window when I need to write fast. Anyone who’s read my recent posts to The Write Practice may have noticed a slight dip in, uh, grace. But I cannot stop for beauty. I must Get This Done. And on that note, I’m off. More next week.

-Sef

*Or I won’t bother, since this is alternate-timeline historical fantasy. Maybe the Napoleonic struggles happened a bit earlier or later. Maybe I’ll just put a massive caveat inside the front cover asking readers not to contact me with all the anachronisms. Maybe I’ll worry about that in November.

 

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My terrifying timeline

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Knole Park, 2016
Fighting through problems, and smashing deadlines.

Do I dare? Do I dare put dates and deadlines to what I’m trying to achieve, and have to acknowledge publicly when I miss or make those targets? Is my book, my weird Young Adult Arthurian Genderfluid Fantasy Coming Of Age novel really going to become accountable?

Yeah, why not? Chris Baty is big on accountability. Also deadlines. He invented Nanowrimo around those core principles in 2000 and that is now a venerable institution.

In Nanowrimo you write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve participated eleven times, aced it seven times, (one story is now a Sherlock Holmes time travel Dracula fanfiction love story here) and it taught me how to write fast.  So given that writing fast is what my next goals require, this should be a cinch.

  • Middle section – approx 20000 words – by end of July
  • End section – approx 40000 words – by end August
  • First draft generally whipped into shape, to be a novel of perhaps 90 000 words- by end September.
  • Sit back and take a break. -I’m kidding.
  • October – Start the rewrites.  My aim is to have something on the Kindle shelves by the end of the year. This year.

Yes, these are quite distant deadlines, by Self Publishing School standards. SPS founder, Chandler Bolt, reckons you can outline, write and launch a Kindle book in 90 days. I’m sure you can. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years, and I know that the next 90 days are pretty likely to hold a few brick walls from Real Life. Worrying about work deadlines doesn’t help climb over those walls. So there’s leeway here. Maybe too much leeway? What do you think? Am I being soft?

My real issue is that I have other writing projects ongoing as well. Some purely for-fun ones which I nevertheless want to complete (three of them, two nearing the end and one really not…) plus my ongoing involvement with The Write Practice; plus I want to continue to make short stories and submit them to possible markets, just for the practice of the craft.

So OK. I have these deadlines. Are they crazy – crazily lax, crazily tight, or what? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

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