Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Slow and Steady, Fast and Furious

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: How do you hammer out your first drafts? Have you ever used NaNoWriMo or the 3-Day Novel Contest, or a similar group motivation effort, to get your first draft done?

I wish I had a formula for getting first drafts done. Some have sputtered out in fits and starts, others have poured out quickly. I've described before writing the first draft of Missing Persons in a 10 week marathon. It's about 80,000 words and most of the first draft actually made it into the finished novel.

Like Susan, I saw the benefit of that kind of writing - the characters stayed with me always. In fact the real world felt less real in those ten weeks than the one I was putting on the page. I wrote and wrote and wrote, 10, 20, and in one case, 30 pages in a day. I'd turn off the computer feeling dizzy and exhausted only to turn it on again because the words would just not stop coming out of me. It was wonderful and painful at the same time. And I wish I could do it again.

That book had a particular set of circumstances, though, I've not yet been able to duplicate. I wasn't working. If I wrote full time would that happen again? I don't know.

When I'm writing a first draft my must do is 1000 words a day, five days a week. For me that means a first draft in four reasonably painless months. That is a commitment I can usually stick with. For all those days when I sneak ahead, getting in 1500 words, there are days when I manage only 500, so it all works out. But 1000 is my goal every time I sit down to write.

I've never done NaNoWiMo, though after Robin's experience I may give it a go, but I have try. I like the idea of seeing my progress in a chart, and being part of a community of people all heading toward the same goal. And though the word count is higher than the one I usually set, that's part of the fun, I imagine. The challenge of pushing yourself a little bit more than normal and of seeing what can happen when you don't give up.

But between now and November, I'm sticking with my 1000 word goal. I'm a firm believer that in anything - from exercise to saving for retirement, learning a new language, or writing a novel, consistency is the key. (Except when it's not, see Missing Persons.)


Meredith Cole said...

I've never written a book in one big "rush" like you describe, Clare. It sounds exhilarating and exhausting! But I do follow your method of a daily word count when I'm in first draft mode. I find it helpful to keep myself on track.

Lori Rader-Day said...

I wish I could chisel out the time to sit down and pour out a book like you did with MP. Maybe a *leetle* less intense.

Susan C Shea said...

Clare, your description of writing Missing Persons in almost a fevered state is kind of thrilling, definitely not for the faint of heart. I had some of that in my Kauai experience, although I attributed the dizziness to needing new glasses. But even now your 1,000 word goal is pretty awesome.

Unknown said...

Susan- I am so impressed that you would have the discipline to write in Hawaii. I wrote Missing Persons in a Chicago winter.
But yes, to all of you, it was an amazing experience to write a book that quickly. It was tiring and at times kind of awful, but so is the slow drip, drip of words that I'm dealing with now. There is no formula, I suppose. Each book finds it's own way out.