Monday, February 9, 2015

Getting to The End Faster

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?

-from Susan

I don’t. Hammer, that is. I peck and squirm and occasionally lose myself in the story, but I’m not one of those authors who crow on Facebook that they banged out 2,500 words before lunch, again. NaNoWriMo is a great idea and I’ve followed it via Alexandra Sokoloff’s enthusiastic online coaching during the month of November, but the closest I came was writing 45,000 words in a determined effort last year to finish a novel set in France. I holed up in a cottage on Kauai (yes, I know, tough life) for three weeks, banned from being in the sun from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at least, and told myself I would not come home without getting to “The End.”

What I learned in that push was that there are big benefits to tackling a book-length manuscript that way. You aren’t as likely to lose the threads of the plot, to call the characters by different names from one scene to the other, and you're more likely to maintain a stylistic rhythm throughout the writing. You can let the story itself – not just the writing – flow at a faster pace if you’re not spending as much time re-reading the last chapters to get into the head space of your protagonist, villain, whatever. And, of course, you get to the end sooner, no small benefit. Disclaimer: I had already written about half of the book, threw away about 25,000 words that were torqued into something other than what I had in mind, and arrived with about 20,000 that I felt were strong, so I wasn’t starting from page one.

Another thing I learned is that I am more likely to keep writing without losing concentration when I’m not at home in my cozy study, with easy access to my kitchen, laundry basket, charming cats, and garden. It seems nuts to pack up and head to the Peet’s coffee house in town when I’ve gone to such trouble and expense to, finally, have a room arranged solely to foster creativity and writing output, but if I can’t do better at resisting the urge to jump up and do anything else but tackle the empty page, I may have to. It’s either that or head back to Kauai. I wonder if I can write off a trip like that? Note to self: Ask accountant and try not to deflate when he starts to laugh.


RJ Harlick said...

Ahhh...Kauai, one of my favourite islands....sigh, if only. I'd love to be able to hide away in some magical place to bang out that book, but like you, Susan, I'm afraid life intervenes. The closest I come is when my husband goes off on one of his northern canoe trips and I squirrel away for two weeks with our two dogs at our log cabin. I usually get a lot done.

Paul D. Marks said...

Next time you'll go to Paris to write a book set in Kauai. :)

And don't you love when you throw out 25K words. I do it too. It's what being a pantster is all about.

Meredith Cole said...

I still haven't managed to a "writer's retreat" but I bet it's a great experience, Susan! And throwing out 25,000 words is just something you've got to do sometimes whether you outline or not. I've done it multiple times (and I'm sure I'll do it again someday...)

Susan C Shea said...

Robin, Kauai might have been the same distraction if I hadn't recently learned my lesson about fair blondes and intense sun!

Paul, I did feel rather brave and professional to abort such a lot of the book. Didn't love it, but in retrospect the best thing I could have done.

Meredith, you mean I might have to shuck that amount of material again? I confess I hoped I'd learned my lesson once and for all!