30 Days to a First Draft


Hi, and welcome to another Tipsy Thursday!

This week I’m going to be chattering on about a subject that every writer or aspiring writer should be familiar with.  The idea that you can go from notes to first draft in less than a month.  In fact, not only that you can, but you should.

Sound like it’s not enough time?  My first novel, after I started writing was knocked out in 45 days.  My first one.  The first step to knocking out a novel in a month is to trust that yes, you can do it.  Anyone can do it, unless you are unusually pressed for time.  It only takes a couple hours per day, and the motivation to always keep the story moving forward and never look back.  Here’s what to do.

Plan, plan, plan.  Make notes, outline, meet your characters, get to know them, outline some more, connect the dots on your outline checking for issues or unfamiliar territory, fix and research, outline some more.  This process could take quite a while or go very quickly.  It all depends.  But the more issues you can get resolved before you start writing, the faster it will go.  Make sure you have answers to these questions:  Who is my main character?  What do they want?  What do they need to do to get it?  What stands in their way?

Got it?  Okay, now figure out your minimum word count goal, say 80,000.  You need to figure out exactly where to set this based on how you write and the end goal of your story.  Take that number and divide it by 30, in our case, that’s about 2,666 words per day.  A 60,000 word novel would be 2,000.  Those may seem like some monster word counts, but that’s about the length of a short story.  Can you write a draft of a short story once a day for 30 days?  I didn’t say it would be super easy, but if you focus on this daily number and trying to top it every day, the writing will flow quickly.

Once I have my target dates set to start and finish writing, I clear my schedule off as much as I can.  Ideally, I want several hours of peace and quiet everyday.  I prepare food for quick meals so I won’t have to focus on cooking, I stock the fridge with energy drinks, and I keep a lot of snacks close by.  If I could, I’d part a water cooler right next to my desk and put a vent in the wall so I wouldn’t have to get up to smoke.  Perhaps even a toilet for a chair, but now I’m just being silly.  Your ONLY focus for the next 30 days is hammering out your novel.  Again, that’s an ideal world, but at least force the novel write to be your highest priority.  Wake up thinking about what your characters are up to, go to sleep brainstorming what they’ll do next, and every time you leave your desk, think about them.  Think about the story and where it’s headed.  What’s the next step?  How far out is that big plot twist?

When you write, write something and leave it.  I usually fix little misspelled words along the way, but even that is a nasty habit.  And for the love of God, don’t go back and edit anything.  Every word, every sentence, every paragraph, drive the plot forward.  If your characters need to be provoked to act then provoke them.  If they need to go inside, make it rain.  They need to go outside, then set the building on fire.  Don’t waste time thinking about making every sentence pretty, just tell the story, and keep it moving forward.  Some authors will differ with me on this, and say that you should edit the previous day’s work before moving on.  To me, this does nothing but eat your word counts and drag you down, but if you have the mental stamina for it, I suppose you could give it a try.  Plan an extra hour of writing time everyday.

I would say try not to watch your word count too closely while your writing, but that’s another bad habit I have.  I like checking my progress for the day every so often, and that too, is a nasty little habit.  At the end of the day, figure out how long you wrote for, how many words you wrote in that time, how many plot issues stopped you up.  This will help you determine if you need to allot more time for writing.  Another thing you should do at the end of each intense session is think forward to the next few steps in the plot.  Try to determine what will happen in the next 4000 words and make sure if there are any upcoming issues, that you solve them before you get to them.  Come back the next day and write some more.

You’ll be amazed how easy it can become to crank out 2000 words per day when you stop thumbing thesauruses, worrying about dangling participles, using exactly the right word, and trying to make each sentence perfect.  That stuff is great, but it’s best left to the editing phase, where you will already know the whole plot of the story and be able to choose your words in the context of a finished story, rather than the last couple paragraphs.  Strip out every offensive thought that keeps you from mashing the keys and just write, and keep writing.  At 20 words per minute, you can potentially knock out 1200 words per hour, or 3600 in a three hour marathon.

Still having trouble?  Well, there are several ways to get a finished plot hammered out without actually writing every word.  I’ve been toying with the idea of a skeleton plot, in which I reduce every chapter of the story into a handful of paragraphs detailing exactly what is supposed to happen in that chapter.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it basically produces a 30-40 page “outline” that acts kind of like a watercolor sketch.  All of the major events are “told”, and all you have to do is scrape through and “show” them.  So, on your rewrite, you just tumble through and replace each paragraph with a couple pages of prose.  Just like a first draft, you have the bulk of the story already, you can see what’s coming and how soon, but it’s dramatically simplified so that you can focus on your prose.

Thoughts?  Feelings?  COMMENTS?  I so love comments.  🙂

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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

2 thoughts

  1. It’s really interesting to see how other writers plan and work. I’m not a great planner (I know!). I have key scenes in my head as I write and how I get there is up to my characters. Some days 500 words is hard. other days I can do triple that. I wish I could outline more, maybe one time I’ll try it and see where it gets me 😉

    I’m with you on knowing your word count though especially if you want to traditionally publish. And yes, you should eat, breathe and sleep your story. Being social can go out of the window!

    Not editing as I went along was one of the main things that got me to finish my first draft. Previously I always nit picked away at the previous days work until I had thoroughly lost any flow I had. So your advice is golden.

    Nice post, Martin, keep them coming!

    1. Thank you for the comment Beverley. Planning can be a little rough to jump into. I used to refuse it, but now I’ve started to embrace the idea more and more.

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