First Drafts

Tools For A Successful First Draft

Monday, April 14th, 2014 | The Writing Life | 4 Comments


I am in the midst of the first draft of my latest Regency romance (more info about the new book to come in the days ahead) and I am having a really good time. And it occurred to me to ask the question: why is this first draft bringing me so much joy? What is different about this particular book?

 Well, some of the joy comes from the characters and the story itself. It’s a comedy, filled with funny situations and light-hearted banter along with the romance. Laughter always makes me happy, so that is one reason. But there are more…I’ve made a bit of an effort to make this draft easier on myself than I usually do. It seems that with a little planning and a little TLC for me, first drafts can be a bit breezier than they were before.

 1) I make sure I get enough sleep. I actually allow myself to sleep at least half an hour later every morning. Sometimes, I wake up before the alarm, raring to go, so I get up and work, but if I need the extra shut-eye I take it with no judgment. I am writing a new book after all.

 2) I stay away from the internet. I adore being online and chatting with my friends. I love to hear what my readers are thinking about, what my writer buddies are up to, what other people are reading, and how their puppy dogs are doing. All of that brings me a lot of bliss. But when I am in the midst of a first draft, writing 2000 words a day while also working full time at a bank, I can’t spare the time for my intenet fun more than two or three times a  week. So I’m sorry to be away so much, but hopefully the book will be so good, you guys  will forgive me.

 3) I work according to my own body rhythmns. Instead of staying up late and writing into the wee hours as some of my friends do, I get up early and write before work. I also bring my laptop to work every day, and during my lunch hour I write in my car. I probably look a little nuts to all the people who walk through the parking lot, but as all you writers know, crazy is par for the course.  This reminds me of my buddy Shana Galen, who takes her laptop with her when she is driving around town with her husband and writes scenes at stoplights. Needless to say, she’s the passenger in this scenario, but that is a writer who makes her time work for her.

 4) I reward myself. I check my word count every couple of days, and look at how many pages that yields, and praise myself for how far I come within a week. No one hears this praise but me, but its important to remind myself that my hard work is paying off in pages piling up.

 5) If I miss a day, I don’t fret. Sometimes I miss a day…and this is ok. When I begin my book, I budget extra time so that I have a buffer between when I need to finish the first draft and when I need to start the 2nd. A little buffer goes a long way toward peace of mind.

 Bascially, whatever point you are in your writing or in your current draft, try to be nice to yourself. A little kindess will help you get the work done faster, and you’ll be happier.

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First Drafts: Write or Flight?

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 | The Writing Life | 10 Comments

Am I alone in this? Every time I begin the first draft of a novel, two conflicting realities converge.

The need to write, and the need to run away.

I have taken to calling this the Write or Flight phenomenon…the thing that makes me get up from my computer five times on the same page, that makes me seek out yet one more coke or draws me to the internet for ‘research” that then takes me away from the book for the rest of the day.

No doubt, when I do this, it is a lack of discipline. But this phenomenon is more than that. It is a real and urgent need to run from the thing I am creating.

Of course, I always conquer the need to run. We all do. In the end, the book is the boss, and the book has to get written. And the only way for that to happen is to stay in the chair long enough for my characters and I to write the book, or at least today’s chapter. But it can be a fight, some days more than others.

Do you have this Write or Flight experience? If you do, please share in the comments section. I’d love to hear your take.

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Finishing the First Draft

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 2 Comments

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

(William Shakespeare, The Tempest, IV.i.148–158)

I have finished the first draft of my latest work in progress, and it is an amazing moment of bliss. It is also a little sad, because those characters that I have come to love so much have faded. As soon as I turn my computer off, they vanish, just as Shakespeare’s visions in The Tempest. That is the nature of fictional characters…they come to enchant us, then they step back into the dark, and new characters rise take their place.

The beauty of working on a novel, one of many, is that the first draft is just the beginning. I will start again tomorrow with the second draft, and the characters I’ve come to love will live for me again. I will have to be more analytical, more careful, the internal editor will be in full force, out of retirement with the red pen in her hand. But I’ll still get to enter another world, and when the book comes into my readers hands, hopefully they will be as enchanted by that world as I have been. That’s the goal, after all. Not just to tell ourselves these stories, but to offer them to each other.

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First Drafts and the Need to Flee

Monday, October 10th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 5 Comments

Is it just me, or does every writer get to a point in their first draft where they want to run away from it? I am closing in on the finishing line of my latest project, and for some reason, the closer I get to the end of the book, the harder it gets to stay in the chair. I am fascinated by this phenomenon, because it has never happened to me before. Or at least, I don’t remember it happening. Hmmm…

Could it be that I don’t want the book to end? I love these characters…they have brightened my life. So perhaps part of my mind is reluctant to put those words down, the most blessed words in the English language, The End.

There is certainly a build up of tension as I approach the climax and denouement of this novel. Just as the tension builds in the story, it seems to build beneath my skin, making me jumpy, compelling me to rise from my work to make a cup of tea, grab another bit of bagel, to turn on the internet and see what my friends are up to…

You get the idea.

So how do I avoid this need to flee? I don’t. I do often get up for a bagel. I do make endless cups of tea. But always, no matter how tense I get, I come back to the chair. That is how we win in the end with every piece of writing. We keep coming back until it is finished. I haven’t found a magic formula to make this aspect of the writing life any easier. I suppose it is simply one of those times when I have to accept that something is hard…and then do it anyway.

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Our Characters: The Path into the Void

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 | The Writing Life | 4 Comments

Where would we be without our characters? I for one would be nowhere. While I have a lively imagination, I tend to live a quiet life. I have fought in no wars.  I have run from no crazed killers (thank goodness). I have never worked in law enforcement. If I were to turn to my real life for stories to put in my novels, I would have very little to say. So I am lucky that my characters come to me.

I am one of those writers who does not pick up her pen, or turn on her computer, until a character has shown up. They come to me first, and ask, “Would you like to hear my story?” Princess Alais, a quiet girl, emerged from the Void one evening, and asked that simple question. It turned out that there was a great deal more to that character than the quiet voice I first heard or than the history books would suggest. Alais led me, slowly, one step at a time, down the path that was her life. Looking at the wilds of the Plantagenet court from a devout, convent raised girl’s point of view was fascinating, but it was even more fascinating when that quiet girl stepped out of the role that had been proscribed for her to take a chance on building a new life for herself. Whether she failed or not doesn’t matter. The fact that she tried made her 100 times more interesting to me. The Queen’s Pawn would never have been born without Alais’ constant presence and contribution, and for that, I will always be grateful to her.

I know that I sound mad. To any person who is not an artist, the sort of thing I am describing would call for medication and a long rest. 🙂 But as Henry James once wrote, this devotion to people who exist only in the pages of our books is not insanity.  It is the “madness of art.” Other artists will understand what I mean, and our friends, families and readers will smile indulgently.  They have watched this madness take shape in us as we devote ourselves to our work over and over again. Our family and friends wait until we return from the Void with the story we went searching for. Our readers buy the next book, wondering where the Void has taken us this time, and where it might take them.

Without my characters, I would be alone in that Void, and I would bring nothing back. I feel as if I am in partnership with these phantoms of my imagination, with these specters of the past, these people from the land of dreams who have been kind enough to share their stories with me. It is a sacred trust, one that I do not take lightly, whether I am writing a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine or a Regency romance about people who never existed. The trust is the same. These characters trust me to honor them, and I trust them to show up when I step into the unknown.  I am grateful for every book I have been privileged to write. I am always aware that though it is I who step into the Void, I do not step in alone. I have partners in the dark, helping me to bring their stories to light.

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