The lovely Emmie Mears recently put up a blog post about her drafting process. It was fun, witty, and kind of head scratching for me.
See, she forgets to eat. I know a number of people like this, people who get so wrapped up in what they’re doing they forget to eat, and I just don’t understand them. Maybe I’m too in tune with my stomach, but if it’s growling and telling me to fill it, I obey. Because I get growly if I don’t.
I also can’t sit for hours because my butt will protest, no matter how cushioned the chair is, and my hips will whine. My lower back? Don’t get me started. I have to see a chiropractor regularly to keep it in check. I sound like an elderly woman, don’t I? I guess in some ways I am – I might only be 34, but with my family history and the injuries and hurts my legs have sustained from my early years of dance and gymnastics, I feel like one sometimes. My left knee clicks when I walk. Seriously. You can hear it.
But that’s not what this is about. Emmie’s post made me sit down and think about my own drafting process and the issues I’ve been having of late with said drafts (so thanks, Emmie!). I don’t mind writing short romances – I enjoy it most of the time – but it’s become increasingly frustrating to me that my projects don’t come out as long as I’d like. I had high, high hopes that Game of Shadows would be around 75,000 words. Instead, after revisions, it clocked in at just under 67,000 words. My two most recent completed stories were both under 50,000 words. The last book I wrote that was over 70,000 was Hidden Scars, topping out at 77,000 words. With the notes I’ve received from my editor and the changes I plan to make, I’m hopeful it’ll end up being closer to 80,000 once I’m done.
The longest book I’ve ever written was 85,000 words, and it was a hot mess. That story…I didn’t even love the characters enough by the end of it to want to salvage it.
So how do I draft?
I pants. I’ve written the occasional working synopsis, and I’ve completed a beat sheet or two (under duress), but it was very hard on me, to the point it took me longer to complete a beat sheet that it would to write a thousand words.
I use Google Docs for my first, second, and sometimes third drafts. I’ve only once lost a portion of a draft since I started using them, and I’m pretty sure that was due to some mistake on my part. I can access them anywhere I have an internet connection, it automatically saves my work every few seconds, I can download the document as a Word document to work on offline, I can upload documents and save them to Google Drive, and I can share documents with other users if I want. It’s not a perfect program – I often have issues with spacing and paragraphs and italics disappearing – but the convenience and security beat out a lot of its faults.
Large documents intimidate me. My first novel attempts were one long, continuous document, and the thought of having to fill page after page with words and have them make sense just scared the poo out of me, so I gave up. When I started what would become my first finished story, it was a series of blog posts. It gave me the idea of making each chapter its own document. It makes it easier to edit, and while it’s cumbersome when it comes time to put the whole thing together, I don’t mind.
Sometimes I wonder if I pants because the rest of my life is so rigid. I have a schedule. I live by my schedule. I am extremely anal about my schedule, and when it gets interrupted, I get cranky, occasionally withdrawn, and I sometimes stand around flapping my arms like a penguin because I don’t know what to do. I am not spontaneous. If you want me to do something, I need at least 24 hours notice. I have a feeling most people who know me don’t realize this, and it will surprise the hell out of them.
I’m dead certain every other writer I know is more disciplined than I am. Fifteen minute word sprints have proven that I can write 500 words in that short amount of time; I can, and have, written 5,000 words in a day. More often I write about a thousand words a day, sometimes 1,500. The quickest draft I ever wrote was a 50,000 word contemporary friends-to-lovers story. I completed the first draft in a little over two weeks. The first draft of Fracture took about six weeks; Hidden Scars took four. That 85,000 word story? The original draft was about 5,000 words shorter and took me three weeks. I had a headache for most of them.
I’m not one of those writers who can just lose herself in the characters she’s creating and the story she’s building. I’ve had books that pop right onto the page, and I’ve had books where it’s taken me almost a year to finish them. I’ll write a hundred words and feel I deserve a break, and head on over to Twitter. I might write a couple hundred words and decide I’d rather read for a while. I might have a cat on my lap, or my arm, and writing at all just won’t happen (stupid fuzzy dictator). I lack focus. I try to tell myself it’s just a matter of needing the space to figure out what should come next – a dead body, sex against the wall, a silly misunderstanding – but sometimes…I’d just rather look at boots on Nordstrom’s website.
I think my distractability is part of what’s causing my short drafts. When I pull my focus back to the page, I’m not necessarily still in the character’s head. I tend to keep my details to a minimum and leave out long paragraphs of description or introspection because I’m afraid the reader will lose the trail I’m laying for them. This is part of what makes short fiction easy. You don’t have to worry about that because you’re trusting the reader to pick up the threads you leave dangling. And sometimes I just want to get to the action because I’m impatient.
The other day, I started a new project, even though I swore I wouldn’t. This time around, I was going to make it to 60,000 words. Not 40, not 50, but 60.
The first chapter ended up being 3,200 words long. 700 words longer than my usual goal. I was so fuckin’ pleased with myself, and then I started panicking that I wouldn’t be able to sustain it through the next 19 chapters.
This time around, I’m going to try everything I always told myself not to do. No rushing through the scene because I want to get to the next one. Trying to incorporate all five senses on the first go round instead of having to work them in in rounds two and three. Sitting there and thinking about why my character is asking those questions, and what the answers should be. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to 60,000 words. Maybe I just won’t have enough story for it. But at least I’ll know I tried.
So tell me: how do you draft?