Writers are often advised to write a first fast draft and get down the bones of the story as quickly as possible without stopping to revise, edit, or look up things, and then take their time revising. Other writers prefer to write slowly and edit as they go, polishing each paragraph before moving on.
So I interviewed ten of my fellow Ylva Publishing writers to find out where they fall on the spectrum of “writing at warp speed” vs. “writing slowly and polishing as they go.”
Read on for a variety of interesting answers.
I tend to edit as I write. If I get into a groove, I’ll write a large section quickly, but I always have to go back over it before I can move on. When I was writing my upcoming novel, Cast Me Gently, I needed to do a lot of ongoing research on Pittsburgh in 1980. I had lived there then, so I remembered a good bit, but still there were things I needed to double-check for accuracy.
My style is, to some extent, a combination of both. I don’t polish each paragraph as I go, but I will try to improve each chapter before proceeding to the next. However, if a story is spilling onto the page in an exuberance of creativity, then I try to get out of my own way and just let it flow. I know that I can trust my beta readers and myself to polish it afterwards. The first draft, no matter how much I edited during the writing process, won’t be the definitive version of the story. That will only come when I’ve reviewed and revised the first draft, because by then I’ve often gone off in an unexpected direction and have to return to earlier chapters to make plot points consistent.
For example, an unexpected plot twist about two thirds of the way through my forthcoming novel, Stone Gardens, meant I had to return to earlier chapters and change some details about a secondary character’s motivations to achieve cohesion and coherency. It’s a rare story where that doesn’t happen for me.
Catherine Lane, author of The Set Piece:
I’m still at the beginning of my career where I am struggling with everything—formatting, grammar, story, POV (the list is endless). For me, I need to edit on the spot to work on these issues and become a better writer. At the moment, I have the most trouble with “telling not showing.” I’ll write a sentence only to realize that I’ve told the action. So I revise. My delete button on the keyboard has a permanent indentation in it after my debut novel, The Set Piece. My hope is that I will learn how to “show” the first time around before I have to replace the key.
Cindy Rizzo, author of the newly released novel Getting Back:
I’m somewhat in the middle. I haven’t attempted the “write fast” method, but I’m also not meticulously editing as I go. I tend to write until I lose focus, which could be after an hour or after 10 minutes. It depends on my mood and the level of inspiration I have at the time. Also, I do stop to look things up, particularly when it comes to descriptions. For example, as I was writing the first draft of my newest book, Getting Back, I needed to describe the exterior of a house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. I wanted it to be a nice house that had been subdivided into apartments at some point. So I went to Google Images and looked for houses in Flatbush. I found one that seemed to fit and then used it as a basis for describing the house where Ruth Abramson, one of my main characters, lived with her family. I guess I could have left that section of the manuscript blank and then come back to it later, but I’m way too linear to do that.
My process is a hybrid of these two. When I teach academic writing, I advocate for Anne Lamott’s idea of a shitty first draft—it helps writers avoid the self-censorship that comes from trying to be perfect the first time. That tactic is particularly useful for academic writing, when complex ideas come and go and if you don’t get them down they’ll slip away from you. With fiction, style is, in my opinion, every bit as important as plot. So, while I give myself permission to write quickly and edit later, that “later” is usually immediately after I complete a scene. Put another way, on the microlevel, I write fast drafts of scenes, and on the macrolevel, I can’t get to the end of a novel without having editing the hell out of it first. And even then, once I reach the end, I edit the entire piece again. And after that, I edit it again.
I just finished working with my editor on my latest novel, Stowe Away, and I read through the piece one last time before it heads to the proofreader. Reading it cover to cover, I felt really proud of it, and I know that’s in large part because I took my time with the story, doing multiple rounds and levels of edits, and the writing and plot have had time to mature. Every writer’s process is different—this is the one that works best for me.
I’ve tried both methods. For me, I work best going slowly a chapter or two at a time, then with feedback of my beta reader making revisions before moving on. I try not to get more than three chapters ahead. With this approach, it avoids for the most part any major revision that span multiple chapters or story arcs. That’s not to say there aren’t revision to be done once the first draft is complete. At that point, the story always benefits from a thorough going-over to smooth the reading flow and check the pacing.
Lee Winter, author of The Red Files:
The first thing I was taught when I became a newspaper journalist was to always bash out a first draft and make the words pretty later. If you have deadlines and no luxury of time, then this is a sensible approach—after all, it’s much easier to edit words you already have—no matter how lame—than to write something fresh. And this is a great way to avoid writer’s block, as you have something to play with while waiting for the inspiration to kick in.
Because my attention span is limited to about 15,000 words at any given time, when I wrote The Red Files, I would bash out a first draft on each chapter, then polish it up until I was happy with it and then I’d move on to the next. I hear strange, mythical tales of authors who write whole books in draft form and then go back to the start. I find the mere idea of this so daunting it makes my knees weak. They’re braver souls than me.
Since I’m an editor as well as a writer, I can’t seem to break the habit of editing and revising as I go. I even send each chapter to my team of beta readers and critique partners as soon as I complete it. That saves me from taking the story in a direction that doesn’t make sense and having to rewrite half of the book later. But while working on my upcoming novel, Just Physical, I’ve been trying to keep myself from looking up small details—for example, finding a name for a main character’s ex or finding out what state of the US gets the most thunderstorms. Looking things up online sometimes kills my productivity because I tend to get distracted by shiny objects on the Internet.
G Benson, author of All the Little Moments
I like the word process there—it makes it sound like I have one. I suppose I do an odd mix of the two—I will sit down and tear through 5,000-10,000 words, forgetting reality as I do so, then go back and read through. I wouldn’t say I do a massive edit there, but I definitely do a lot of chopping out and sorting out my ideas. I then sit down and repeat this madness with the next few thousand words the next day or next week or next month until I have something you could almost call a story. Only then do I buckle down and try to edit whatever mess I’ve created. I say mess because usually I’ve added something halfway that then needs referencing to/hints off in the early parts. Amidst all this is the odd muttered swear word, a lot of coffee and forgetting to do things like go to work, because I stupidly started writing an hour before I had to leave.
I’m an editor as well as a writer, so I do all of that stuff as I go: revise, edit, and fact-check. But I am specially trained; do not try this at home!
Joking aside, writing is an intensively creative process and easy to interrupt, with sometimes fatal consequences. I think the advice is generally good, especially for new writers who haven’t yet established their own routines. Get the ideas out first—they’re the fragile part of what you’re doing. When the ideas and scenes are safe, then go back and do the more prosaic work. Jot quick notes while you write (e.g. “chap. 3 driving scene: does a Mini Cooper have five or six gears?”) so you won’t have to remember all of those questions or thoughts afterward.
But if you’re comfortable with interruptions, by all means, do the editing and fact-checking on the fly. I find that editing helps get my brain into the necessary headspace for moving ahead with today’s creativity. When I wrote The Caphenon and Without a Front, the first thing I did most mornings was read over the previous night’s work. It’s amazing how different one’s own words can look after a few hours of rest.
So, where on the spectrum do you fall? Do you prefer to fast-draft or to write more slowly? Please leave a comment
Now that October has begun and November is coming closer and closer, many writers from all over the world are starting to gear up for NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, a writing event that challenges you to write 50,000 words of fiction in November.
As someone who participated—and won—several times, I can tell you that when it comes to NaNoWriMo, preparation is the mother of victory.
Here are 10 things you can do this month to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
Are you up for NaNoWriMo this year? Are you doing anything to prepare? Please let us know in the comments, and check back for more NaNoWriMo tips and tricks!
I have participated several times and have made the 50,000-word goal every time. There’s just something about this mix of competition and support from half a million fellow writers that is a great motivator. Part of it is that NaNoWriMo allows you to track the progress in your novel’s word count.
But not every month can be November, so writers have to come up with another way to track their word count for the rest of the year.
It might be a bit geeky, but I keep a spreadsheet for that purpose.
All I have to do is enter a bit of data into the blue columns every day, and my spreadsheet spits out the word count for each day or each writing session and my writing speed (words per hour).
If a spreadsheet like that could help keep you motivated, feel free to download the Excel template.
To read more about how to keep track of your writing goals, take a look at my book Goal Setting for Writers. How to set and achieve your writing goals, finally write a book, and become a successful author
Most authors I know keep track of their word count in some way. If you don’t already, here are some reasons why you might want to start.
If you decide to keep track of your writing progress, there are several ways to do that.
For more information on how to track your progress and achieve your writing goals, check out Goal Setting for Writers: How to set and achieve your writing goals, finally write a book, and become a successful author.
So, fellow writers, do you keep track of your writing progress? If yes, how do you do it? Let us know in the comments.
I’m talking about sentences like these:
Her eyes followed Kathryn around the room.
Her fist knocked on the door.
He dropped his eyes to the floor.
His arms wrapped around her hips.
The wording of these sentences makes it appear as if the body parts take on a life of their own and act independently of the character. It can cause comical images to flash through readers’ minds and will throw them out of the story.
In addition, disembodied body parts distance readers from the characters by taking the spotlight away from them.
Sometimes, these sentence constructions also lead to dangling participles such as:
Gazing through the windshield, her fingers clutched the steering wheel.
Make your characters, not their body parts, the subject of the sentence. If your characters’ eyes are the offenders, you can often replace the word eyes with gaze.
So one way to rewrite the above sentences might be:
Her gaze followed Kathryn around the room.
She knocked on the door.
He lowered his gaze to the floor.
He wrapped his arms around her hips.
Gazing through the windshield, she clutched the steering wheel.
Does that mean it’s always wrong to use autonomous body parts and you need to eliminate them all?
Some editors would certainly say so and will always edit them out, no matter what, but I think they can have their uses every now and then.
Body parts as the subject of a sentence can be used to indicate that it’s an involuntary, unconscious action.
Her lips twitched.
His hands shook.
Her arms flailed.
His hand automatically reached for the cigarette pack.
They can also be used when the point of view character doesn’t know who the body parts belong to:
Strong arms grabbed her from behind.
Every now and then, making body parts the subject of the sentence is also necessary to vary sentence structure, especially in gay and lesbian fiction, where you’d otherwise end up with a string of sentences starting with she or he.
So, my advice would be to avoid autonomous body parts most of the time. Use them only if you want to achieve a certain effect and make sure you’re not making your readers think of zombies—unless, of course, you’re actually writing a novel about undead creatures.
Writers, how do you handle autonomous body parts? Please leave a comment.
If you’re anything like I am, you probably read a lot of books or blog posts about writing. One thing I rarely see mentioned anywhere are so-called filters, so I thought I’d blog about it today.
Filters have to do with point of view.
What is point of view?
Basically, point of view is the “camera angle” from which we see the action when we read a book. Most romance novels are written in third-person limited POV—we witness everything through the eyes of one single character per scene. It’s called “limited” because we are limited to the mind of one character at a time. We only see, hear, feel, and know what this viewpoint character sees, hears, feels, or knows. You can’t write about things that your character doesn’t know.
You can have more than one POV character in your novel, even if you write in a third-person limited POV. Personally, I think third-person limited with multiple viewpoint characters works best for romances, since it allows you to dip into the heads of both main characters, one at a time.
It’s best to switch POV only at chapter or scene breaks to avoid confusing readers, though. Switching POV in mid-scene is called “head hopping” if you’re writing from a third-person limited POV.
To complicate things even more, third-person POV comes in varying degrees of intimacy—also called narrative distance. Do your readers witness what the characters see, hear, and feel from the outside, or do they inhabit your characters’ minds and experience everything for themselves?
What are filters?
Filters are words that describe the POV character perceiving something or thinking something.
Keep an eye out for verbs such as:
Or, even worse, a variation of these words such as “she could hear,” etc.
Why should you avoid filter words?
You might think that using these filters are a good thing, since you should involve your characters’ senses and dip into their minds and emotions. Well, yes, you should. But if you use filters to do that, you direct your readers’ attention toward the fact that your POV character sees (hears, notices…) something rather than on whatever he or she sees. Instead of experiencing the events in the story themselves, readers are forced to observe the characters experiencing the events. Readers look at your POV character instead of looking through his or her eyes.
That puts unnecessary distance between the reader and the character. Readers no longer experience the story directly.
So my advice would be to avoid filters whenever possible. Just SHOW what your POV character is experiencing instead of TELLING readers that the character is experiencing it. Since we are in the character’s POV, everything you describe is something the character hears, sees, or thinks, so you don’t need to point it out.
With filters, a paragraph might read like this:
She heard a car door slam shut in front of the house and realized she was in trouble. She could feel her hands grow damp and wondered how she would explain the missing money to her mother.
If you rewrite without the filters, the paragraph changes to:
A car door slammed shut in front of the house. Shit. She was in trouble. Her hands grew damp. How would she explain the missing money to her mother?
As you can probably see, the writing becomes more immediate. We now witness everything directly, without the filter.
Does that mean you should never, ever use a filter word?
No, of course not. There are exceptions for almost every rule in writing. Sometimes, you might want to increase the narrative distance or you want to emphasize the act of hearing/seeing or maybe the filter is critical for the meaning of a sentence.
But always make sure that if you use a filter word, it’s a conscious choice and not just a bad habit. Most of the time, your writing will be richer and your readers more actively involved in the story if you leave out the filters.
Do you have any questions or comments about filters, point of view, or writing in general? Let me know in the comments!
Writing a book is on the bucket list of millions of people worldwide, but very few actually finish their book or manage to fulfill other writing dreams such as making a living as a writer. Many writers fail because they don’t know how to set effective writing goals and how to develop an action plan that will turn their dreams into reality.
To help you with that, I’m giving away two e-books of my new nonfiction book, Goal Setting for Writers: How to set and achieve your writing goals, finally write a book, and become a successful author.
All you have to do to be entered into the drawing is to leave a comment. I’ll draw the winners on Monday morning (8 a.m. EST).
Make sure to check back to see if you have won or sign up for my newsletter so you won’t miss it.
Spring has finally arrived with gorgeous sunshine here in southwestern Germany. Hard to believe that the first quarter of the year is almost over, isn’t it?
I think this is an excellent time to look back at what you accomplished in the first three months of 2015 and at your plans for the rest of the year.
Take a look at the writing goals and resolutions you made around January 1. Are you happy with the progress you made so far? If so, congratulations!
If you feel you’re not making as much progress toward your goal as you want—or maybe didn’t set any goals for your writing—here’s a book that could help:
Goal Setting for Writers just came out today!
Whether you are a complete newbie just thinking about writing your first book or a multi-published author dreaming of becoming a full-time writer or somewhere in between, this book will help you to:
I hope you find it helpful!
The first few days of a new year are always exciting for me. Like most people, I use this time to make resolutions and set goals for the year ahead. Many writers I know set goals for 2015 too, and I think that’s important. Without goals that keep us moving forward, it’s too easy to procrastinate and put off starting that book or finally finishing it.
With the right goals, you’ll keep moving forward and achieve your dreams, not just in your writing life, but in all other areas of your life too.
So what does having the right goals mean?
Most of all, make sure your goals are SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym that stands for goals that are:
My personal writing goals for 2015 are publishing the first two books in my writers’ guide series as well as four novels. One of them is already with the editor and another is a republication of an old novel I want to revise, so I think that’s achievable if I write about 2,000 words every day.
This word count goal is specific, measurable, and attainable for me since I write full time. It’s also relevant since it contributes to my writing goals for 2015, and it’s time-bound.
What are your writing goals for 2015? Leave a comment and let me know!
The new year is quickly approaching and with it the time to make New Year’s resolutions. Most writers I know, myself included, set goals for the new year. Several want to get into the habit of writing every day or meet a certain word-count goal each day in 2015. So, basically, they want to form better, more productive writing habits.
Habits can be a wonderful thing for writers. They are things we do automatically, without thinking, so they no longer require so much mental effort. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sit down and write every day, producing page after page, without procrastinating, wasting time, and exhausting your willpower?
So how do we go about forming new writing habits—or any new habits, for that matter?
First, you have to understand how habits work. Each habit consists of three parts:
This is where the marble method comes in. I’m trying to get into the habit of exercising for an hour every day. After I finish exercising, I reward myself with putting a clear marble into a glass bowl. If I skip a day, I have to put a dark marble into the bowl. The same system would work for writing-related habits as well—reward yourself with a clear marble if you meet your daily writing goal, and give yourself a black marble if you fail to accomplish your goal.
The marble has a dual function. First, it serves as a mini-reward. Rewarding the right behavior isn’t enough to form a new habit, though. You also need enough repetitions so that your brain can make the connection between cue and reward. Only once that connection is engrained in your brain will the behavior become automatic.
That’s where the bowl of marbles comes in for me. Once I had a handful of clear marbles in the bowl, I didn’t want to taint my nice little pile of marbles by having to add a dark one. If I skip one day, I will have to look at the dark marble for weeks before I finally add enough clear marbles to cover the dark one. So I kept exercising, even on days when I really didn’t want to or felt that I didn’t have enough time.
Also, if you keep your marbles somewhere where your family and friends can see them, that will keep you accountable. Anyone will be able to see whether you’re sticking to your resolutions or not.
According to studies, you need 66 days on average to build a new habit, so make sure you have enough marbles and a glass bowl that is big enough to hold them all.
For me, the marble method is working so far, so if you want to form a new habit in 2015, you might want to try it.
Created by Krystel Contreras & Jorge Courbis