Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Fast Draft Challenge: Hurts and helps

Throwing words, sentences, and paragraphs onto a page in a rush is like running a race. If you're out of shape you may finish with a limp or even come up short. If you write regularly, you'll get to the end most days, but some will be easier than others.
Since fast drafting is one of the critical steps I mentioned in Productive Writing Stripped Down to the Essentials, I'll dig into it a bit more this time. (I've drilled down on Story Premise and Drafting Goals in previous posts.)
Lots of practices and attitudes can get in the way. Here are a few that may hold you back:
  • Perfectionism - Drafts are all about allowing yourself to make mistakes, but that isn't easy for some people. Putting down words and creating scenes that won't make the final draft can feel sloppy or like a waste of time. For most people, it's not. It's a great time saver that keeps you moving forward so the story can be exposed. Rewriting is where things get fixed. Getting that part of your mind to quiet down and let the words flow takes practice.
  • Looping - There can be an irresistible urge to fix what is written as you go along. This knocks you out of creative, composition mode, and slows things down -- often to a stop. It can be difficult to let it go when you see ways to make it better, but, for most people, the starts and stops get in the way of productivity.
  • The right word - Good writers make the best word choices for final copy, but stopping to search for the best word as you compose can trip you up. I've found, for my own work, it's best to just put something down if the third word I come up with still isn't quite right. Inevitably, the best word comes to me in rewriting. (Sometimes I put questionable words in italics or just add an asterisk at the end.) Similar to this is uncertainty about spelling (put it down phonetically) and reaching for a fact (see bagel below).
  • Lack of commitment - This is similar to dithering, but in real time. It is not unusual to have other scenes, other stories, and other work suggest themselves as you work on your draft. Somehow, you know the words will flow if you just change projects. This is usually an illusion. If you've set your goal for writing, consider it a promise to yourself. Keep your promise, and then feel free to go after the shiny objects.
  • Interruptions - The words are flowing and then you hear the familiar "bing" of new email. Or you have the desire for a cup of coffee. Or the cat jumps into your lap. Do what you can to eliminate interruptions and temptations. Track what happens anyway to see if it stops you too often. Take steps to give yourself the time and quiet you owe yourself.
There are certainly more problems with keeping the words flowing. Sometimes the juices don't flow for no apparent reason. All you can do is write down a noun, and then a verb, and keep building stuff that is horrible but keeps you moving forward. A process one of my mentors called (I'll paraphrase) "defecating masonry."
Usually, it doesn't come to that. To provide some help, here are a few things you can try:
  • Remind yourself it's not a watercolor - You want perfect? You can get it in a later draft. Everything can be fixed, and no one needs to see this version.
  • Use a timer - It's like a starting gun, and it puts a definite limit on the minutes you need to dedicate to composing.
  • Fill in with bagels - I just write the word bagel when the right word or fact refuses to come to mind. I clean up the bagels later on.
  • Be ready - That means having your premise and your goal for the day. Sometimes it also means getting research done and answering questions about the mood and the purpose of the scene.
  • Use a dictation program - This is especially valuable if you tend to loop. Rewriting as you work is very difficult when you are dictating.
  • Interview your character about the scene - When I'm lost, I turn to the character who has the most to lose in the scene I'm writing. I cut and paste questions onto the page and write his or her answers.
    • How do you feel about the other people in this scene?
    • What do you need or want?
    • What's in your way?
    • What happens if you succeed?
    • What happens if you fail?
    • What's at stake for you?
Are there days when I use everything in this toolbox and still have a blank page when the timer goes off? Yes. But it's rare, and I've seen days when I'm blocked become more rare over the years. When it happens, I shrug my shoulders and let it go. Usually, I forget about it. Sometimes, I change my writing goal for the next day. I don't chastise myself or brood about the "failure." Often, I've found, the best writing days follow a day when nothing worked. That's a helpful perspective to keep in mind.

Upcoming classes
January 5-30, 2015 How to Write FAST (online) http://www.yosemiteromancewriters.com/workshops
January 13-February 17 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop (face-to-face) https://writerscenter.org/courses/science-fiction-and-fantasy-writing-workshop
February 2-15 The Perfect Setting (online) http://ce.savvyauthors.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Calendar.eventDetail&eventId=2149
Februrary 25-March 11 How to Write FAST (face to face) Westchester Community College http://www.sunywcc.edu/continuing-ed/ce/

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