Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Writing Advice I’d Give My Younger Self 2 — Drafting

In my last post, I covered preparation for writing. Below is my advice for drafting a manuscript.

I often do blank-sheet evaluations of my writing (and my life) by literally covering the kitchen table with a piece of chart paper and scribbling ideas, lists, and figures on it.

This time, I just tried to remember who I was when I first got serious about writing, and then imagine what I’d tell that person if I had the chance. (The naive perspective often breaks away the preconceptions and reveals something fresh and new. Perhaps that the emperor has no clothes.) I formulated my advice without reference to previous posts, but I’ve dug through and found links where they were available. I hope those provide enough to pursue tips of interest for anyone who might need them.
  • Imagine the audience for the work. If possible, think of one individual (not yourself). This will add specificity and make decisions easier.
  • Be extreme. Going too far can be fixed in the rewrite. It’s easier to pull back than to get crazier.
  • Write more than you need. It’s easier to cut than to embellish.
  • For any big project (novel, screenplay), create a list early on (by the third chapter for a novel) of why you MUST finish this project.
  • If it stops feeling fun, find a part of the project that you can enjoy and stick with it for a while.
  • Purposely experiment with at least three scenes you won’t use for each major work. This will force you to look at new options. 
  • Stick to your Work In Progress until you get to “The End.” This means, for five days a week and fifteen minutes each day, text is added to the manuscript, moving it to completion. Don’t quit until it’s finished and you have a story. Even if it’s so bad it makes you squirm. No dithering.
  • Set a timer. It makes a great starting gun for a writing sprint.
  • Don’t rewrite along the way (looping). Get the story out.
  • Find your pivotal scene(s). The climax would be one, but any big scenes (at the ends of acts, ends of sequences) may have concepts that suggest exploration.
  • Know what you need to write the next day.
I have a toolbox of techniques to keep myself writing (switching from typing to speech recognition or pencil, writing scenes in the voice of favorite authors, writing dialogue only scenes, etc.), but I probably would not bring those up to a new writer unless he or she were stuck. Making things too complicated and trying to work with too many ideas at once is the bane of rookie authors.

Drafting is about telling as story you love to someone you imagine would love it just as much. With a lot of forgiveness thrown in.

Next time, I'll look at revision advice for the callow youth I once was.

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