How to Write a Fast First Draft

Limit social activity online and IRL. Don’t stop everything, just cut down. Remember this is a fast draft, 50K words in a month in NaNoWriMo terms. NaNoWriMo is the best tool I’ve ever used to get a fast draft. Sure, you can do it on your own any old time, but that doesn’t always work for me. If November rolls around and I need a kick in my pantser butt, I join the team. Here’s what my stats look like today and I could not be happier! Just seeing the graph and the stats does something internally to make me want to get those pages down every day. I can’t on Thanksgiving because I am cooking, but I’m ahead just enough to take those few days I need off from writing and still meet my goal. Try it!

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Creating Character

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I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before, dedicating the month of November to intense writing every day except Thanksgiving. This year, I need to kick-start my novel, working title Jane. She was Natasha until last week when I tried to pin down who she was and I got as far as she’s Jane not Natasha. It sounds weird that a name means so much but it does.

Yesterday I did my morning pages, which I write in longhand in top bound spiral notebooks with Dr Grip gel pens in blue, purple or black. Morning pages are not novel writing, they are anything I want to write about, and usually they’re more like a diary. But sometimes during morning pages the novel writing muse comes over me and I write what I need to for the new story.

Yesterday it was three pages of notes about who Jane is, what her past is, why she is who she is, why she’s suddenly moved from Michigan to St. Pete, Florida. Things Jane is not: she’s not anxious. She’s calm and methodical. She does not have panic attacks or take Xanax. I have used those internal issues in a few books, especially my latest Lily White in Detroit. It’s easy for me to tap into anxious characters, because I have anxiety and panic. But not Jane.

Jane is different in a lot of ways. She’s older than any main character I’ve written before. I’m older than the characters I write, and I’m older than Jane, but it’s still a bit difficult for me to write an older, wiser character. I know this because I’ve been trying to write Jane for awhile now. I usually manage to conjure up a few pages for my monthly critique group. But I have not got into the daily habit of writing a book. NaNoWriMo helps with developing that habit. For me, it’s the daily word count that you add to your personal NaNo page. It is so satisfying to see those pages add up. And if you write 50,000 words in a month, you get a badge. It sounds crazy but it’s possible. I’ve done it twice.

One reason I need a kick-start is because I have been promoting Lily White in Detroit like crazy. I did a lot of things (like spend money) that I usually don’t do. It paid off, I sold 500 books the day my BookBub ad appeared. But instead of writing the next book, I was checking my Amazon ratings every hour. And tweeting about Lily. And using my Facebook Author page to write about Lily. And working through the marketing plan Dora had made for me.

Dora is a publicist and she does website work, too. I hired her to help with a bunch of things. She designed my new website banner, and the matching ones for my Twitter page and Facebook Author page. She made a page on my website for my audio books, too. She wrote a detailed and lengthy marketing plan just for me and my novel. I have completed about  half of the stuff in the plan. I’m working through the rest of it slowly.

Marketing one book while writing another is difficult. But my real problem was finding Jane. I had to go through all the parts of the story to figure out what was wrong with it. I have a good mystery. I have a terrifying antagonist (the murderer). I have an excellent setting. I even have a really good sidekick. But Natasha/Jane was just not sparking for me. That turned out to be the problem. Character is the heart of my books and if I don’t connect with my protagonist, I don’t have much momentum or motivation.

A few days ago, I copied a quote that seemed to explain Jane. I jotted a few notes, too. These few words were keys that unlocked Jane’s character. Also the new name. Then yesterday the New York Times Book Review talked about psychological thrillers and how they recently have dual timelines. I had been thinking about structure. I’ve never had a dual timeline, where I go back and forth in the main character’s life. I flirted with trying the dual timeline but realized that’s not the story I’m writing. My story propels Jane forward. She isn’t one for looking back.

What this all means in terms of developing a character is that this time, for me, I had to first figure out what was wrong with my story. Why it wasn’t taking off. Why it bored me. Then I thought about how I could get to know Jane and pretty soon I found answers in unlikely places. Now I’m almost ready to go. In a few days I’ll be all set. NaNoWriMo starts November 1.

 

 

Rock Star

A package came from overseas. My dear friend Ali sent a stone that came directly from a mountain in Greece. It’s gorgeous! She also sent some other things from England. And it’s not even my birthday! I have so busy with NaNo, typing out 2K per day every day. So getting Ali’s gift was a bit like a reward for hard work done (and lots more yet to do, about 5 days away from half way:) I have to say I was also thrilled with the exotic Royal Mail stamp.

I only thought about this after I received the stone, but Ali has provided me with something I have been heartbroken about missing. Al and I had been planning a trip to Greece in 2016 with a stop in London (and a short train ride to Ali’s village from there for a nice lunch:)) Then the Greek currency crisis happened and we really didn’t want to travel there with the economic flux. So we postponed the trip. I’d built it up in my head, and was so looking forward to it. I’d done a great deal of research and was primed to go. I really thought I’d be meeting Ali IRL sooner than later. And then, alas, fate.

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A big part of the trip to Greece, a highlight, was a trek up a mountain on an uninhabited island that was once a spiritual mecca for pilgrims. There are still ancient ruins at the top of the mountain, and in fact all over the tiny island. It’s like a museum on the Aegean sea. Alas, I will have to wait for Greek fortunes to turn. But in her own perceptive way, Ali sent me a piece of a Greek mountain and also something of England too.

Full Circle

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Last time I “won” the famous November writing challenge to write 50.000 words in a month was 2005. I had previously published one book, a creative writing text I used in the classroom. I was also teaching college full time and writing reviews for Romantic Times magazine. Ten years later, I have published ten books. Eight of them novels or novellas. But the first novel I published was Sister Issues, the one I wrote during NaNoWriMo, the one recently released in print.

Feels like full circle as I write book #11 this month with the help of the greatest motivator ever. Words are flowing again after a two week writing break and then a week of organizing my thoughts and getting a solid conflict and a couple of characters to start my story. I’ll be working on a Christmas novel, something I have always wanted to write. A Blue Lake Christmas is #4 of six books contracted for the Blue Lake series with The Wild Rose Press.

I’m a believer in NaNo but November has not typically been a good month for me to start and finish a novel. This year, it just worked out. It’s been a while since I pounded out 50K in one month. Feeling a bit like really, can I actually do this? But then I remember I already did. So yes, I’m ready to NaNo and I highly recommend the process for anyone who wants (or like me, needs) external motivation.

Breaking The NaNo Rules

photo-13My first draft of the third Blue Lake book is finished. Took a minute to bask in the glory of getting it done today–I didn’t think it would happen but that extra hour this morning helped–and now I need to get busy with polishing up this messy first draft for my patient and kind editor.

I’ve already had help from my critique group, so the first half should be simple to clean up.

There’s still the problem of what to do about Lily. Should she get top billing over my reunited lovers? The writers think so. And this past week or two of writing, when I finally admitted that I wouldn’t even get the first draft done in October (so close!) let alone something I could send my editor, I have written far more Lily pages than Reunited Lovers pages. One thing I can do when I read it over is see which one dominates page-wise. Lily’s story has more drama. Way more. The other one is pure, if a tiny bit unconventional, romance.

Speaking of unconventional romance, Luke’s #1 Rule should be available for pre-order any day now. I thought it was a romance when I started it. And there is a love story, one very close to my heart. But my publisher has decided it is “Contemporary Mainstream Fiction” because really, I don’t write romance. I write love stories, always, but also mixed in there is more messy life. In Blue Lake Book 3, there IS a love story, but Lily’s theme is darker.

My idea for Blue Lake Book 4 takes off from where Book 3 ends and right now I want to make it sunny and bright. That’s my goal. Somehow, during the writing process, goals change. If you are writing during National Novel Writing Month, and have taken the official challenge, then you’ll have to go with that goal changing thing. A minor character might become bigger than you first thought. A romance might become a mystery. By the rules of NaNo you really just have to push on and keep writing new pages.

Some people hate first drafts, but I love them. To me, it feels like flying. I would really like to take off and fly with another first draft for NaNo. But I am not going to because I am a disciplined writer who will get down to business and finish one book before she starts another.

Once again, I’m going bend those NaNo rules to my own deviant purposes. Yes, I will write every day. I will write 50K. But they won’t all be NEW words. And it won’t be a new story. It will be the revision of a story already written. I simply like the energy around the month of November for writing. Honestly, October was tough and I could use the extra support, which is out there in November like no other month of the year. Everyone on Twitter is doing it, the blogs are full of NaNo this and NaNo that, and it truly is a truly inspiring time to be a writer.

So I’m thinking maybe if you’re reading this you might want to break a NaNo rule or two yourself. Go ahead. I’ll never tell.