Writing Methods: Drafting
So far, we have talked about things you can do before you write. We have talked about planning your story, whether that’s outlining or pantsing, controlling the surrounding environment when you write, and rituals you can do to kick start your brain into writing mode. But what about the actual drafting process?
There are several ways you can approach the first draft. These range from how you write sentences, how fast you write the draft, and whether you revise before you finish writing the draft.
Mind Barf vs. Careful Construction: Writing Sentences
If you write more lyrical prose or your training is in poetry, chances are you think about every word before you write it. You craft the perfect sentence, or at least a deliberate one, before moving on to the next.
Other writers type or scribble whatever comes to mind as fast as it enters their brain. I like to call this mind barfing onto the page. The only limitation here is how fast your fingers move.
You may be somewhere in between these two, depending on what you are writing, how fast your brain works, and how many times you edit the words in your head before you write them down. Some writers outline only the major plot points, while others only outline the characters. This is a good way to get the major events in a story without always having to rewrite a detailed outline over and over. For more information on these types of outlining, check out the first article in this series: Outlining Vs Pantsing.
Turtle Writers vs. Rabbit Writers: How Fast Do You Write?
If you fall into the careful construction of each sentence category, you are probably a turtle writer. This means you may bang out a couple of hundred words of your project daily and call it a day. You take a lot longer to finish the first draft, but it’s more polished than those who mind barf every thought. You may produce more words than a couple hundred when you write, but you take a lot more time to get the same amount of words as your mind-barfing counterparts.
If you are in the mind-barf camp, chances are you can bang out a couple thousand, if not tens of thousand words a day in a relatively short amount of time. Your fingers fly over the keyboard or your handwriting is on the messy side because of how fast you scribble just to get everything on the page.
Old School vs. Tech: How Do You Write?
Some writers enjoy using pen and paper for their first drafts. It feels great to write this way. Plus, when you type everything up into your computer, you automatically have a more polished draft because you edit as you go. The feeling of crossing things out, drawing circles and arrows, and other such revision processes are satisfying. A lot of turtle writers and construction writers like to write by hand.
The downsides to writing by hand is that you have to count your words manually. You could lose a notebook and all of that work is just gone, without a backup. Handwriting is usually slower than typing up your work. This method also hurts your hand if you’re not used to it.
Others like the feeling of typing because you can get your words out quickly and save it in several places so you’ll always have a backup of your work. Also, you can copy, paste, cut, delete, and move things around more easily without crossing things out. It’s much cleaner than writing by hand. It’s also easier to change the formatting to meet publisher requirements and you don’t have to take that extra step to type it all up. Mind-barfers tend to end up in this camp.
Downsides to typing include eye strain, the expense of having to print things out, and losing things if you don’t save regularly or have auto-save set up.
Goal Setters vs. Go-With-the-Flow People: Do You Set Deadlines?
Setting deadlines, such as finishing your book by a certain date, writing a certain number of words each day, or writing for a certain amount of time every day, is a goal-setter trait. You choose to measure your goals and evaluate them regularly to see if you need to change them based on your career goals. Outliners are more likely to be intensive goal setters.
Go-with-the-flow people tend to write when they feel like it, write when the muse strikes, and not set goals. They write a book however long it needs to be without a target word count, write things that set new precedents and conventions, and tend to let the characters take the reins and take them wherever they want.
Go with the flow writers may be that way because of life circumstances, such as going to school, working full time or on rotating shifts, being a parent, or a combination of some or all of these things. Remember to track your progress because life can be crazy and time can slip by. It’s also motivating to see how those words add up. Pantsers are more likely to be go-with-the-flow people. However, setting goals is beneficial and essential for anyone who wants to make writing their full-time career.
Follow-the-Shiny vs. Follow Through: Focus and Dealing with New Ideas
Writers will inevitably get new ideas while working on a project. There are two types of writers when it comes to this aspect. There are those that follow the shiny new ideas and those that follow through on their work in progress (WIP) before moving on to something new.
The people who follow the shinies can lead to issues with finishing a project, though it can liberate them to have the freedom to choose what to work on every day. Some have five or fewer projects going on at once while others can have fifteen or more. It just depends on the writer.
One caution: it can be hard to keep the different characters and plotlines straight and switching between the different stories can prove difficult. You may homogenize your characters, plots, worlds, and other story elements when you work on more than one project at a time. To combat this, use an organization method like notecards, character sheets, mood boards, a notebook, a three-ring binder, a storyboard or story bible, or a bullet journal for each project. If you want an example of how you could set up a bujo for your novel, click here.
The writers who work on one project at a time don’t ignore the other ideas and forget about them. They will take the time to write the ideas as they come, and they may even do a little plotting or character development before returning to their current work-in-progress. They tend to finish a lot more projects because they aren’t always starting something new.
Explorers vs. Travelers: Different Types of Outliners
People willing to experiment with their first drafts by changing the point of view, world building, characters, plot, or other major aspects of the story are what I call explorers. Pantsers automatically fall into this category. Explorers will let things change as they write and let the characters take the reins every once in a while. They don’t follow the outline exactly and often update the outline several times to adhere to the new directions the story takes them in.
Travelers, on the other hand, follow their outlines religiously and rarely deviate from the plan they set out at the outset. This approach can be hard because the characters and plots don’t have room to grow organically which can cause some tension between the plan and where the story wants to grow naturally. It might work, it might not. Sometimes things fall a little flat, be it characters, emotion, or plot. Be open to change if you are a traveler. Allow room for flexibility.
Over-Writers vs. Under-Writers: How Wordy Do You Get?
Writing many reams of work that never get into the final draft is a mind-barfing, pantser, and explorer trait. You get wordy; you add lots of filler words and scenes that will never make it into the final product, though this happens to all writers. You consistently overshoot the target word count and have to cut lots of work. The first draft usually takes a while and has many tangents that need to be cut. If this is you, you might want to work with an editor or a critique group to keep you on track while writing.
There are writers who have to add layers to hit a word count. They write a scant or short draft, usually hitting only the major plot points, then go back in and add subplots, descriptions, emotional depth, themes, symbols, and meaning into their work. This is typically a constructive writer, outliner, and traveler trait. The first drafts are usually quick and easy to get through and a lot cleaner than the over-writers, who often meander.
Readers, Planners, and Jumpers: How You Come Back to Writing
Many writers suggest reading over what you wrote the day before to get the voice and feel for the characters and what was going on before you write for the day. Some will even edit the work they did the day before and then write. I call this group the readers.
The planners will write a couple of sentences or a paragraph describing what they need to write next. They do this at the end of a writing session and it allows them to jump back into the story with minimal to no reading beforehand.
Finally, the jumpers don’t do either of these things. They don’t read before they write but type as soon as they pick up a pen or open the file. They remember where they left off the day before and know where they want to go, or will explore without a plan.
These are common habits some people have when writing the first draft. If you are feeling stuck or stalled on your first draft, try changing your environment, how you plan a story, or one of your drafting habits to see if it shakes something loose and gets your muse talking to you again.