May 30, 2012

my rough drafting process.

I'm closing in on this rough draft. The end is nigh! I can almost smell it. Which means I'm pretty manic.

All of my rough drafts I aim for a 80,000 word count (give or take a few thousand) (usually give!). Right now I'm about at 63,000 words.

Rough drafting is my favorite out of all the stages of the novel's growth, which can be unfortunate, since it ends up only being a little blip in the project's life-span (at least, this has been my experience with LUMINANCE HOUR). While you're in the throes of it though, rough drafting feels like it lasts forever. Especially when you take a wrong turn. Or decide to rewrite the first third of the book.

The thing I love most about rough drafting is the absolute freedom. When you first begin you aren't married to anything. You have no plot. No subplots. No deep character backstories. (At least, I don't, because I'm not really a plotter. At all). I think the real joy for me is seeing these things bloom to life on the page in front of me. To sit back and see how my subconscious manages to piece it all together in a way I don't always completely understand. (That subconscious is a sneaky, smart thing.)

Usually I start a story off with a single key scene in mind. It doesn't have to be in the beginning of the story. In fact, it usually isn't. For LUMINANCE HOUR, that scene is in Chapter 2. For Cutthroat Novel, the scene doesn't pop up until about page 80. Sometimes it's the first scene I write. Sometimes I back track and make notes and imagine this world for hours before I actually start to write.

0 words: Brainstorming. Who are these characters in my head? How do they connect to each other? Where do they live? Why? Is this our world or a different place entirely?

0-5000 words: Tentative exploring phase. Where I get a feel for the world and my main characters. Sometime it stays. Sometimes it doesn't. Even if I delete it I usually file it away for back story. Here is where I establish who is narrating and why. Sometimes there's more than one.

5001-10,000 words: Minor characters are popping up. They have stories too? How am I supposed to keep this straight? 

Reread the 40 pages. It's not bad, though the exploratory nature of rough drafting means it's, well, rough. At this point I usually go back and fix things, align facts. Polish up some language issues.

10,001-20,000 words: There should be a conflict in here somewhere. Oh. There it is. This is SUCH AN AWESOME STORY. I can't believe no one has ever thought of this before!

This is also the phase where I ship off a very messy Word Doc to my critique partners. I then stare at my inbox and wait for their immediate response (just kidding!) (not really...)

20,001-30,000 words: "The roller-coaster phase." Where, one day, you feel like your prose is golden and your character inscrutable. The next day you want to chuck your laptop out of the window because you can't think of creative dialogue tags.

Which is when your critique partners write back with rosy reviews (with a few peppered criticisms dashed in). This is generally a wonderful moral booster and keeps me from throwing away the draft altogether.

30,001-40,000 words: Really? This is the halfway point? I feel like the ball has just started rolling... *it was at this point in Cutthroat Novel that I realized my story was missing a narrator. So I had to backtrack and add him in. Which bumped the wordcount up considerably.

40,001-50,000 words: Oh. The plot is picking up. There goes the ball. Wait. I can't see it anymore!!! *runs frantically after plot*

I usually take another break at this point and reread to make sure my character arcs and subplots are coming along as planned. I make notes in a separate Word Doc to return to when I get to tackle edits. (Another joy of rough drafting: There's a problem? Leave it for edits! Future-self won't mind at all!)

50,001-80,000ish words: No looking back now! It's like the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyworld--once you get out on that ledge, there's no stopping it. The last 30k usually goes fast for me. It's a very manic stage, where I see all of the many character histories and subplots I cast come together and push the plot to its final solution.


And then? I close the Word document, pour myself a nice glass of wine and let it sit for a month without touching it. (The marination creates good distance). I'll send it to betas, CPs and my agent and take a well-deserved break.

To a non-writer, I know this process probably sounds a bit... unhinged. And it can be at times. Writers- does your rough-drafting process look at all similar? I'm curious!


  1. "Minor characters are popping up. They have stories too? How am I supposed to keep this straight?" - So, so true!!

    I love reading about your journey! I'm in a rough draft mode right now.

    1. Luckily I'm one of those writers that thrives in rough draft mode. Revisions... not so much! Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

  2. "*runs frantically after plot*" - HA! I know this feeling. It's a favorite of mine.

    I'm having to learn how to NOT get caught 'fixing' when I get to 40,000 - 50,000; to make notes for future self to deal with and just trundle on. The first 10,000 are always my favorite. It's like the beginning of a treasure hunt - all of the possibility with all the sweat-inducing work not having to be done yet.

    1. Yeah. I made a bunch of notes and then said, "See you later!" Because something in the NEXT 40k will change stuff anyway. So you might as well get it all down and then go back!