So you have an idea, now what? Well, you have two options: create an outline and plot out your book OR sit down and start writing and see where it takes you (we call this being a “pantser”). Personally, I like to outline. I think it creates fewer problems. For example, you start a story and don’t know exactly where you’re going so you write one thing early in the book and then something that contradicts that later. Then you have to go back and reconcile them so the book fits together as a whole. I know a lot of successful people are pantsers. I just prefer to have an outline.
Now, when I say outline, I don’t necessarily mean a document that contains roman numeral headings and subheadings, etc. I don’t do a formal outline. It’s more that I know where my story is going. I know what the key, pivotal scenes are going to be. And I always know how it will end. I also realize that in all of that, things will still change. I will get ideas as I go that change the details of how I get to the end. As I get to know my characters, they will make decisions that weren’t in my general outline view of the book. The outline just gives me a sense of direction and I feel it helps me to write a faster draft.
Yes, a draft. It’s not a finished product. It’s not even necessarily very polished. It’s exactly what it says it is: a draft. I don’t worry too much about beautiful writing. I don’t pay tons of attention to great dialogue tags. I’m getting the story onto paper (or into a document on my computer…). That doesn’t mean I’m totally sloppy. I try to write a solid draft, but still, there will be so much to change. For example, I think I have 11 drafts of Borrowed Magic on my computer. And those are 11 drafts with significant changes!
It sounds easy, right? A rough, messy draft shouldn’t be all that hard! Wrong! It might be the hardest draft for some writers (although I LOVE plotting, so I really like writing the initial draft) because you have to actually sit down and do it. You can’t mean to do it. You can’t say you’ll work on it tomorrow. You have to have the discipline to actually get it done. One thing I hear from a lot of my writer friends is that they have tons of unfinished manuscripts. They either lost interest or didn’t know where it was going (another reason I outline…). My biggest advice: just write and write everyday. If you get stuck on a particular scene, skip it and come back later. You just have to get that first draft onto paper.
And then comes the even harder part — revising. More on that in my next post!