How I Write Rough Drafts

There are only a few days of NaNoWriMo left. I’ve hit 50,000 words, and I’ve validated.

This gives me 12 years in a row I’ve participated and won NaNoWriMo. With those 12 years behind me, I feel like I’ve developed a fabulous system for writing rough drafts.

Or at least a system for getting words on page.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast by my favorite writing teacher, Holly Lisle and her daughter, Rebecca Galardo. Their podcast, Alone in a Room with Invisible People, has been a blast to listen to, and the episode on Writing Better Description was full of great information.

Holly and Becca often go off on tangents in the podcast and one that happened in this podcast was discussing how a writer should never edit while writing rough draft. Never. Both were very adamant about it. Never edit rough draft.

I highly recommend listening to the podcast, especially if you fall in the trap of revising while editing. They explain why it’s such a bad habit.

I’ve known a number of other writers who edit while writing. They usually just say, “Well, it’s just the way I write.” They say they can’t just write through a draft, and go revise later.

I disagree.

It took me years to finish my first story, because I had to make it perfect, and I kept coming up with better ways to change it and starting over and starting over and scrapping and starting over.

Guess what? When I finally finished that story, it was still a tangled broken mess that I’m still trying to fix 13 years later (fun fact: that first story is the first Sentinels of Mysera book).

I did the same with the second book in that series, starting, stopping, changing, editing as I went, until I hit a hard block. A block I couldn’t break for months. I did no writing.

It was at that time (2007) I learned about NaNoWriMo and decided to tackle the 3rd book, even though I didn’t have an end for the second yet. But given my previous track record, I didn’t even see how I could possibly write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’d taken me years to finish the 100,000 word  Sentinels of Mysera.

I followed the advice of many sage writers, and ignored that backspace key for the month of November in 2007.

It was the single best writing habit I developed.

I did not delete. I did not edit. I didn’t correct spellings or grammar errors. I just wrote.

And though, yes, that draft had errors in it, they are fixable. The holes in the story can be mended.

To prepare for this year’s Nano, I wanted to know a name I’d used for a city in my 2016 NaNo. I opened up Crafting the Badger’s Head, and started reading. And found myself utterly surprised. I hadn’t read it since writing it. I didn’t remember just how sassy my MC was. I didn’t remember some very key pivotal scenes I’d written. I was held spellbound by my own writing.

And it was nothing but a rough draft! Yes, there are holes. There are characters who walk on and then are never seen again, though they seem important at the time. There are breaks in plot.

But the bones of that story are really good!

If I’d been revising while writing, I wouldn’t have had all those fun gems and witty bits that came out. I probably would have deleted some of those great scenes, because my left brain wouldn’t have let me see the potential at the time.

I saw this happen during one of my Redwall Survivor experiences. Another author and I were working in Google Docs together, and we could see what the other person was writing. During his turns, I watched as the words came, then disappeared, then came, and disappeared. Some of what he wrote was great and I saw so much great potential in what he wrote, then the words would vanish as he deleted them. I told him I wanted to disconnect his backspace key!

A lot of people are shocked by how much I can write during NaNoWriMo and how fast I can go. They can’t fathom it.

But it’s so simple! Don’t censor yourself. Don’t backspace. Don’t go back and change what you’ve written. Just write. Just write.

If you think the scene you’re writing is garbage, let it be garbage. Put a note in brackets that says, [I hate this and it will go away later!] and then keep going. If you hit a spot where you think you need to research something, make a bracket and title it something like [Research – how many angels can fit on the head of a pin] and keep going. Just make something up in that place and promise yourself you’ll come back to it later.

There are so many different techniques to writing and different ways to do it, but I would say that the single best way to write a rough draft is just to write it.

As we in the NaNoWriMo circles like to say, “Revision is for December.”

If you can live by that rule, that you won’t touch your rough draft until after you’ve written “The End,” you will be able to write faster rough drafts.

And sometimes even better ones.


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