Writing That Rough Draft: Guest Post by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I have great pleasure in having, as a guest-poster, the award-winning author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood Series. Everyone, please give a virtual round of applause for Anne Elisabeth Stengl!
Writing That Rough Draft
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Hullo, readers! The lovely Athelas Hale, hostess of this blog, has invited me to write a guest post about rough drafting a manuscript. This is a timely topic for me as I am in the midst of drafting my newest novel in the ongoing Tales of Goldstone Wood series . . . always a character-building experience, let me tell you! So, with this topic very present in my life just now, let me give you a little rundown of what rough-drafting looks like for me.
For starters, I never try to write a book that is not at least partially outlined. My stories tend to be quite long—the shortest around 120,000 words, but most significantly longer. As such, they are also quite complicated, and without an outline I would quickly become lost and/or overwhelmed. So I always make certain I’ve got at least a short summary (2-5 sentences) of what I want to have take place in each chapter, pinpointing specifically those moments that will lead to the next chapter. That way I’ve always got some good forward-moving momentum.
When it comes to actually writing narrative, though, it’s all too easy for me to clam up and not know what to do. Once upon a time, I had thought writing would become easier the more I did it . . . but now that I’m drafting the 8th novel in my series, I know this will never be true. The pressure increases for each book I release—the pressure of readerly expectations, series continuity, and my own self-inflicted pressure of wanting to always write the very best book I have ever written.
If I let myself concentrate on these pressures, I’d never write another word. It would be too intimidating!
Instead, I start my books by pulling out a scrap of notepaper and scribbling down a scene. Usually this is a pretty rough scene, though on occasion it’s been good material and ended up in the final draft. But the point is not to write polished final-draft story; it’s to simply get the story started. Once a beginning is truly begun in longhand, I open up a file and type it out. Now I have the seeds of a manuscript . . .
While drafting this rough draft, I find it extremely important to write the whole thing as quickly as I possibly can. If I slow down and think about it too much, I’ll start crippling myself with doubt and self-critiques. But that’s not what the story needs during the rough-drafting stage. No, no, the story simply needs to be written. Those later drafts are for critiques and edits and polish.
So, following my outline—in which I’ve already worked out the rise and fall of plot leading at last to the climax and resolution—I pound out words as quickly as possible. These days, that means approximately 4,000 words a day. This is an ambitious goal for most writers and not one I recommend to everyone! But for me it works well.
For this particular draft, I have also been setting weekly goals of 20,000 words. Which means if I produce a steady 4,000 words a day, five days a week, I’ll meet my goal. But I include a couple of rules to help me meet this goal. They are:
1) I have to reach 4,000 words. Even if I don’t want to. And if that means writing some really bad material that I know will never make it into the final book, so be it! Words must be written. They can be altered later, but later is not now.
2) As soon as I meet my 4,000-word quota, I have to stop. Even if the story is going really well and I feel like I’d like to finish the scene! Nope. The goal is met. I must stop and close the file for the rest of the day, and not even look back over what I’ve done.
Both of these rules can be frustrating at times. I have those days when the writing is simply not working, and I hate trying to meet the quota. But as long as I’ve given myself permission to write badly, I can keep going. The important thing is to turn off the inner drive for perfection during this stage.
The second rule can be equally frustrating when I’m on a roll. I can write 5,000 words a day pretty often, and I have written as much as 11,000 words in a single day. So why should I stop at 4,000 if it’s coming along so well?
Well, 4,000 words is a comfortable goal for me. It’s a lot of word count without being extraordinary. Which means I end the day tired but not exhausted . . . which in turn, means I don’t get up the next morning dreading my work. I look forward to it.
This is an important lesson every young writer should learn about rough drafting: Successful drafting requires goal setting. But be certain to set goals that are both reasonable for you to achieve and simultaneously pushing you to produce. For me, that’s 4,000 words a day, five days a week. For you, it might be some other word count or some other number of writing days. I know of one author who writes 10,000 words, two days a week. Yikes! That sounds crazy to me. But it works for her. Another author I know aims for 1,000 words a day, six days a week. Sure, that’s only 6,000 words a week, but in ten weeks she’ll have 60,000 words of manuscript written. Not too bad, honestly!
Once you’ve established a reasonably challenging goal, however, it’s up to you to see that you stick to it through all distractions, both external and internal.
I hope this gives all of you aspiring writers some interesting ideas for how to tackle your rough drafts. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written!
ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit: http://www.AnneElisabethStengl.blogspot.com
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Ooh. This is a neat article. I think it would be rather hard for me to stop exactly at my word goal, but that makes a lot of sense. I’ve heard before that you should always stop in the middle of a sentence so that you’ll have somewhere to start the next day. I’ve tried that, but by the time I came back, I’d forgotten what I wanted to say. :p
I think I’ll try these ideas… Thanks, Anne Elisabeth!
I use a timer and stop when that goes off, reset it, and write again until I’ve met 2000 words a day.
But last night I had a horrible crippling sense of self-doubt. This article has been really helpful; thank you!
Thanks for all of the first drafting tips; this was really inspirational. I don’t give myself a daily word count goal mainly because my schedule is packed and I never know how long my homework or cross country or orchestra practices is going to take. Instead, I just see how my day goes and see how much writing I can get in. I could really see how a daily word count goal could help me during the summer when I have more time, though. Also, I like how you make a point of not going past your word count goal even if you feel really inspired. That way, you won’t be tired and you will ensure that you have something to write about the next day. Great post!