Draft Horse 02: Tilling the Field

Blessed be! Welcome to the second entry in my drafting series. This one’s probably going to be quite short, to be honest. There’s not a whole lot for me to say about my drafting process except that I really really hate it. Have I mentioned it’s my least favorite part of the process?

Anyway, moving on. Now that I’ve got the basic idea of the story in my head and some rough specifics figured out, it’s time to actually get the first draft on the screen. I wish there were an easier way to do this, but there really isn’t. So what I rely on is the BICHOK mantra: Butt in Chair; Hands on Keyboard.

Depending on my mood, the current story, and what’s going on in my non-writing life, there are several ways I get my words done in the day. Either way, I try to do a little every day when I’m actively drafting.

The first is that I set a minimum wordcount goal for the day, usually between 500 and 1500. Usually, I do this all in one fell swoop. I put on my headphones to create what I call the bubble, start writing, and do not move from my seat until the words for the night are done.

This worked well for my first two projects or so. The next few, not so much. I stopped having enough time to hit that word goal or I would start feeling lost or disheartened in the middle. In those cases, instead of a word goal, I tried to focus on doing just one scene, no matter how long or short. It often ended up being the exact same amount of progress in terms of words, but telling my brain that I was doing something different made it more bearable.

Of course, sometimes even that isn’t enough. On days like that, I have to break out the big guns. Or, rather, the small ones. Instead of doing one big burst of words, I’ll break it into mini-sessions of just 2-300 words. Just one page. That’s not bad! And then I’ll make myself do two or three of those sessions a day.

At the end of the day, it amounts to about the same amount of work, about the same time spent staring at the screen. Because, no matter what method I use, nothing is going to write this story except for putting my hands on the keyboard and my butt in the chair.

Draft Horse #1: The Idea Farm

I’ll talk about this in a little more depth later in the week, but drafting is not my strong point. I’m a much more editing- and rewriting-oriented writer. Editing is my bread and butter; it’s the seductive minx that lures me away from writing new material. That said, I can’t edit an empty page. So how do I get to that point? Strap in, folks, this is going to get bumpy.

The first thing I need is an idea. This usually comes from a character. I get the concept for a person I want to write about and their particular struggles. On rare occasions, I’ll actually get a thematic element I want to use or an aspect of the worldbuilding first, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Once I have that initial ping, I do some brainstorming. I’m largely a pantser when it comes to drafting–I like to be surprised by the story’s twists and turns. That said, I do need some basic information before I sit down to write.

If I got the character first, I try to figure out what their backstory is and how that contributes to their main goal. What’s in their way? What are they afraid of? What is their family situation? Then I do some drabbling to get an idea for their voice and how they move on the page.

After that, I start looking at the world. Because most of what I do is fantasy (except for my current foray into history/paranormal), there’s a lot of physical and cultural decisions to make about the setting. At this point, I also make a Pinterest board and start looting other pins for visual cues that help build my vision of the world. Rocky shores or sandy? Snow-capped mountains or forested? Other research often follows, but I try not to get too deep into it. I prefer at this stage to keep everything pretty loose and let it come together as it needs to.

To be honest, a lot of what I do with respect to this step is throwing a whole lot of concepts and abstract ideas into a stew pot to simmer. The rest, I usually determine mid-draft as need arises. For my queer fantasy romance, for example, I started with the basic building blocks of ancient Greece, dom/sub relationships, and gender fluidity. That’s about all I knew about the world going into the story.

The last thing I do at this point is set goalposts (I’ll talk more about these in a later post), which are carrot scenes or things that I think I might want to do during the course of the story. What happens in between those plot points, how we get there, and if any of them actually happen at all is largely subject to change.

All told, this part of the process can take me anywhere from months to years. I’m currently trying to refine this idea-farming stage so that I can turn out stories quicker, and it seems to be working. I’ve cut down the percolating from several years before I write a single word to just a handful of weeks.

On the one hand, this is good because it makes me more reliable as a writer. On the other, the next part is my least favorite, but I’ll talk more about that next week!