How to Write a Draft in Three Weeks
My debut The Eleventh Trade came together in a fairly unusual way. See, I’d signed with my agent (Amber of Skylark Lit) with a YA fantasy. While working on that, she asked to see other things I’d thought about doing, so I happened to send her a synopsis for a middle grade book about an Afghan boy living in Boston.
She came back to me and said, “So, do you think you could write this?”
I said, “Gulp.”
That was February 2016. I asked her to give me a month. By March 2016, the manuscript was back with her–and we’d decided it would be my debut.
I cannot overemphasize how much revision happened between that first draft and the final book I’ll hold in my hands come September. But I thought I’d share some of my tricks for turning a readable draft around in about three weeks.
1. Write. A Lot. And Let Go.
The Eleventh Trade went from not existing January 2016 to being sold at auction in December 2016. If that sounds ridiculously crazy, it’s because holy cow it definitely is.
But that’s the simplified version of what happened. The truth is, I started writing when I was 12, and got really serious about it when I was 17. I queried my first manuscript when I was 18 (it was awful and went nowhere). I wrote throughout college and then got my master’s in Writing for Young People. In all of that, I probably wrote around eight manuscripts. Some of them were revised, some didn’t make it past first draft stage.
I didn’t really understand how stories work until my seventh manuscript. For whatever reason, that’s when story structure really clicked in my head. That book lead to Illuminate, the manuscript my agent signed me on. We revised the heck out of that (and it’s basically ready for submission once I fulfill my middle grade contemporary obligations).
But then The Eleventh Trade happened.
The moral is: I’ve had to let go of many stories in order to grow myself as a writer. And that’s okay–because everything I wrote honed my skill.
I wouldn’t have been able to pump out a book like The Eleventh Trade without all the terrible manuscripts in my past. So, thanks, terrible manuscripts.
2. Plot It Out
I’m an epic plotter, 100%. I can’t write well if I don’t know where I’m going. Of course, I still let creativity come into play and I’m happy to follow my sixth sense if it diverges from my outline. But if I don’t have chapter-by-chapter notes, I spend all my writing time staring at the screen trying to remember what should be happening.
Plotting it out well takes some serious time. For The Eleventh Trade, I did normal plotting methods (I love K.M. Weiland’s structure series–it’s great for this). Then I wrote out a chapter outline.
Then, without rereading what I wrote, I wrote out a new chapter outline.
Then, without rereading what I wrote, I wrote a third chapter outline.
By the third one, I was familiar enough with the story that the outline wasn’t terrible, so it became the skeleton for the book.
3. Find Your Own Rhythm
Lots of writers are all, “Write every day!” And, “Just do 700 words!” etc etc, endless advice.
I’ve discovered (and forgotten, and rediscovered) that I work best with larger wordcount goals on fewer days. For The Eleventh Trade, my sweet spot was 2000 words Monday through Friday, with weekends off. For my second book (The Invisible Boy) it’s been three days a week, 3000 words a day.
That’s what worked for me, but it definitely isn’t what works for everyone. So play around with different daily goals and see what holds your attention the best.
Also, use timers. Timers are great.
4. Set Mini-Deadlines
My goal was to get my manuscript back into Amber’s hands in about three weeks. But I had multiple smaller deadlines for myself along the way. (Reach X-number of words by a certain date, that sort of thing.)
I still do this when I receive revisions from my editors: Break the big deadline into smaller chunks, like weekly and daily goals. That helps make the task feel more doable, and if it feels more doable I won’t procrastinate so much.
5. Just Do It
All the methods and strategies in the world mean nothing if you don’t actually get going. Make sure you aren’t using preparation as procrastination. Get writing. And keep going.
You won’t know what your book needs until the end of the first draft (or sometimes the second, or the fourth)–even if you’ve outlined like a maniac. So train your gaze forward and carry on working. Hold yourself to your daily and weekly targets, and it will get easier and easier as your habit builds.
I’m rooting for you!
*~~About the Author~~*
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to check out another enchantingly epic #EE18ers post! 😉