I recently learned a valuable lesson after finishing the first draft of my latest novel that you should know for your writing. I realize now that I wrote Hell Bent and Heaven Bound (a 325-page manuscript) using three different methods.
At the time, I had no clue that’s what I’d done because I felt too lost in the day-to-day struggles of trying to create. I wasn’t analyzing my process because I was too busy trying to survive.
One skill every successful writer needs is…
Adaptability – being able to adjust readily to different conditions.
This means if one tried-and-true method of writing stops working, then you must search for a new trick to get the words onto the page. There’s always different approaches, but too many people give up before finding them. They let fear, busy schedules or whatever win. That’s sad, and unnecessary.
Here are the three methods I used:
1. Stephen King
Normally, I write my entire first draft with the door closed (like the master of horror does), with nobody reading it but me. It’s just me, my laptop and my imagination. It’s both wonderful and terrible.
This lasted all of 20 pages with Hell Bent. Since it’s book #2 in the Pennies from Burger Heaven series, I already knew what the story was, but I still had to friggin’ write it.
If you’re a new writer, I highly recommend the Stephen King way. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be influenced by the opinions of others. It takes both time and consistent practice for you to discover your writing style for nonficiton, or your story’s voice for fiction.
Pros – Your story can come alive without the interference of other opinions and criticisms.
Cons – You get no feedback along the way. You don’t know if you’ve got the right plot, how strong the writing is, etc.
2. Read as You Write
I read my book’s opening to my weekly critique group. They loved it, which inspired me to bring 10 – 20 new pages to read each Wednesday night. With this method, some people can write ahead in their story. Sadly, I am not one of those people, so I just did the best I could.
This way worked great for about 100 pages, then I stalled out again. Part of it was timing — my group didn’t meet for three weeks because of vacations. Plus, there was so much chaos in my house with two teenagers home full-time from high school. I lost my momentum.
Still, I needed to try something else.
Pros – If you’re confident enough in your story, or your writing capabilities, it gives you a solid first draft in the end.
Cons – Negative feedback while your story is still in its infancy can be damaging to your confidence. Also, for some people, this method slows them down. They can only write and polish so much from week to week (or however often you share your work with others).
3. Hot Potato Writing
Did you ever play Hot Potato as a kid? You stand in a circle of people with music playing in the background, then throw the ball to someone else because your hands burn from holding the ‘hot potato’. If you’re caught with it when the music stops, you’re out.
That’s how I feel with my first drafts once I find my rhythm. I have words scorching inside me. I’m in pain until I release them onto the page. That helps for about 24 hours, then my discomfort starts all over.
Don’t get me wrong. I often sit at my laptop, my fingers frozen with fear, while the hot potato feeling burns inside me. It’s an awful tug of war between the two extremes, with me stuck in the middle.
I needed this story out of me, but life kept getting in the way: kids, work, my group’s erratic schedule.
I decided to write 10,000 new words a week, so I cranked out 1,400 – 1,500 words everyday, but didn’t have much time (less than 60 minutes each day). Here’s the kicker – I didn’t go back and edit at all. I just wrote like I was on fire.
It will be a hot mess when I go back to revise and taking pages to critique again, but I’m still proud I persevered until I typed The End.
Pros – Quantity. You can get the bones of your story down.
Cons – Quality. It’s far from polished and is a challenge for revisions.
The Book is the Boss
Every book is different, so the creation process is never the same. You also cannot control what life throws at you, so it helps if you learn to modify and adapt your approaches to writing.