I’ve always been a writer. I started my first book in early grade school, all written in child’s scrawl, pencil on paper. It was a fantasy story about mermaids from a child’s point of view, not to mention from a child’s mind. I did three drafts of the story, of which I thought of at the time as being a novel, but now in my adult years can properly label a novelette.
This story never got beyond the rough draft stage. In my child-level experience, I thought that you sat down and wrote what came to your mind and when you finished the draft, that was it. You could send the novel out into the world. For the sake of the planet, it is fortunate that this story remains locked in a file drawer where only I will see it. Trust me. It was the right choice.
I know now that this is far from the truth; a novel is born in the revision process and fine-tuned in editing. Yet, in that singular experience as a child playing at being a novelist, I had the right idea. Rough drafting is a matter of sitting down and writing with abandon whatever comes into your mind and getting it down on paper as fast as possible.
The results are often a mess.
I cringe when I read my raw roughs. The adverbs leap at me. The passive voice drags me down. I wonder how this mass of jumbled words will ever appeal to a reader and become a book I could be proud of. Yet, it does happen. I have published a book and sold short stories to magazines. More books will come in the future.
Below are four books on the rough draft process that I personally have found to be excellent guides for me. Through them, I have relearned the spirit of drafting that I stumbled upon as a small child and tap into my creative muse to good effect.
No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty
It is fair to say that my relaunch as a writer during my mid-forties is due to Nanowrimo. This is a writing event that pushes the aspiring author to compose 50 thousand words toward the rough draft of a novel. I attempted Nanowrimo for a few years without success. I wondered if I would ever break through the writer’s block that held me back for almost a decade and be able to tell stories via the written word again. In 2010, I had an idea for a science fiction book that grabbed me. This epiphany combined with an Alphasmart 3000 to write with and the purchase of the Nanowrimo guidebook: No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. It is what allowed me to write my first 50 thousand word rough draft of a novel.
Baty describes in the book his idea of writing a rough draft in the space of a single month and setting up quotas to propel you to finish. Quantity is the goal, not quality. You are to turn off your “inner editor” and write. This allows your inner muse to break through and get your ideas down on the page. If you are a writer who is not sure how to get started, No Plot, No Problem will teach you how to develop an organic style of writing.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Stephen King. I do not read or enjoy horror as a genre and I have only read one or two of his books. That was enough for me. However, his memoir about being a writer is fascinating. I do not have a single writer friend that has not recommended this book to me when learning about the fundamentals of writing. King touches on his life and people and places that have inspired him. In many ways, this memoir is also a master class on learning to write and living as a writer. If you are wondering how to begin writing, this is one of the main books you should add to your personal library.
Outlining Your Novel by KM Weiland
This book is a late addition to my writing library, but it stands tall among the other volumes. When I first started drafting, I was a pantser who wrote by the seat of my pants. My work was organic and the characters did what they wished. In the end, I hope that it all made sense.
During my second year of writing, I realized that meandering through a story did not create the tension and conflict that makes for a great plotline. I needed to learn how to plan or outline the main elements of my story first. The resulting first draft was easier to revise and edit, speeding up the process of my publication flow. Outlining Your Novel is both a book and a workbook to teach you methods to create concise outlines for your stories. Weiland gives many great tips that I’ve found helpful. I read her blog regularly.
The 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt
As I prepared for Nanowrimo in 2012, I had a particular problem. I was returning to my original science fiction world that I created in 2010 and wanted to work on its sequel. The sword-wielding engineer and champion of the book, would not speak to me. I could not picture her. I didn’t know her background. I knew where she fit into the story, but without being able to envision her, I was dead in the water.
The 90 Day Novel saved my bacon. The first 30 days of the system are a series of questions to help you write about the hero of your “hero’s journey” story. I used this book to develop my heroine starting in the beginning of October. On November 1st, I started Nanowrimo and not only was the heroine clear in my mind, but I had plenty of plot points figured out to propel her to her destiny. While I have not used the rest of the system, it mirrors much of the experience of Nanowrimo with a few individual twists. If you are looking for a guide to help you develop a main character and a general storyline for a rough draft, this could prove to be an excellent resource for you.