How We Write Wednesdays: I Draft. You Draft. He, She, We and They Draft…

We all draft story differently. We all find our own way to create something magical from raw creativity and intuition. HoWW today is about finding your own way to draft AND helping each other grow!

Jenni shared last week all the amazing, structured, spreadsheet-y ways she keeps up with details while she writes “freely” during her drafting phase. It’s pretty impressive. I tried it that way for a few books–NOT a pretty picture, me drooling in the corner, clutching all my charts close and whining because I can’t be creative with the analytical part of my brain engaged…

But I’m REALLY glad it works so well for Jenni, and that she looks so cool and professional with all her screen shots and all. You know, while geeky little me left show and tell behind when I was talking planning and rewriting, and all I’ve got to share now is my, “I can’t do anything but free write when I’m drafting, or my imagination shuts down…” advice to share.

Let me look. Maybe I have an image to help you visualize what I’m feeling as I write this…


No, it’s not that bad.

But Jenni and I DO draft that differently. She has to keep up with the details or she shuts down. I have to write blind, or I never let the details of what I’ve planned and already written go long enough to actually create something new.

If you’re someone who starts a book and months (even years) go by and you never get any further than chapter three or four, you might be one of “my” people ;o)

More than that, if you find yourself stopping your forward momentum too often and never achieve a rhythm in the drafting phase of your process–if you never feel that swell of knowing you’re in the right place with your story and you could keep writing forever it feels so good–SOMETHING is stalling out the imagination and confidence that feeds you.

If that’s the case, then it’s time to take a closer look at how YOU’RE writing.

Drafting gives me the most trouble, because being analytical comes more naturally to me than being full-on creative. BecauseI like to know exactly what’s happening and what I’m going to do about it. And when I’m drafting, I simply can’t know all of that. I’m creating the reality that I’ve planned, but I don’t yet know everything I will when I’m recrafting the story later during rewrites. I’m working blind in the middle of my story, and let’s be honest, I’m scared. I mean, isn’t it all about fear, in the end?

I tell students in my weekend workshops that I believe how we approach our writing process is a metaphor for how we approach life. The things that disturb us emotionally in life will at times manifest themselves within our writing process as “writers block.” For me, that’s the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen next. It’s my resistance to giving up that control. Which is exactly what has to happen when I draft the story.

OF COURSE I’m happier when I’m planning and rewriting. Of course using charts and graphs when I draft serves as a big flashing reminder that I’m afraid of stepping beyond my planning into the great unknown that stands between me and a finished rough draft that I can then analyze to death and rewrite into something remarkable. Of course it eventually all comes down to trusting my creativity and believing I have the imagination to make something out of nothing that others will love as much as I do. And that’s hard for me.


Those of us who suffer through drafting need to learn to trust ourselves. My drafting workshop is actually called Improvisation, because we follow the same process in our drafting as musicians do when they improv on stage. We have to trust that we can just play when we have to. We have a gift, and it’s ours to harness and use at will. After the planning and all the learning we’ve done to get to the drafting stage in our book, we have to believe that WE CAN do this.

Okay, my advice for today:

  1. Plan as much as you can, both character and story arc, before writing anything.
  2. Write and revise a proposal (first 1-3 chapters), until you have your characters and story and setting locked down.
  3. Calculate how many pages/words are left to write in your novel. Set a goal for when you’re going to complete the rough draft. Calculate the number of days remaining to your completion date. Divide the number of pages remaining by the number of days remaining, so you have a page goal for each cay.
  4. Then put everything away and just write. Write your goal pages every day, no matter how rough they are. Don’t stop each day until you’ve reached your goal. Write consecutive days, meeting your page goal each day, all the way through the end of the book. No going back. Just draft free.
  5. Let me repeat myself. No going back to reread what you’ve written before. No revising. No looking back. Don’t break that creative flow and deny yourself the beautiful thing that you’re about to write beause you’re in a groove, because you can’t stop yourself from looking back,
  6. If you run into something that you need to add that will change something that you’ve created before, make a detailed note and continue to write forward. Don’t go back and change anything now. There’s time for that in rewrites.
  7. Keep going, even when you dislike what you’re drafting. It’s not going to be perfect. I keep a sign over my desk that says, “You have my permission to write crap.” Because all my drafts are ugly, no matter how much time I take to write them. No matter how many times I rewrite and rewrite in the midst of drafting. Why not just get the ugly draft done? THEN, once I have the bones of the story in place and know how it’s all going to end, I can go back and rewrite the entire novel with an overall view of the story I couldn’t possible have in the midst of the draft. Besides, I’ve done my planning. I know my story and characters. With all that prep work behind me, how truly crappy could the draft really be–see how essenting doing and trusting your planning is, by the way?
  8. Focus on creating and imagining and letting the story and characters surprise you (while you follow your planning as best you can). Focus on letting go of the analytical part of your process, and just play!

I’m making this sound very simple and it’s not. I know it’s not. When I teach Improvisation, I can spend a day working with people on their individual writing processes. But this is some of what I’ve learned about mine, and I’m hoping it helps you take a closer look at what you do and maybe take away away something new to try if drafting is as difficult for you as it can be for me.

Which is a great segue into what Jenni’s posted over on her blog today–

We’re starting Phase Two of How We Write by inviting everyone over to our new Twitter #weWRITE hastag to talk about YOUR process. And my process. And Jenni’s process. Our vision for Phase Two of HoWW is to build a community where every Wednesday writers have a safe, encouraging place to share and learn from each other’s approach to writing.

We’ll be there to answer questions and add to the conversation, just as we are here, but #weWRITE is about how YOU write. We want to learn from you, too!

So, go to Jenni’s blog today for all the deep dish details, but here’s the #weWRITE skinny:

  1. Each Wednesday in the HoWW blog, we’ll kick things off with a question. It’s my turn this week, so check out the end of the post.
  2. Starting at 9 am EST, we’ll kick #weWRITE off over on Twitter with that question, then turn the hashtag over to you to share and talk and chat about what’s on your mind about writing that week. We’ll keep it going throughout the day, for as long as we’ve got folks talking ;o)

The simple rules for our #weWRITE:

  • Craft Talk only
  • No promotion/links/pimping of blogs, etc., even this one ;o)
  • Everyone’s way of writing is a GOOD way, so encourage and discuss and learn and help, but no trash talk, please

Simple, right?

Today’s #weWRITE kick off question…

What’s the hardest part of drafting a book for you, and how do you keep yourself accountable for consistent progress toward your short-term and long-term drafting goal?

Of course, this will be shorter somehow when I tweet it… SOMEhow ;0)

See you there!

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5 Responses to “How We Write Wednesdays: I Draft. You Draft. He, She, We and They Draft…”

  1. I’m with you, Anna. Too much structure throws cold water on my creativity. I come up with a concept in very broad terms and just start writing. I enjoy the discoveries I make along the way, along with my characters. Heck, if I’m surprised, I gotta believe my readers will be, too!

    A nice blog … thanks for sharing a bit of your process.

    • Anna says:

      You bet, J. It’s supposed to be fun, right? We’re supposed to enjoy the discovery and creating… It’s just so easy to forget that, in the middle of the muck.

      Glad you stopped by ;o)

  2. There are a couple similarities in our drafting process like we both try not to look back, we’re both analytical and we both find drafting difficult.

    However, I think the biggest difference in drafting is I rely heavily on my analytical side. It tells me I need to find what is missing in my planning and I sort feel as though I am on a search and destroy mission. If that make sense.

    Now, lets see here, how do I keep myself accountable for consistent progress? You calling me out sister?! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, we start drafting today….quite literally and I’ll have to email you my “wordcount”. I’m such a slacker. I do need someone to talk to and who will not only encourage, and support, but give me the tough love I need to keep pushing forward.

  3. It’s amazing how we all write differently and approach writing in our own way. I love it.

  4. Susette says:

    I’m so glad I read this today, it expands on what you said to me yesterday on #wewrite. (Trust the unknown and trust my ability)Since I am starting my novel over today I am going to follow your 8 step plan. Thank-you so much for this info!

    Cheers, Susette

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