How We Write: Drafting freedom

So you’re in the middle of NANOWRIMO and typing words and pages every day until your fingers fall off and your brain short circuits. But what are you creating? Is it anything you’ll keep once December arrives? Drafting with creative freedom is key in this sort of challenge, but creating with purpose is the linchpin to your success.

Write without constraint, yes. As I said in last week’s How We Write post, draft without clinging too tightly to planning or expectation. BUT you have to revise every rough word you draft. And you don’t ant to have written yourself into so many dark corners and black holes that a finished novel that you can sell will be impossible to carve out of your draft.

How do you lay the groundwork for the “rework” you know needs to be done, while you’re giving your story the creative freedom it needs to come to life?

draft free

Me? Remember that I’m a geeky, techno-loving girl who while drafting must continually slap my hand and let go of the overly organized stuff that enables the more analytical side of my brain. So nix on the forms and charts for me. But keeping track of changes I see coming and new things I draft into the story on the fly is my thing. Being analytical while I create is crucial, without allowing the right side of my brain to interrupt the left’s mad dash toward a draft’s finish line.

I’m in the midst of writing Sweet Summer Sunrise, the next book in my Seasons of The Heart series for Montlake, and I’m crashing things as usual on a pretty tight deadline. Layered, emotional, complex things. Four points of view–one of them a child. Community. Romance. Psychological and relationship realism that’s more valuable to me than all the rest. At least three subplots going on at once, and that’s just the external stuff. Internal journeys are even more sensitive to overwriting and wandering, because you have to be subtle about how you share a character’s journey so the reader doesn’t feel beaten over the head with it.

Of course there will be mistakes in my rough draft. I have to learn to accept that and again, as I said in last week, allow myself to write crap for a while so the better stuff will flow, too. A mistake I can always do something about later. An empty page, not so much.


My reality is that the whole package of what I’m writing is too complicated a thing to come together in a single draft.

Yet I need that first draft, so I have something I can revise and refine and rework until the story I’m dying to tell takes shape. So how do I keep up with everything I want to do, but am not quite doing yet, as I draft–without break the delicate flow of my creativity of these first words on paper?

Let me me say from the start that I use Microsoft Word to keep up with everything I’m learning as I draft a story in Microsoft Word. If you’re working with other platforms or systems, I’m sure you’ll be able to follow along, too.

Using the Word’s “Notes” toolbar/feature, which enables you to leave notes you can easily track and keep up with, here’s the basics of my odd little process:

  •  Whenever I recognize a change that needs to be made in something I’ve already written, I leave a note where the change first needs to be implemented. I DON’T make the change, just the note.
  • When I introduce something completely new into the story (a new character, unexpected scene, different detail or symbol or mannerism, etc.), I note where it first begins and from where it needs to be worked into the story, then move on.
  • When I’m writing something I know is key but can’t get my head around exactly how to use it most effectively, I note that, too. Almost like leaving myself a marker–”Don’t forget to come back and explore this more. Work on this as you write forward, then come back and clean the cr**p up here!”
  • I even use these notes to indicate where I’ve dramatically changed turning points and so forth that I’d planned to hit but as I draft have realized don’t work the way I’d thought they wold. These are kind of road signs showing where I chose to take a new path and why. That way, when it’s time to rewrite and I go back to my planning documents to see how best to focus my rewriting efforts, I have a history of what I was thinking while I drafted and why I chose to write in the new directions I have.

I don’t mean to make this kind of analysis, “while I’m not allowed to be analytical,” seem overly simplistic. It’s not. It’s really, really not.

Pulling together story, good story, is always a complex juggling act, no matter how many times you may have succeeded at it in the past. No matter what anyone tells you or what the world thinks of what we do when we’re all alone with our computers and notepads and dreams…

it was a dark and stormy night

The complexity of what I do, I think, comes from compartmentalizing the notes/makers I  leave in my wake while I plug into the unrestrained creative part of me from which stories bloom. Discussing my process usually evolved into a lively couple of hours when I’m teaching rewriting during a weekend retreat. My brain’s that off-centre, I guess ;o)

You might need more or less of all of this to feel comfortable enough to draft free. We’re all different.

That’s the point of HoWW. Listen to what I do, watch others, then figure out your own process and how best to improve how YOU write. So YOU can draft better and more productively and have what you need to rewrite something brilliant from those rough first words.

Then let us know how you’re doing in the comments. I’ll be cheering you on ;o)

Other Drafting Posts

Draft Writing, the beginning…

Recent Rewriting Discussions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “How We Write: Drafting freedom”

  1. Kim Terry says:

    Anna, this hits the nail on the head for me. Thanks!

  2. Great post, Anna. I’m a MS Word girl too. I toss in comments, using the INSERT menu on the toolbar–I’ll also use the highlighter feature and occasional different color font to make sure I don’t forget those thoughts that can slow me down but will need attention later on. Thanks for this wonderful blog dedicated to writers, too.

Leave a Reply