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  • Writer's pictureLaura L. Zimmerman

5 Courses of the Rough Draft – Are you hungry yet?

Rough Drafts can be a tricky thing. The process that one author takes will look completely opposite from that of another. Each of us have our own style, techniques, and rhythm we abide by – even if we aren’t aware we stick to a routine.

For a while I felt the pressure to write my manuscripts the same way other authors would write theirs – and in the same time frame! One of my favorite authors regularly blogs that she can write a book in about a month. Another friend I spoke to yesterday said she’s lucky to get one manuscript done in a year’s time. And I even have a friend who said she’s always been such an editor, that writing is a very long process – a single novel of hers is now in the 3-4 year range, and still not complete.

The more I read other blogs and talk to fellow writers, it’s clear there is no cookie cutter way to write a story. Everyone is different, every writing process is different, and these are all good things. Some of the most successful authors publish multiple books a year, but even more authors publish only 1 per year, or 1 every few years. There is no rule that says a writer must produce a certain amount of work to be a success.

We’ve been called to write, and that’s what we need to do.

Here is the process I take when writing my own rough drafts:

The Hunger: This often comes when I’m right in the middle of writing another novel – which can be problematic when I should be writing one story but can’t stop thinking of another. It usually helps to write a short outline of what’s floating around my head and to walk away from it until I’m ready to give it my full attention. A lot of my ideas come from dreams, conversations with friends, or even a message preached in church. But once I get the basic idea it must ‘simmer’ for a while before I can even begin to let it take shape. This can take anywhere from a week to a couple months. I think on the characters, the setting, a few scenes that might take place, but no real plotting comes yet.

The Appetizer: Next I’ll write a scene. It can be from anywhere in the story, and may not even end up in the final draft. But I write something – anything – to get the juices flowing. I don’t know the characters yet, so it’s important to allow them to ‘shine’, to take the lead and ‘show’ me who they are and what they want. Often, the plot will change from my original vision, just from writing a few scenes and seeing where the characters take it. The story might end up being something very different than that first vision I had, but I go with it. I’ve found I have less writer’s block when I go with the flow and don’t force my brain to adhere to my original idea! 

The Meat: Now I’m fully in. This is where I might turn back to that basic outline and add a few things I don’t want to forget. I might need to take days to research pertinent information before I can continue writing, too. But I still allow the characters to ‘speak’ to me. I consider the next scene to write with some vague idea of where it’s headed but I try not to commit fully. As the dialogue is exchanged, a more important issue might present itself that must be taken care of before the plot can move forward. Or the character just might have a brilliant revelation I hadn’t considered and I realize that direction is much better than what I had planned. In this process I’ve fully established the plot and will even go back to write in missing chapters that I skipped during the Appetizer stage. 

The Dessert: This is the part where my brain won’t. shut. down. I ignore things like sleep, laundry and my family. I am now just chapters away from finishing. The end is in sight! I know exactly what will happen next and I just need to let it happen. Here I often skip chapters and bounce back and forth, depending on my mood for that day and what I want to write about. Is today a climax kind of day? Or should I focus on the wrap up in the final pages? This is the most exciting time for me when writing a novel. 

Feeling Bloated: I’m done! And here’s where I realize I’m only a small percentage of the way done with this project. Thoughts of a hundred and one different things I missed, or various plot holes will suddenly become glaring to me. I question the consistency of my characters and wonder if I need another conflict or if that will just load the story down. Insecurity sets in and (slight) depression that I now have lots of months of editing ahead of me! But I don’t let myself stop there! Eventually, through each of those edits, I will regain the confidence I once had in my original vision. The story gets kicked into shape and I fall in love with it all over again! 

Emotions of writing

The entire process can vary in length: I’ve written an 80,000 word novel in 3 weeks time (I never want to do that again), but I also just took 6 months to write one in 2015. My first manuscript of 2016 took about 7 weeks to complete.

Again, it’s not about how long it takes to do the actual writing, but staying true to that vision and making it the best that it can be. So don’t get discouraged when you’re halfway through a rough draft and aren’t sure if you can (or want to) finish. Press on and finish that story! After all, no one else will write it exactly the way you will, and that story needs to be told. 😉

Happy reading, friends!

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