As mentioned yesterday after an exhausting 4k writing session1, I finished the first draft of my #nanowrimo novel with three words to spare, 2 days early, and after missing 4 days this month because of, well, life. 50k will not be the length of the final form – I’m actually going to aim to add another 25k before all is said and done (I hope) – but for that first draft to myself, it’s a good start.
I’m not the first person to say this, but the first draft is all about telling the story to me. It’s about me finding my way through the story, discovering who the heroes and villains are going to be. In the case of Chrysalis, it was also about me being surprised to discover that a character I thought I knew wasn’t the villain, and another I thought I knew, well, was. I write without an outline, and so far that has served me well. I let myself leave random comments and items lying around as I write, namely because I find even when I’ve consciously forgotten about them, my big old organic computer hasn’t. In the end, everything fits nicely together, Checkov’s gun at least gets held again if not used as a blunt instrument for cracking walnuts, and all is well. The first draft is my version of an outline – a very thick, wordy outline with many of the blanks filled in already.
This time, though, I tried something new (for me). First, I turned off the spellchecker completely – no squiggly red lines telling me I don’t know how to type or spell. Save that for later. The first draft was about getting words out, no distractions. If I see that red squiggle, I know me – I’ll pause, fix, retype, and ultimately break the flow.
Secondly, no going back to add/change major bits. I used to do this all the time, and trust me, this path leads to madness. I’m not sure the new approach is any better (yet), but instead of going back, I’ve left myself copious notes as I went forward. “Fix this.” “Change this.” “If she didn’t say this, go back and make sure she does.” But as a rule, there was no backtracking. Why? Because my goal with the first draft was to keep moving forward.
Except that the result is a messy, hairy, nasty beast. Hence the second draft, the fill in the blank, fix the reference, shimmy and shove process of getting everything into their proper order. I’ll remove a bit, add a chapter, change names, etc., during this second draft phase. That’s what I have ahead of me.
Also different this year was the tools I used. In year’s past, I had been a Scrivener devotee. I couldn’t imagine working with any other tool for my writing. Scrivener let me add scenes as needed, work with them as discreet units, but still produce a cohesive whole. Other writing applications are more linear, something I’ve always shied away from. Except despite claiming that “my brain doesn’t work that way”, I actually do. Yep. With very few exceptions, when I write a novel length piece, I start at the beginning and plow forward. So besides some accountability (i.e., words per scene, per chapter, per day, etc.), what was Scrivener buying me?
Nothing, as it turned out. So this year, I wrote the entire novel in Markdown using FocusWriter (I’ve even donated, to assuage my guilt at using a tool that fits me so perfectly).
Why Markdown? If you’ve followed some of my blog posts this summer and fall, you’ll know I’ve fallen in love with this markup language. For the price of learning a few syntaxes (ie, just the ones I use), I can write in a plaintext editor anywhere on any platform, knowing that when I’m done I can easily convert it into RTF, DOC, ODT, PDF, etc. There is something magical about that.
Why FocusWriter? Because it makes awesome clicky noises when I type. The sound effects aren’t 100% perfect, but for a freeware software that runs on so many platforms, it’s perfect. FocusWriter doesn’t support markdown, and I opened a ticket with the developer about that at one point. But then it struck me, it doesn’t need to. FocusWriter supports plain text, and that’s all I actually need. Plus, FocusWriter gives me a way of seeing scenes (you can set what the separator should be and it will make a pseudo TOC for you – not applicable for printing or anything, but great for navigation), as well as a word count tracker complete with streaks. Yes, I continue to use my bastardized version of Jamie Rubin’s word counting scripts for in the background tracking, but this isn’t a bad feature. Plus, in the last few days while doing sprints, I’ve learned to really appreciate the timer and alarm function, which also give you how many words you write during a run.
And that’s actually the entire toolset for NanoWriMo this year. What’s nice is that the file I’ve produced (and backed up both in Dropbox and git) can be worked on no matter where I am or what kind of machine I’m using. Or, I can use a tool like the markdown converter or pandoc to transform it into another file format (ebook for reviewing? RTF for submission?) and continue working on it.
What I’m not looking forward to is that at some point after the second draft, I need to find gamma readers (despite my best efforts, it will still be pretty raw). That means sharing. That means other people seeing the story and commenting and ingesting the words I put together.
That means other people evaluating whether my heroine is worthy of the title.
The first draft was written in a month (28 days). I expect the second draft will take until the spring to get to a point where I’m comfortable sharing it. Or at least the end of winter.
- Thanks again to my amazing wife who endured my using what precious free time I had this month for writing instead of everything else. Also to my kids, who had to listen to me apologize frequently for not having the time to watch a show with them – our bonding moments – because Dad still had to write for the day. Finally, thanks to my online writing group, the great folks of RoTaNoWriMo, especially for the word sprints the last few days. You folks know who you are. Fist bump. ↩