How we do what we do.

God knows I’m not a perfectionist. If you saw the condition of my house you’d know that right off the bat. But I think you can also see it in my writing. I don’t mean to insult myself, but I know people, quite a few people, who have trouble leaving a piece ‘imperfect’. Not me. My first draft is the kind of thing nightmares are made of. The kind where if someone read it I’d have to change my name and take the first shuttle off  the planet. But I still don’t have trouble leaving my work a little rough.

I write the first draft from start to finish as fast as I can. Maybe 10-20 pages a day until it’s done. There will be approximately 100,000 mistakes. Nothing is spelled right. Props appear from thin air. There is no real plot and my characters basically live in a vacuum. They’re rarely clothed, and don’t REALLY have names. Sometimes a guy will be called HERO for half the book, or maybe his name will change on page 182. That’s all okay with me because I’m a five draft kind of girl. The first is just the bones, the foundation, the jumping off point that piques my interest and sets the stage.

During the second draft I begin to make it make sense. By then I’ve kind of figured out what’s going to happen and from that I know who my characters are. So I begin to add support beams, to make sure the gun my heroine has on page 73 existed on page 1.

Draft number three adds character development. By then I’ve been living with my people for a while. I’m beginning to learn what makes them tick. I might discover a kinky sense of humor, a weird insecurity, or a latent desire. I think of it as drywall. Unfinished but beginning to take shape. I usually discover during this draft that I truly cannot write.

But sometime during the next draft things USUALLY begin to take shape. I can imagine the entire building by then. The electrical work is added. The plumbing is complete. I have power…but no paint, no pictures on the walls, no polish. It’s not a home yet.

That should happen…I always pray that happens…during the final draft. That’s the draft when I read the whole thing out loud. When I add spark and life and color and texture. When my people become real, when I can smells the smells and taste the flavors. Sometimes by the end of that draft I actually LIKE my writing. But not always. There has been more than one instance when I send my manuscript in KNOWING I’m the worst author on Earth. KNOWING, in fact, that if I do take that shuffle off planet, I will be the worst writer on that globe, too. That’s hard, but what can I do? The book was promised. I have deadlines. And it turns out, not surprisingly maybe, that I can’t tell if my work is good or not. Sometimes the ones I actually like aren’t well received. Sometimes the ones I send in with bated breath are the ones that are my editors’ favorites. It’s impossible for me to tell the difference. But I keep writing them anyway. Maybe because I have too.

So how about you other writers out there? What’s your method? Are you a one draft wonder? Do you write four books at once? Do you draft the last scene first then fill in the other 350 pages? Do tell; maybe it’s time for me to try a new system.

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13 Responses to How we do what we do.

  1. Kylie Brant says:

    I’m thinking maybe it’s time for me to try YOUR system, Lois! I’m not a perfectionist but I consider my approach like tooling along in my little car and when I get to spots where I’m not sure about something plotwise, it coughs and sputters and sometimes just shudders to a half. I wish I could slough through it and just get the outline down and then go back. I really think that would help my plotting. But something inside me can’t let go of that problem spot. Hence I basically have one draft, and then go back through it for the final polish before sending it in. But I’m intrigued, really intrigued by your process. When things get too set in stone it’s hard to go back and change them because they affect too much else.

  2. Mary Louise says:

    Hi Lois. I have always wondered how authors write, so I found your story very interesting, thanks for sharing. (Personally, I think you hit each book out of the park so in my humble opinion there is no need to change strategy…. if it’s not broken don’t fix it.)

  3. Helen Brenna says:

    I think most writer don’t like what they write. It’s just like when I find this extravagant recipe, spend hours cooking a special meal and it always ends up tasting like sawdust to me. Mary Louise is right. It’s ain’t broken, don’t fix it!

    My process still seems to be developing. Then again, maybe that’s just the way it’ll always be – ever changing!

  4. Michele says:

    I love your process. It’s like mine. I write in layers. That first layer is SHEER and holey and hanging by threads. By the time I’m on layer 20 or 56 I figure I have a pretty nice garment. 🙂

  5. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that writers’ brains work differently, and that’s a good thing. The grass always looks greener–or the gray matter grayer–somewhere else. Protect the work is one of our favorite mantras. Develop the process should be another. *Your* process.

    I used to write chapter by chapter–make several passes until I’m satisfied and then move on. Now I write in larger chunks, but I have yet to write a whole first draft and then go back for a second pass. But I do layer in those chunks. I need to focus on building character first. I have a very vague idea of plot, but it becomes clearer as the characters develop. It’s a scary journey as I “chunk” along, but if I trust the process, I’ll reach the eureka moment about halfway through. So that’s what this is about! By then the characters have the strength to help me push the vehicle to the finish line.

  6. lois greiman says:

    Mary Louise, thank you so very much. I needed to hear that today. You’re my new best friend. 🙂

  7. Leanne Banks says:

    Lois, I wish I could write fast like you do! I feel like I brood way too much! The first half of the book takes forever then I start to move a little faster. I meddle with the beginning over and over and I go back over the first several chapters many times. When I hit chapter six (or seven or eight), I feel like I know the characters pretty well although I LOVE when I learn a surprise about the characters!!! Plotting is just hard. Great subject Lois!!! xo, Leanne

  8. lois greiman says:

    Kylie, I do find it harder to rewrite once things have been set in stone, but whatever method you use it’s obviously working for you. So I say stick with it. My method is just the ‘don’t think until it’s absolutely necessary system.’ Definitely not for everyone.

  9. lois greiman says:

    Michele, I know you’ve told me before but how many pages do you usually end up with for your first draft?

  10. bkrahn007 says:

    See, Leanne, I knew we were twins separated at birth! I’m a thinker and a brooder. I’ve probably been over and over the first 100 pates of a book 50 times or more. The last part, not so much. Which probably shows. sigh.

    In the early days of my career, I wrote 10 pages a day, fearlessly, joyfully. Then it crept down to five and now I’m lucky to get an average of three a day, when I’m writing full time. Of course, there are those 20 page days toward the end of an ms that almost make up for the stalls and sputters at the beginning.

    One of my early editors told me –when I explained the problem I was having with a book– “You’re thinking too much. Quit thinking so much.” She was right. The longer I have a project to brood over, the worse my brooding becomes. I need to write it down quickly and quit second-guessing myself so much.

    Lois, dear, you’re my inspiration!

    • Leanne Banks says:

      Betina, I love the idea of 3 pages a day. That is so possible for me. In fact, it’s my dream quota. Thank you for sharing your “brooding” with us. CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU IN NYC!!! xo, Leanne

  11. cindy gerard says:

    I would also love to write using Lois and Michele’s process – but I fall in Leanne and Betina and Kylie’s category. I can’t leave a scene until I’m certain it’s exactly the way I want it. Then, I write another scene and guess what – go back and change the prior scene that was perfect :o( I spend tons of time in the first 100 – 150 pages, writing, rewriting, injecting motivations, character traits, nuances of things to come and firming up the plot line, cutting and culling. It’s horrible work sometimes because it’s so tedious and so repetitive that by the time I’m ready to move on I usually hate every word, hate the characters and wonder why I ever thought I knew how to write. The middle of the book just sort to trudges along but by the time I hit the home stretch the pages add up quickly and generally they’re pretty clean. Then I go back for a final read through, a little tweaking and it’s a done deal.
    And as I rule at that point, I’m certain it’s the last book any publisher will ever want to buy from me because I’m so sick of it I’m certain it sucks like no other.
    We writers – at least some of us – are a very strange bunch.

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