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#FirstDraft60 Day 2: Preparing Your Revisions Notebook, Style Sheet, and Research Repository

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comPart of doing a challenge like FirstDraft60 (for writing) or Whole30 (a food plan) is making sure that you’ve done as much preparation ahead of time as possible—so that during the actual challenge period (the 30 days of writing in October), you can focus on writing your story because you’re already organized and ready to go.

In Book in a Month, Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s first tip for finishing a draft in 30 days is to write “as if.” What that means is that as you make changes to your story or characters while writing, you don’t go back through what you’ve already completed and revise/rewrite. You make a note of the change and what parts of the story it will affect (and will thus need to be revised later) and then continue on writing as if you’ve already made the change.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but believe me, this approach does actually work in enabling us SOTP writers to be able to complete manuscripts. This happened to me when I was writing Stand-In Groom as my master’s thesis. After rewriting the first ten chapters three times, I finally had to suck it up and finish the manuscript for grad school. So I wrote down all of the changes I needed to make after the first draft was finished and then went right back to writing as if I’d already made those (massive) changes. And after two years of an endless loop of revisions, I completed the final 2/3 of the manuscript in less than four months.

What I didn’t have back in 2004–2005 when I was doing this was OneNote. Or some other way of organizing my notes and ideas for what needed to change. I had a lot of it just typed in as notes in the computer. Or when I’d make a change in between chapters, I’d make a note at the top of my new chapter to go back from that point and make the change I’d be incorporating from there on out. Something I discovered in writing stories with more characters, more research, and more intricate plotting—like the Ransome Trilogy—is that I have to have a better way of keeping track not just of my revision notes, but my style guide, and my research. So that’s what we’re setting up today.

Revisions Notebook
Ever since I bought my laptop in 2009 and saw it for the first time, Microsoft OneNote has been an integral part of my writing process. And now that it’s available online and on my phone, it’s become an important and portable tool for me as a place to collect my ideas, notes, research, etc.

According to Schmidt: “Working ‘as if’ means that you keep writing—that you keep moving forward with your story—without stopping to rewrite every time you change your mind about a character, plot, or setting detail. Instead, you take notes on your Story Tracker worksheet to stay on task while still remembering changes you’ll need to make later” (10).

She works with a three-act structure, and suggests making a chart/table with places to track changes for character, plot, subplot(s), setting, and “other” for each of those three acts (which you can see via the Writer’s Digest website). I’ve looked at those charts for a while now, and my brain just doesn’t work that way. Although I’m sure I may tweak (or completely) change these as I work, here’s what I’ve come up with for my Revisions pages in OneNote:

#FirstDraft 60 Revisions Notebook |

I’m sure that as I get further into this and run into the changes I’ll inevitably need to make, I’ll hone this tool and really customize it into an invaluable tool for my next manuscripts.

Style Sheet
Creating a Style Guide is something I’ve blogged about before. As a quick refresher:

Items to track in your style guide include the following, along with an explanation and a summary of how it should be “styled”:

  • Unusual, foreign, archaic, uniquely spelled, and made-up names.
    Examples: Zarah, nicknames for grandparents (such as Mamere, Kiki, Pops, etc.); the Admiralty is capitalized, but the port admiralty is not.
  • All place names.
    Examples: Woodbine, Woodmont, Green Hills, Forrest Hills (yes, it has two Rs), Belle Meade, Bellevue, Fair View, Fairview, etc. Bonneterre, Comeaux (how far is it from Bonneterre, again?), Beausoleil Parish, Moreaux Mills, Warehouse Row, Town Square (or was that Towne Square?).
  • Names of restaurants, stores, schools, and other establishments.
    Frothy Monkey, James Robertson University, University of Louisiana–Bonneterre (geaux Marauding Pirates!), Beignets S’il Vous Plait (see—I had to look that one up just to include it here!), Boudreaux-Guidry Enterprises/B-G.
  • Anything that gets a red squiggly line as you write it.
    Whether it’s a regional word, professional jargon, a rare piece of dialect, an abbreviation, pet name, or other shortened form of a word, or something foreign or made up, if Word doesn’t recognize it, add it to your style guide. (And then add it to Word’s dictionary so it doesn’t keep flagging it every time you run a spell-check.)
  • Foreign, archaic, regional, or made-up words and phrases.
    These words may be familiar to you, but not to an editor who’s going to waste his/her time trying to look them up or contacting you to find out more about them. You may forget how you spelled something, or which place name you used. Writing it down saves everyone time.
  • Anything you don’t want to fight with your editor about later.

Here’s a snapshot of my style sheet for the Bonneterre series:
#FirstDraft60 Creating a Style Sheet |

Research Repository
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a contemporary set in your own neighborhood or a sweeping historical epic spanning generations and continents. You’re going to have to do some research somewhere along the way. Our planning process will help you do some of this research. And something I’ve found helpful to keep as much of it close at hand as I can (especially since I’m not always writing in the location where my books are located, or websites get deleted/moved) is to either copy/paste the info from the website or type notes from books into OneNote for safekeeping.

#FirstDraft60 Creating a Research Repository |

You can read more about collecting and organizing your research here (because, of course, I’ve blogged about it before).

FirstDraft60 Day 2 Assignment:
Your project for today is to figure out how you’re going to keep track of your revisions, style info, and research—and to go ahead and set them up. Then come back and let us know how you are planning to do it and how you’ve set yours up. Links to images would be great (e.g., Instagram, your blog, photos on Facebook shared publicly so we can see them even if we aren’t connected, etc.).

Can’t wait to see/hear about yours. I’m off to work on the style sheet and research parts of my notebook!

Work Cited:

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. Book in a Month: The Foolproof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. Print.

#FirstDraft60 Day 1: Welcome to the Sixty-Day First Draft Challenge!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#FirstDraft60 |
Welcome to the official first day of FirstDraft60, a sixty-day challenge to plan and write a manuscript first draft. I hope you spent some time yesterday ruminating on the questions posed and reviewing the planned schedule for the challenge. Today, the questions aren’t rhetorical. Following those are some tips and considerations to keep in mind over the next sixty days.

Determining Your Commitment and Motivation—Guided Questions
Today, it’s time to not just think about but actually answer some questions that will hopefully kick-start your planning and preparation for this project. (Adapted from Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.) You can answer them here in the comments, or if you want to blog through this yourself, please share the link to your post with your answers to these questions:

  1. Why do you want to write?
  2. What will finishing this project in sixty days mean to you? Do you think that completing this challenge will change you? How?
  3. If this is your first attempt at completing a manuscript, how do you think finishing it will impact your life?
    OR, If you’ve completed multiple manuscripts, what will finishing another one mean to you?
  4. What will happen if the people closest to you don’t understand, support, and encourage you during this challenge?
  5. Imagine how you will feel on October 31 knowing that you’ve completed this challenge. How can you use that to motivate you during the next sixty days?
  6. What is the ONE thing you think you’re going to need the most to help you accomplish your goal for this challenge?

Considerations to Get You Through This Challenge
(Again, adapted from Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.)

  • Set a specific time every day to write. The book suggests doing it first thing in the morning before you get distracted and pulled in different directions. Mornings may not work for you, though. So choose a time that you can consistently set aside every day and make an appointment with yourself—set a reminder on your phone or computer if you need to, block out the time on your calendar. This is a commitment you are making to yourself. Your owe it to yourself to make it important. Start practicing this month by doing our FirstDraft60 preparation activities during your appointed writing time. If you make setting that time aside a habit now, it will be that much easier.
  • Commit to cutting out frivolous/non-productive activities. September and October may be hard months to do this for those of us who are TV addicts, since most of our favorite shows are premiering new seasons and all of the new fall shows will be debuting. But completing this first draft takes priority. If you don’t have a DVR, plan to have your prep work (Sept.) or word count (Oct.) complete before the show comes on; otherwise, save them on your DVR as rewards for when you meet your goals. Also—your writing time should be phone-free and Internet-free. No distractions.
  • Track your progress. We’ll get into this more in a future post, but consider tracking writing-related activities besides just word count. Outlining, making revision notes, brainstorming, character casting—this month, you’ll be doing a lot that’s writing related but not actually building word count. It’s all time spent on your story, so why not track it to see just how much you’re really accomplishing.
  • Meals—consider planning and precooking (or at least pre-preparing) meals for the upcoming week on the weekends when you have more time. Here’s a wonderful YouTube Vlogger who has fantastic videos with ideas for how to plan ahead of time to make the most of your limited time during the week.
  • Prioritize. The writing portion of this challenge is only 30 days. What can you give up or put on hold for 30 days in order to achieve the goal of a completed first draft?
  • Say no. For the 30 days of this challenge in which you’ll be writing, don’t take on any new responsibilities or obligations that aren’t absolutely required. You have, right now, 30 days’ warning in which to prepare yourself for this. Start practicing now. Is it a matter of life or death? Does it put your job at risk to say no? Or are you just risking someone else getting miffed at you? You’ve already made a commitment to this challenge. Isn’t your commitment to yourself and your writing just as important—if not more so—than anything else that might come up? Practice telling people that you have a commitment right now, but as soon as you’re finished, you’d be more than happy to help them out.

Your Questions, Suggestions, and Ideas
Once you answer the Guided Questions above, don’t forget to also post your own questions, suggestions, and ideas to help encourage and support each other.

#FirstDraft60 — An introduction and overview of the plan to complete a first draft in 60 days

Monday, August 31, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comAs I mentioned on Saturday, I’m challenging myself, and you, to complete a first draft of a novel in the next 60 days. This was inspired by the book Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. In her approach, though, you’re doing your planning along with your writing. And that wouldn’t work for me. I do a lot better with marathon writing if I already have most of my planning done before I start writing. So that’s why I’ve expanded it to 60 days, with the first 30 days for preparation.

With that in mind, here are a few things to start thinking about/doing today to get ready to start the challenge tomorrow:

What story are you going to work on?
If you’re anything like me (and every other writer I know), you have a couple of story ideas running around in your head at this very moment. If you’re on contract, you know what story it is. But if you’re not and you have the freedom to choose any story you want, now’s the time to figure out which one you think will keep you motivated to write.

Who’s your support team?
Any time we commit to any kind of challenge, we’re going to need the support and encouragement of people around us for those times when we feel like quitting. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do this publicly here on the blog. Everyone who participates is going to be my support team—and yours. But it’s important to have support from the people in your everyday life, too. Explain the nature of the challenge, especially the time commitment you’ll need in order to write the first draft of a full manuscript in thirty days (for a 75,000-word draft, that means writing an average of 2,500 words every day). If you’re married, talk to your spouse. If you have kids, explain to them why it’s important that they don’t disturb you during your writing times. (We will get into this more as this prep month goes on.)

What do you hope to achieve?
Um . . . to finish a draft of my manuscript? Yes—and no. Sure, completing a full draft of a story is a great accomplishment. But it needs to be more than that. Why do you want to finish a draft of your manuscript? What will that mean to you? (Just think about this right now—we’ll discuss this more in-depth in one of the upcoming Sunday Reflection posts.)

Do you really have the time to commit to this challenge right now?
Look at your calendar. What big events do you have coming up? What about your spouse/kids/family? Can you plan your prep and/or writing time around those events? Can you adjust your schedule to start after the big event? Or to even split the challenge so that you have time for your event between the prep month and the writing month?

Be prepared to set realistic goals—and adjust them as time goes on.
You may start out gang-busters and set a total word-count goal of 75,000—or more—for the challenge. But then, once you start, you may discover that you just aren’t able to write more than 1,000 to 1,500 words per day. That’s okay. Readjust your overall goal based on what you can realistically accomplish. Maybe it’s isn’t a complete 75,000-word manuscript. Maybe your goal should be a full outline and the first 30,000 words. Maybe your goal is to write the final 25,000 words of a manuscript that has been languishing on your hard-drive for a year or more. Maybe it’s to finally pull out that crazy story idea you had that one time and see if you can actually make something of it. Maybe it’s to try writing fiction for the very first time.

This isn’t a challenge to see who’s better or faster or more prolific. This is a challenge to get you (and me) to accomplish more than we’ve accomplished in the past with our writing.

#FirstDraft60 Schedule
30 Days of Prep Work
Days 1–6
Prep work. Figuring out what project you’re going to work on in the next 60 days and doing some advanced prep work before digging in.

Days 7–13
Digging in with your characters to get to know as much as possible about them before you start writing.

Days 14–20
Reviewing tips for draft/marathon writing, and planning goals and for meeting/overcoming obstacles and challenges. Use this week to catch up on/continue working on your character development from last week.

Days 21–27
After solidifying your premise and brainstorming plot points, you’ll write an outline of your story to help keep you on track as you write next month. Writing one-sentence and one-paragraph summaries will help focus you on your main plot as well as your story’s tone and theme(s). Plus we’ll look at your setting and determine what research you need to do before you start writing.

Days 28–30
Determine how you will organize your draft, state your goals and determine how you will approach the challenge, and review everything you’ve done throughout these 30 days, update your guides/notebooks, and write down any new ideas that come to you.

30 Days of Writing
In order to complete a 75,000-word first draft, you’ll need to average 2,500 words per day for the next 30 days. Obviously, I know not everyone is going to be working toward that high of a goal; NaNo has you work on a goal of 50,000. Whatever your overall word-count goal is, divide that by 30 to see what your daily word count should average to meet it. (You can write it in on the printable calendar PDF, linked below.)

Each day during this month, in addition to writing, we will have a specific focus here on the blog:
Sunday: Reflection with guided questions.
Monday: I’ll share some motivational words to get us geared up and ready for the week to come.
Tuesday: On Tuesdays, you’ll be challenged to do at least one 1k1h writing challenge.
Wednesday: Schedule a quick review of your story bible, revision notebook, and style guide to see if you need to update them.
Thursday: I’ll review some writing-craft topics that should help not only keep you on track but hopefully spur you on to better and faster writing.
Friday: Brag day! Check in with your accomplishments, and talk about or share your favorite thing you’ve written from the previous week.
Saturday: Catch-up Challenge. Today’s the day to figure out if you need to do any catch up with your word count, or if you need to readjust your goals for the next week.

Printable #FirstDraft60 Calendar
(PDF, will open in a new tab)

Now, before we get started, what questions and/or suggestions do you have?

#FirstDraft60 – Let’s Complete a First Draft Together in 60 Days

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Starting Monday, August 31, I’m going to challenge myself—and y’all—to an audacious project: to plan, prep, and write a first draft in 60 days.

For those who have completed NaNoWriMo in the past, this is old hat for you. But there are so many of us who think about it, maybe try for a few days, and then give up. Usually because we haven’t adequately planned ahead of time, not just for the story, but for everything that life can throw at us in the course of a month of marathon writing.

So I’ve decided to take a systematic approach, inspired in part by the book Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. To that end, I have planned out my blogging/writing calendar for the entire 60(+) days:

FirstDraft60 Calendar

You may have already done some/most of the prep work we’ll be working on for the month of September—you may have even started writing your story already. And that’s okay. This will give you a chance to review all of it and make some tweaks and revisions to your characters, story idea, setting, etc., in order to get ready for our writing marathon in October. Or there may be that one story you’ve always wanted to try writing, but just have’t yet taken the time. Now would be a great opportunity. What’s sixty days in the grand scheme of things?

Yes, I know that NaNo is coming up in November. However, I personally have never found November a good month to try to get writing done in bulk. I find that October seems to work pretty well for it, though. If you plan to participate in NaNo, feel free do your prep work along with us but then wait until November to do your actual writing. It’s up to you.

I hope you’ll not only follow along, but jump in with your questions, ideas, suggestions, and tips in the comments every day. If you need help brainstorming an idea or figuring out a plot point, please post. Yes, the comments here are public, but I moderate them closely to keep this a safe and encouraging place for writers to communicate with each other.

So what do you say? Are you in?

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Jeff Gerke on First Impressions (Characters’, that is)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Excerpt from The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke:

The First 50 Pages

Think of your character introductions as short stories, little standalone short films created for the purpose of presenting your main characters to your reader. They will serve not only as introduction but as résumé and business card, brief snapshots conveying the essence of who these people are.

Most of the novelists I’ve worked with over the years do not naturally think to construct introductory short stories like this. They just want to get going with the main story, and they give almost no thought to how the reader will encounter the hero. But doing so with care is essential to get the protagonist “set” in the reader’s mind. Watch some movies and see how the main characters are introduced. Then sit down and write a short story to introduce your hero.

Remember to show what is likable about your protagonist . . . engage your reader by introducing your hero in a way that shows what’s heroic or sympathetic about her. Make us care about her.

First impressions are so powerful, especially in fiction. They shape every expectation we have about what this person is going to be like in the future. In the character’s introduction is the seed of the whole story. We see, in embryonic form, who he is, what makes him heroic, and where he is going.

Work Cited:

Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Up Your Novel for Success. Blue Ash, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2011. 93–94. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: James Scott Bell on Reading to Improve Our Writing (i.e., Critical Reading)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Excerpt from Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell:


You can’t be a great fiction writer without reading. A lot. All kinds of novels. And poetry and nonfiction.

Each time you read a book, the flow and rhythm of the writing implants itself in your brain. When it’s good writing, when you respond to it, it goes in the good file. When it’s not-so-good writing, you’ll sense it and put it under bad.

You’ll learn about plot and story construction and character building. Your storehouse will fill up and be ready for you when you’re in need.

Be self-directed in your reading. In Plot & Structure, I explained a process for learning plot so you’ll begin to feel it in your marrow. Here’s a brief recap:

1. Get half a dozen novels of the type you want to write.

2. Read the first book for pleasure and think about it afterward. What did you like about it?

3. Now read the second book and take some time to think about it, too.

4. Read the next four books in the same fashion.

5. Now go back to book one and, on index cards, mark each scene. Number them, then give us the setting, what the scene is about, and what, if anything, makes you want to read on.

6. Repeat this drill for all of the books.

7. Beginning with any stack of cards, go through them quickly, remembering the book, giving yourself a movie in the mind.

8. Do the same with the other stacks of index cards.

What this exercise does is burn plot and structure into your mind. Keep those cards and review them periodically.

With some modification, you can do the same thing for any aspect of the fiction craft….

So read.

Work Cited:

Bell, James Scott. Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for transforming your First Draft into a Novel (2nd ed.). Blue Ash, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2012. 5–6. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Jack Bickham on the Urge to Tell Too Much

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Excerpt from Setting by Jack M. Bickham:


I’ve known writers who got very uneasy—or downright panicky—because they thought they needed to get certain broad-scale information or sense impressions into their story at a given point, but couldn’t find a character to experience all that they desired to convey. If you ever get that feeling, let me suggest that you sit back for a minute and ask yourself if the reader really needs that panoramic view (or additional information). Often you may discover that she doesn’t, and that your feeling is an author concern, not a reader concern. You may be wanting to tell more than necessary just because you happen to know it.

It’s hard sometimes to accept that a reader doesn’t need to experience or know something. You know everything about the setting, can see it all in your imagination, and your natural impulse is to want to share your vision with your reader—to put in everything for the reader to know, see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and believe about the setting at that moment of story time. It’s a brave impulse, and one that’s very hard to dissuade writers of sometimes, but nearly always it’s fallacious.

Your reader seldom needs to know all you do at any point. You might think he would benefit from a vast and panoramic view of that city setting, but he does not experience his real life that way, and he does not want to experience the story setting that way, either. Belief comes from identification with the viewpoint. Identification with the viewpoint comes from a restricted view of the setting. The reader’s concern is with what the character knows. Your authorial concern about showing the big picture often has nothing whatsoever to do with telling a good story in the most effective way.

Work Cited:

Bickham, Jack M. Setting (Elements of Fiction). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1994. 97–98. Print.


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