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#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.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Les Edgerton on Finding (and Using) YOUR Voice

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Excerpt from Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton:

Finding Your Voice

There’s a place waiting for you in Readerland. Editors are out there now, poised with checkbook in hand, hoping that today is the day they open a manuscript and a real, live person begins speaking from the page to them. A new, unique person with a voice they haven’t heard before.

Your voice!

The world won’t applaud a second William Faulkner, boys and girls. Especially a second-rate Faulkner . . . which is all any imitator can aspire to be. The reading audience can, however, be very receptive to the rollicking small-town tales of Jim Ray Poindexter from Bippus, Indiana. Eagerly open to the article Jim Ray delivers to Gourmet Magazine describing the cuisine delights of crawfish, delivered from the sensibilities of an observer with Jim’s values and particular background that only he can bring to the writing desk. Ecstatic over the short story Mr. Poindexter has penned about the town drunk at Bippus, Indiana’s Fourth of July Barbecue.

Mr. P. is going to get his work published if he observes the principle behind Jules Renard’s remark concerning his own struggle with the literature “masters” on his own shelves, that: “Whenever I apply myself to writing, literature comes between us.”

Jim Ray’s going to get published because he won’t let literature come between his own personality and the page. The voice he respects the most is his own. As you should.

The world wants Jim Ray Poindexter from Bippus, Indiana’s voice.

The world wants your voice. From wherever you are.

Work Cited:

Edgerton, Les. Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2003. 39–40. Print.

Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Ansen Dibell on Making Sure Something Happens

Monday, August 24, 2015

Excerpt from Plot by Ansen Dibell:


Make Sure the Reader Knows Something’s Happening, and Going to Happen

There’s another compensation that needs mentioning. Make sure none of your little, simple scenes is static. End them, subtly or obviously, on cliff-hangers. Show something is slipping, something is going wrong, and something is going to happen very soon. That, together with the energy the shifts themselves provide, will supply the dynamic force to make the reader want to keep reading and go to the effort of sorting out all the different people, settings, and situations. Make sure that each scene moves and is leading up to something quite clear and concrete.

Work Cited:

Dibell, Ansen. Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1988. 39. Print.


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