Monday, June 15, 2015

Maximizing Productivity on First Drafts: The NaNo Way

Katrina did a great job of covering how she does first drafts. I'll expand by how I get through my first-draft explorations by maximizing productivity. Keep in mind, my way isn't the right or only way; it's just what's worked for me.

Like Katrina, I begin with Save the Cat beat sheets, but add a Fiction University twist on the Three-Act Structure. And, because characters don't always come as quickly as my worlds and plots do, I also draft character profiles on a master sheet, including a character poem for the protagonist.

I borrowed the character poem idea from author Shelley Coriell.  It works great for figuring out a character's likes, dislikes, weaknesses and flaws early on. And whenever I add a new character while writing (I'm more of a pantser than a plotter) they also go on the master sheet. I'm also playing with the idea Stephsco brought up on Katrina's last post because a character arc beat sheet would better show how characters grow and develop as a result of story events. It's not just about what happens, but how the characters react and change throughout their journeys.

Once my beat sheet and character profiles are done, I usually dive in full force. I borrowed a NaNoWriMo spreadsheet from a fellow writer back when I wrote my second novel and have used it ever since. The first column is for minimum word count per day required for a NaNo win (50,000 words in one month), the second is for actual word count, and the third is to measure the difference between the two (all Excel formulas have been calculated beforehand, so the spreadsheet automatically determines the differences between counts). I don't fill out the sheet daily (just during each draft session), but it encourages me to get words out as often as I can. I also do virtual writing sprints with people to motivate me to keep working when the going gets tough.

Here's a word-count sheet from my last (fifth) novel (notice I expanded the formula from 50,000 to 80,000):


Green indicates when my word count exceeded the NaNo measurement, and dashes show when I broke even. Luckily, this last go-round, I went above and beyond the minimum more often than not. This is rare, but shows I'm getting better (and quicker) at drafting which each new novel.

But I also need to point out the dramatic down-side to this method, one I've seen in my writing after the fact. Paying too much attention to word count causes my first drafts to be too skeletal. Things happen way too quickly (or are inconsistent throughout the story), and transitions are often rushed and forced. So just be cautionary if you choose this method--don't be afraid to take your time, flesh out details, and let the novel romp around in the mud as much as it wants to. See where the words take you!

What about you? What has helped your productivity during a first draft?

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