Fast Draft Your Manuscript: It’s NaNoWri

Are you all set to Fast Draft? This year will be the sixth year I have participated in National Writing Month. Of the five novels I have completed in one month, I have published four.

Not too bad a record.

Over the years I have learned better ways to outline, explored word trackers, got myself more organized, and most importantly learned how to draft fast.

After teaching a number of workshops and mentoring NaNoWri participants, I have finally gathered all my tips and tricks for writing fast into a book.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, written under my professional name, is being published by Short Fuse Publishing. It is available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited and is the first in my new Write for Success writing craft series.

About Fast Draft Your Manuscript


Fast Drafting is a proven set of techniques and strategies that can be applied to any piece of writing from blog post to novel. Tested over the author’s decades-long career as an author and educator, the Fast Drafting Method is easy to learn, customizable for your needs, and designed to get results quickly. Fast Draft Your Manuscript: And Get It Done Now.


About the Write for Success series


Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary taste makers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.

Upcoming books in the series

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing


So are you doing NaNo or do you just have a draft to finish? Here are few tips for you from Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now.

Fast Drafting is a time to forget about being perfect. So, type away.

  • Relish being sloppy.
  • Use the first words that pop into your head.
  • Don’t worry about clichés or repeating terms.
  • Forget writing rules or making it sound pretty.
  • If you can’t think of something, or you need a fact to fill in, or you are not sure about what you wrote, use the highlighter tool in your word processor to highlight that area in a color so when you do your first revision you can come back and fix it.



Available from AMAZON


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” —-Louis L’Amour

How I Learned to Focus

~ Becoming a Focused Writer ~

Being able to focus is always an issue for a creative writer. No one is telling you what story world to invent nor how to get yourself in the seat, start writing, and then keep at it. Somehow, you have to shut out the world around you and zero in on the words boiling up inside and aching to pour out on to the page. That takes FOCUS.

Since my big word for January was FOCUS, I spent the month, thinking about what distracts me from writing, and what methodologies I might use to improve my concentration.

ZARA-West-BIG-Word-FOCUS

How I Write

I have been writing for many, many years. In those years, I have learned that there are some basics that I need in order to write anything. One is a comfortable chair and the computer at the right height. Otherwise, plain physical discomfort will do me in pretty quickly.

Another thing is having everything I need, or think I will need, within arm’s reach. I need my book research a click away – I use OneNote as my digital binder. I need paper and pen for jot notes. I need the little cards that I write my character’s names on and some of their favorite words.

But even with all these practical things in place, focusing on the writing to be done doesn’t always happen. I’d suddenly look at the clock and see that nothing was down on the page or what was there wasn’t what I intended to write. Not to mention, all the times I just wandered off to do something else.

My Writing Distractions

So why, when I am dedicated to what I was writing and highly motivated, does my mind wander? Being of a practical nature, I began by looking at the physical things that distracted me from writing. First, there were the sensory distractions. The ticking clock. The itchy sweater. A cold draft.

So focused on being focused, I set out to remove these sensory distractions. I put the clock in another room. I made sure to wear my most comfortable clothes. I found a blanket to wrap around my legs. These changes were easy to make and did help. But only a little.

Pressing Things First

 I still had “To-Do” distractions. The email I was anxiously awaiting. The blog post I was late posting (uh- like this one). The prep for the courses I teach. Reading an interesting blog post or news article. All those things were right there on the computer and oh so easy to just click over and check. To fix these issues, I first tried doing the pressing things first – this got those done, but then I had no energy or writing time left.

Clearing the Screen

So next I tried a suggestion from Johanna Jast’s book Laser-Sharp Focus. I created a separate login identity on my computer—one that didn’t have access to all the files and emails. The interface was a lot cleaner, and the fact that I had to turn off the computer to sign into my main account was a good preventative against those easy slides into digital distractions.

Note: If you don’t want to mess with the computer, there are also programs that turn your computer into a writing area only. Here is a list of distraction freeing digital writing tools you might want to try. https://lifehacker.com/five-best-distraction-free-writing-tools-5689579

Zara West BIG words - FocusClearing the Desk

In addition, I removed all the distractions littering my desk especially those that shouted at me about things I HAD to do. I removed the wall calendar, I tucked my bullet journal out of sight, and last, removed the standing file full of work waiting to be done. I added a plant and pretty pen holder and a display of my favorite rocks.

Setting the Time

I have been using the timer method as a way to both ignore distractions and get things done. The idea is to set a timer for the length of time you want to write and ignore everything else. I had already explored timers for fast drafting for NaNo. Now I tried to figure out the optimum time for me to write. I thought it would be 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. That’s the time frame I use when sprinting and going through social media.

But I am not sprinting every minute. Most days, I write steadily, but at my own pace, letting the story unfold naturally scene by scene. But with a timer dinging every 15 minutes, it seemed like instead of helping me focus in on the writing, the buzzer was just another annoying distraction pulling me away from moments when the writing was flowing along nicely.

So I tried longer times. Several research studies have indicated that for creative work longer times work better. Nathan Kleitman identified a natural 90 minute rhythm during the day that mirrored the 90 minute sleep cycle. A productivity app found that the highest performing workers focus for an average of 52 minutes and then take about a 17 minute break. I settled on an hour using a physical sand timer that didn’t ding at all.

Those Pesky Writing Problems

So I had a simplified writing site. A distraction-free screen. And a quiet, unobtrusive timer set for an hour. All these changes did help me focus better to the extent that I came back to my writing more quickly. But what I found was the writing issues that stopped me in the first place were still there and still making me lose focus. The more I forced myself to focus on solving a writing problem, the more I became unsettled and distracted. Then off I went to do something else, despite the timer and the distraction free screen and the hidden away task list.

So, I started noting down those times and places I became distracted. There were three main issues that caused me to stop writing.

  1. It was hard to get started on a new scene or chapter or blog post.
  2. I couldn’t think of the perfect word or a way to say what I was thinking or what I was picturing or the right order in which to say it.
  3. My writing was going in the wrong direction for my storyline.

Not Focus…Flow

But how to address these issues? I started searching for more focus tips and I discovered FLOW…

Flow and focus go together. Flow is defined by researchers as a mental state in which time, distractions, and everything around you fall away and all your creative energy is focused on the task. When you are in a state of flow, you are actually using your brain differently. The prefrontal part of the brain that controls critical thinking is deactivated and our sense of self lessens. Instead, norepinephrine and dopamine flood our bodies and time slows, impulse control decreases, and our performance becomes more fluid and creative.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow (1990) characterizes this feeling as a time when you are so engrossed in an activity nothing else matters. My goodness. That sounds exactly how I feel when the writing is going great. (Also when I am doing photography or making a drawing or singing a song). So how do I make that happen all the time?

Csikszentmihalyi says that setting the stage for flow to happen requires:

  1. A clear end goal
  2. Immediate self-feedback that you are moving toward that goal
  3. The task is challenging, but within your capabilities
  4. No worry about failing
  5. You are happy doing it.

Suddenly, my focus problem became clear. I lost focus writing when one of the above five things wasn’t happening.

  1. My end goal (or my character’s end goal) for the scene/chapter/writing piece wasn’t spelled out enough.
  2. I had lost track of what I was writing so I wasn’t getting positive self-feedback that I was doing well.
  3. I didn’t yet have the writing skills need to fix that storyline or paragraph or sentence.
  4. I was on a tight schedule, or I felt my writing had to be perfect so I was afraid of failure.
  5. What I was working on wasn’t what I wanted to be writing at that time. I had another idea or another task to do that I was drawn to more.

Zara West's BIG Words - FocusPutting Flow Into Practice

When I began my investigation into focus at the beginning of January, I thought I would find some simple technique that would increase my ability to write more effectively and smoothly. What I learned is that it is impossible to eliminate all distractions, and that’s okay. When you are in the flow, you can ignore most of them. That when you start to get distracted, re-examine what you were just working on. What can you do to solve the problem?

Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Stuck on a start? Write a place holder sentence at the start of a difficult scene or chapter to be revised later, that simply states who, where and when.
  2. Need positive feedback? Note down what I have accomplished – word count, scenes completed, etc.
  3. Don’t have the skill yet? Make a note to find a writing blog or workshop or critique partner to help me improve my writing and leave that spot a blank or highlighted to come back to.
  4. Face the fact that sometimes the flow just doesn’t happen. Then it is time to go do something else. But the important thing is to come back and dive into that writing again.

PS – I love my new distraction-free writing zone too.

 


I love to hear from my followers. 

What distracts you from writing or some other favorite creative pursuit?

 

W-Plot Your Way to a Better Scene

~ Plot Your Scene with the W-Plot Method ~

The W-Plot can be used to lay out an entire novel, but it’s true strength is in plotting scenes. I am doing NaNoWr again this year. I love being part of a huge group of writers all excited about writing and encouraging each other every day to do their best. But sometimes when I am writing as fast as I can, I lose track of where a scene is going.

That’s when the W-Plot comes in handy. The W-Plot method can keep a scene from falling flat. It can also get you out of writer’s block when you are fast drafting.

I first learned about the W-Plot from Karen Doctor. (You can get her W-Plot course here)  Simply described, the W-Plot Method lays out the rising and falling tension in the series of events that make up your scene. Here is my version of the W-Plot adapted to writing a scene.

W-Plot Example

 

When I get stuck for an idea while writing a scene, I quickly sketch a W on a sheet of paper and then brainstorm different events that would move the character to and away from his or her goal in the scene. From those, I pick the ones that fit best or are most surprising and then get back to writing.

Want to learn more? Here are some other takes on the W-Plot.

The W-Plot by Heather Dyer

Storyboarding and the W-Plot Chart by Mary Caroll Moore

Happy Writing!


How do you plot your scenes?

Have you ever used the W-Plot Method?

 

Fifteen Minutes Writing – The Book Factory Method

~ Life in Fifteen Minutes ~

Do you know how much time you spend on daily activities like reading e-mail and perusing Facebook? Do you struggle to reach your daily word count? I know that I do.

A while back, I took a workshop with USA best-selling author Kerri Nelson, which she has recently published in book form: The Book Factory Method: Your Guide to Producing Multiple Novels in One Year.

Fifteen Minutes CountThe Book Factory by Kerri Nelson Reviewed by Zara West

Kerri makes the point that in the scheme of things fifteen minutes is not very much of one’s time. In fifteen minutes, we can accomplish tasks like wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Why not spend fifteen minutes writing too?

In The Book Factory Method, Kerri explains how thinking in fifteen-minute time blocks is a sneaky way to find time to write.

Where are Those Fifteen Minutes Hiding?

Finding fifteen minutes is a lot less daunting than finding an hour or three for writing. Kerri suggests analyzing how you spend every fifteen-minute block of your work day and searching out those spaces where you can sit down to write.

Taking her advice, I kept track of how I spent my time over a three-day period (Here’s a 15 incredible minutes you can use to track your day) and discovered she was right.

Sure, I had all my daily tasks—like cleaning, washing, cooking, going to work, working, and so on. But there were also large blocks of time spent lost on Facebook and answering e-mail, time spent straightening my writing zone and getting ready to write, and time spent on rereading what I had already written—time that could be better spent just plain writing. In fact, I actually found three fifteen-minute blocks that could be better spent writing everyday.

Using Those Fifteen Minutes Effectively

Once you have your slots, Kerri suggests you get a timer. Using a timer and shutting down e-mail and the Internet is essential for this to work.

A note on timers: The timer I like the most is Hourglass. But I have also used my phone timer and an old-fashioned cooking timer just as effectively.

Now you are ready

  • Sit down.
  • Set the timer.
  • Start writing.
  • Do not stop till that timer dings.

Give it a Try

If you fast draft, you can actually produce quite a few words on the page in fifteen minutes, and in Kerri’s case, those dedicated fifteen minutes has produced a passel of published books. Will this work for everyone? I have no idea. But it worked for me.

I quickly found that sitting down and fast drafting (Kerri makes a particular point about applying this method only to new writing, not revision or editing) even for as little as fifteen minutes a day put words on the page for me.  Working with the time limit also trained me to be more focused. Knowing I was being times, I learned to ignore distractions. After all, there are very few things you can’t let slide for a few minutes.

In addition to the fifteen-minute writing method, Kerri provides many hints and helps for becoming more productive. She examines goal setting, motivation, and some writerly tricks for plotting (she’s a pantser), writing pitches and queries, and maintaining one’s physical and mental health as a writer. I strongly recommend The Book Factory Method for anyone who wants to become a more productive writer.


What method do you use to find writing time?

I love hearing from my readers!

I love to read: Why reading during NaNoWri is a bad Idea

I love to read. In fact, I don’t just love it– I am compelled to read. I read everything. If there is a newspaper in the recycle bin, I read it. If there is a cereal box on the table, I read the label. If there is a book left anywhere, I pick it up and read it. And if it is a book I want to read, I not only read it, I become immersed in it. So immersed, I don’t hear people talking to me. I don’t hear the doorbell. I don’t hear the tea kettle whistling. Yep. I love to read.

Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing. When I was growing up, I was forbidden to read in the house. My mother insisted that when I was reading, I tuned her out completely. (Well, she was right about that, though I am not sure the book was totally to blame. It might just have been normal teenage contrariness.) As a result, I just read more and in more creative ways – under the covers, in my lap at school, while pretending to watch TV, and so on.

In elementary school, I set out to read every book in the library. Since the library was small and poorly stocked, that turned out to be quite possible. It was also a wonderful introduction to the wide range of books out there. I read everything – fiction books about chickens that talked, the children’s classics, and non-fiction books about Indian crafts and to make pompoms. (I still can make those pompoms.)

I love to readWith that success under my belt, when I reached high school and could get to the public library on my own, I gave myself the goal of reading every fiction book in the library. I started at the As and actually got as far as the Hs. Robert Heinlein’s works were where I stopped my relentless pursuit because my best friend introduced me to the new acquisition rack and I had a whole new bunch of books to devour.

Now that I am a professional novelist, I still read. Reading is an essential part of writing. I read everything in my genre that I can. I read everything in genres I plan on writing in someday. And I plain just read everything that whets my interest. I read for enjoyment. I read to learn more about writing. I read to support my favorite authors. If you want to see what I read, check out my Goodreads list and my reviews. I read a new book every other day — usually.

However, not during NaNoWri. For one thing, reading consumes too much time. If I am going to get 1500 to 2000 words a day down, I don’t have time for a leisurely read at breakfast or lunch. But that’s not the main reason. The real problem about reading while fast drafting is that it pulls you out of your own story.

When I am fast drafting I am living my story. I am in the flow. I’m inside my character’s heads. I go to bed dreaming the next scene. I wake up ready to capture it. Reading someone else’s words, no matter how wonderful, no matter how enticing, interferes in the process. So as much as I hate it, I am not reading right now. Well, not much. I still read labels. I still read the newspapers my husband drapes over the armrest of the sofa. I still read e-mails and Facebook posts and even peek inside a few novels.

Because I am not perfect. I love to read…

Are you a compulsive reader too?

I’d love to here how you control your reading. Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fast Drafting My Way to The End or What I Learned from NaNoWri

My first novel, written as a respite from working on my dissertation, took me five years to write. My second novel took seven years to write. My third novel took one month.

What made the difference? Fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the writing process in which you throw out everything you’ve learned about good writing and just write whatever crazy, horrible, wonderful thoughts come spilling out of your head. You don’t stop to do research. You don’t stop to reread. You don’t stop to go back and fix something. You just write. But the question is: How do you know what to write and not end up with a mishmash?

What makes fast drafting work? Good planning at the start and great editing at the end.

Planning for Fast Drafting

I don’t think that I would have been as successful in my first NaNoWri if I hadn’t written the two slow pokes first. I learned a lot about writing between them and all the writing courses I took during those years. For one thing I learned how to plot.

My first two novels are what I would call meandering. Since they were historical fiction, I got buried in the research. I got enamored with writing beautiful settings and long sections of internal thought full of metaphors and literary references.  Many chapters existed only to share some of that incredible information I uncovered or to weave in a particular place or quote.  Originally these novels topped out at 170,000 words or there about.

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage One ACTION

Now I know that the action must come first. Forget setting. Forget angst. I write a bare-bones sloppy synopsis or what I call a fairy tale version of my novel. I imagine I am sitting around a campfire and making up a fairy tale to entertain a group of antsy kids in the format of first this happened and then that happened and then this and that until bang there’s a horrible villain and a catastrophe and oops a terrible choice that leads to a heroic deed and then an ending – a happy one, of course. I write romance.

Why does this work? The structure of fairy tales is believed by many researchers to be hardwired into our psyches. At least in my case, I know this is true as I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales, especially Grimms. For a more professional take on this: the this and that and thens are called plot points and there are a ton of wonderful websites and books explaining them. Check out Larry Brook’s StoryFix website, for helpful examples of plot points and story structure, or take Carol Hughes workshop Deep Story I offered this coming April.

Using Fairy Tales in Fast Drafting

Illustration by Hope Dunlop from The Little Prince

Next I take that synopsis, paste into my NaNoWri draft document, and put line breaks between the sentences and label them ACTION. Here is an example from my NaNo draft

  • CHAPTER Setting The Siren POV Alba
  • ACTION Hanger is missing. Alba goes to The Siren to get help

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Two GMC

I head each sentence with the word CHAPTER. I identify a possible setting and the POV character. Then the POV character’s goal(s) for that chapter, his or her motivation for achieving that goal, and what’s going to prevent or hinder the character from achieving that goal. Debra Dixon is my resource for this. Here is my GMC from the same chapter:

  • Goal– Find Hanger
  • Motivation – furious/worried/he could be injured or dead
  • Conflict –Alba has gala that night and she must go

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Three Dilemma

I can’t remember what course I took that made me realize how important the dilemma is in plotting. The dilemma is the hard choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter to obtain the goal or at least get closer to it. A dilemma is stated as an either/or choice. It often becomes the hook that leads into the next chapter, especially if the choice is really dangerous or the wrong one. If you have great dilemmas for each chapter, the story will write itself. From the same chapter:

  • D – Go to Gala or go look for Hanger

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Four: Make it Simple

Now here’s the way to put this all together so you can sit down and fast draft. I happen to use Word so I make the CHAPTER ACTION SETTING POV info a Heading 1, and the GMC + D a Heading 2. Now all I have to do is open the FIND Navigation box and there it is – an outline of my novel. This way I can keep the plot right in front of me as I write. I can see where I have been and where I am going.Fast Draft Header System


Have you ever fast drafted?

What are some tricks you use.

 

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