copyright, Holly Ingraham
The first draft of a 100,000-word novel does
not have to take five years to write. It doesn't have to take
a year. Try a few months, instead.
I hang out on a list with people whose entire
reason for being there is to write like your life depended on
it one week of the month. Rough drafts, fast. How fast? Our chief
keyboard berserker had a good November, 33-44 pages a day, over
400 pages. She wasn't the only one. That same month I did 200
pages. Others did 100. In one week.
The "page" is the official 250-word
double-spaced page in size 12 non-proportional Courier with 1"/2.5
cm margins assumed by publishers getting manuscripts. A lot of
us don't keep our rough drafts in this format. It's easier to
follow on a screen (and cheaper to print out) if we do it single-spaced
in our favorite reading font (mine is Bookman or Baskerville).
So what we are actually doing is taking our word-count for the
end of the day, subtracting yesterday's ms total, and dividing
"Why would anyone do this? How
can anyone do this?" you ask.
Blitz-drafting is not for everyone. Some people
simply must slowly craft each paragraph, in effect writing
the final draft first. The keyword here is "slowly."
Lots of these people will spend two to five years writing a 100,000-word
(400 page) novel.
Some of us get over this.
I would like to point out that most successful
blitz-drafters I know are female, and women are said to be more
verbally fluent by their wiring than men are.
Don't tell my alpha-male husband this. He
blitzes just fine, and one of the best "write until delirium
sets in, then write really fast" drafters I ever
knew was a sailor and professional cabinet-maker, not girly-man
in the least. So don't believe this is a chick-thing. It's a
brain-thing, and I also know any number of woman authors who
couldn't write over two pages an hour if you put a gun to their
Putting a proverbial gun to our heads is exactly
what we do at BIW/Book-In-a-Week.
It's what we do at OWWW
when we have our annual BIAWs. We publically announce our goals
for the week, which may be 21 pages or 220. We report in daily,
staying publically accountable. The group cheers each other on,
provides moral support when things go wrong, and, strangely enough,
is completely non-judgemental about not making goal. We figure
your Inner Mommy is beating you up enough about that.
This means that someone who might have taken
five years to finish a novel can get the rough done in a year,
revise for a year, and cut three years off the process. Considering
it will sit in publishers' slushpiles for so many months, this
gets them closer to publication sooner. It also means that they
will write more pages, thereby honing and improving their writing
skills and fluency faster. It's like the difference in skill
between someone who golfs or plays tennis every week and someone
who does it thrice a year. In six years, our exemplar blitz-and-revise
writer can have three of the novels clawing to get out of their
brains out at publishers, and be starting on #4, instead of just
having #1 out in the world and starting #2. Trust me, #3 has
a much better chance of selling than #1 does. Almost anyone gets
better at what they do a lot of.
But still, blitz-drafting is not for everyone.
Take this simple test:
1) Writing a moderate paragraph describing
someone or something or an action takes me:
a) five minutes
b) one minute
c) fifteen seconds
2) The most I have ever written as one continuous
narrative (including stories of what happened to me in letters)
a) one page
b) ten pages
c) fifty pages or more
3) Emotionally, as a creator, I need to
a) get it perfect from the start, so it's like the
finished product when I'm through for the day
b) get it readable, so other people can give me feedback
c) get it out of me in some kind, any kind of form
that's got the right outlines.
4) As a typist, I
a) hunt and peck, three-finger type
b) watch my hands as I type; kind of touch-type
c) touch-type fluently, especially without looking
to hit numerals and other top-row symbols
5) As a person, I'm
a) happy-go-lucky, not goal-oriented, not a self-starter,
and I don't worry what other people think of me.
b) not quite self-starting, but friends can kick
my starter over for me, and I really want to write this novel.
c) self-starting, organized, and suffer from guilt
and lowered self-esteem if I don't make public goals.
You get -5 for each A, 0 for each B, and +5
for each C answer. The higher your score, the more ready you
are to blitz.
-15 to -25: Your head is miles away from blitzing:
don't set yourself up for an experience you'll probably hate.
10 to -10: Try it. You may like it.
15 to 25: You have found your home. Do it!
#4 can be upgraded any time you want to apply
yourself to learning to touch-type.
You should notice that changing #3 is one
of the points of blitzing: learning to turn off the Internal
Editor. Some people say they just can't, or they just find it
horrible to and hate what comes out, or they just like doing
it the other way better. Heaven knows, if there's one thing you
control in your life, it's your raw creative output and the emotional
satisfaction it gives you. I'm not saying blitzing is a must
In fact, I'm saying some people will damage
themselves by blitzing.
Blitzing is not a good choice for freshman
writers. Blitzers need to be moderately fluent, not just with
language, but with the conventions of writing fiction (plot,
characterization, dialogue, world-building or world-presenting).
Freshman writers need to spend time crafting more slowly just
because they're still learning how to craft a story. They're
still using training wheels.
Sophmore writers might try blitzing.
They don't yet have their work habits fixed in stone, and blitzing
often shakes things loose in a good way. That or they thoroughly
hate it and don't have to try it again. (Actually, until you
have a system that gets you selling books regularly, I recommend
trying work systems you disliked but that weren't completely
horrible over again every few years. As you change as a writer,
what didn't work before might suddenly be very useful: it happened
to me.) A sophmore writer who blitzes will spend more time revising
than drafting, which is good for honing their levels of skill.
The training wheels are off, but they're still learning to do
the fancy stuff, like coast down hills.
Junior and senior writers should definitely
try blitzing. They have all their skills, they're just learning
the final tweaks to sales or waiting for publishing fashion to
turn their way. Why spend 36 weeks grinding, day after day, when
you can knock out the rough in 4 weeks, one month apart, and
work on revising other stuff in between blitzing? Also, junior
and senior writers have a backlog of works by now. They have
something to revise between blitz-weeks.
Another point on which blitz-drafting resembles
physical sports: you should work up levels slowly. If you say,
"I'm going to learn to run marathons," you do not go
try to run 26 miles the first day. Well, you shouldn't.
In the same way, it's usually not smart to try to do 200 pages
in a week your first time out. (Though some people who haven't
got Internal Editor habits engrained discover they can sit there
and "just tell the story" at remarkable speeds. It's
always an individual thing.)
Figure your best day ever, or best hour ever
if you've never spent a lot of a day writing. Multiply that speed
by the number of hours you cut free in a week for writing. Make
that your first goal.
When you achieve that, start increasing. When
I first joined BIW, my goals were regularly 150 pages and I didn't
always make them. (I had been in three previous BIAWs and NaNoWriMo,
so I wasn't just beginning.) I worked up to a solid 200 pages
every month, several months of the year. Just like running, you
have to work up, including working up your physical endurance
or sitz-fleisch, as they say in chess. Your hands and
wrists have to be up to speed and strength, as does your touch-typing.
You need to find someplace to write that's comfortable for long
stretches of sitting still.
Mentally, you have to learn to turn off the
Internal Editor and keep it off for longer and longer stretches.
You have to learn to problem-solve quickly (problem-solving =
creativity) when faced with the ever-looming questions, "What
do they do next? What do they say here? How do I make the characters
move naturally in the plot direction I want them to?" You
can't sit and ponder the situation for three days: that's half
Question #5 in the quiz reflects a basic personality
layout. Most people, to be successful in any creative art as
a professional, need to answer C. If they answered A, either
they need to make some rearrangements in their personality, get
incredibly lucky in what they write hitting a fashion node, just
love telling stories, or all of the above.
There is no boss who will pay them for eight
hours of hanging around the computer and harass them into writing
fiction for some of those hours. In fiction, if they don't want
to do it, no one will make them. Some of them might consider
whether "being a novelist" is a part of their fantasy
life, like "being a rock star": they can enjoy playing
with the idea, but they really don't want to do the grueling
work of seriously trying for it. At least in fiction they don't
have to put a band together. (Imagine: "You play plot, you
play pacing, you do world-building, you play characterization,
and I play dialog.") Since this is creative art rather than
performing art, there aren't rehearsals. But unless writers get
a support group, they don't have the morale advantage of a shared
dream that a band has. They work all alone, for hundreds of hours,
trying to get their first paying gig, their first professional
People who answered B to #5 will get the most
help from a blitzing group. They do it with their friends, they
cheer each other on, it keeps them rolling. Otherwise, they could
half-finish a novel, put it aside for the holiday family hecticness,
and not come back to it for two years.
However, those who answer C will get a lot
out of blitzing. That public accountability can drive them to
new heights. That's why I loved blitz-drafting groups: they let
me make use of my personality buttons to get more work done.
Push the one about falling short in public, and I'll type until
my fingers ache if it's not thoroughly unreasonable. (Did I mention
the workaholic streak?)
So assess yourself and decide if you'd like
to give it a try. I highly recommend BIW,
because there is a blitz the first full week of every month.
It's not every other month, and it's not when the others vote
it at the last minute ("Rats! I'm tied up then.").
You aren't required to participate in them all to maintain membership:
you do it the months that fit you. It's also one of the most
upbeat batch of writers you could imagine.
If you're put off by too cozy a group, wait
for November, National Novel Writing Month, and join a hundred
thousand other people around the planet trying to knock off a
50,000-word skeleton of a book in thirty days. I'm not kidding
about the membership numbers at NaNoWriMo.
They climb every year. There, your community support comes on
finding a forum thread or twelve where you're comfortable. Do
note that many, if not most of the WriMos are not considering
publication, other than in their blogs. Look for those with ambition,
not the NaNogamers, to help you get a salable book. (Like Water
for Elephants, whose rough was banged out one November.)
I use them both so, if you see me at either
place, wave hi.