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Okay, now, first take into account that everyone’s first drafts are different. To some people, your first draft is about getting it as close to final draft as possible which means you will have to fill in all the white space (background, decorations, etc), characterization, plot, etc, so that you pretty much just run spell check afterward. To others, a first draft is a great big pile of steaming crap that needs to get sorted out, baked, polished and finally put on display. You need to give yourself a baseline of what you will accept as your first draft.

My approach to free writing is doing something in the middle.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s crap all right–which is just fine, because most of the time, we’re still figuring out our chars and our plot while we write, or the chars make us change direction and we follow along–, but I make a point to include what my scene needs to give it some bones.

• Dialogue (don’t think speaker tags unless someone is talking as they move.)

• Character names (and if you don’t know them yet, just put in a fake one, change it later.)

• Basic personality clues & physical description (what do they look like? Are they funny? Quirks?)

• Basic reasoning for motivation (ie: why is char going to visit his ex girlfriend?)

• Basic plot motion (He wants this. He can’t have it. What is his plan? How is he going about it?)

When I say free write, to me that amounts to not worrying if it’s spelled right. Did I capitalize at the top of the sentence? No, well, I’m not hitting back space or using my mouse to correct it now. Will do it in edits. When you mention that it takes just as much time to go through as getting it right as of now, that’s both true and untrue.

True: Yes, it can take the same amount of time to have a submitted project by doing the correctived edits at the end instead of while you write. However, the putpose of free writng isn’t to get you a faster, submittable book. It’s to get you a complete story faster or just to stop the hang ups and shotgun yourself forward. A big problem for a lot of us is getting caught at the fixes. I MUST fix this or I can’t go on. So you never go on. Or if you do, you’re so worried about what you might have missed, you can’t see where you’re going. With free writing, you get the ideas down, and once it’s done, you can clean up the story.

Plus, and this is a great benefit, some days, no matter what you do, you will not be able to come up with somethng to write. BUT, it’s important to maintain your writing schedule. Any work you put towards your book is writing time. So, if you get stuck, you can reread and take care of those typos as you do. This is not editing, it’s going back a step to see if you made a wrong turn anywhere. You might see it and be able to start writing. Otherwise, you have no reason to go back at all and your fear might trip you up. Or something you might have otherwise deleted as irrelevant can be used later in your book to jump start you again. Don’t be afraid of writing crap. It’s great fertilizer. 🙂

Untrue: A lot of writing is about setting up habits. The same way our parents trained us to go to the bathroom before getting in the car is the way you train yourself with good writing habits. You write every day that you schedule yourself to write. I write Monday thru Friday, for two hours minimum, preferably from seven-thirty am to nine-thirty am—with exceptions only if I’m dying or the kid is sick. Even then, I’d prolly still be mentally plotting. It’s a discipline.

Then, and you probably do this already, you set up habits as you write, I will capitalize the first word of a sentence. I will use quotation marks for dialogue. I will hit “return” every time there’s a new speaker. Well, just keep adding to train yourself. I will make an effort not to use the same word twice on a page, or just try not to use it after I’ve used it once, so I don’t have to keep track. I will be aware of how many times I have speakers use each other’s names in dialogue.

So, using that method, you’ll just keep adding things that you want in your writing. “I will use em-dashes instead of commas wherever they apply. I will show character reaction to dialogue in the strictest sense and move on. I will explain both characters GMCs in Chapter One…”

The more you program yourself to this, the less effort or thought you actually put into making yourself do it. It’ll just happen. Like having to go to the bathroom before you leave the house. 😉 The nice thing is, the more trained you get at it, the faster you get through the first draft. And the faster you do that, the faster you can get to the editing, then the polishing and finally the submitting. 😉 So in the end, free writing CAN save you time.

Of course, this won’t work for everyone. It’s just what finally worked for me. My last book I spent more time on than any book in years. It was officially my tenth book, but for all that experience, I was still falling apart all over it. Finally, I made myself get a grip. I spent six months on the first four chapters, writing, rewriting, ripping, rewriting…throw in a few death threats and a lot of hair loss and you get where I was. I started this process, averaged ten pages a day and finished the rough draft in about three weeks–that’s six chapters in three weeks. Sure, I spent another month and a half polishing, but that’s still more than half the book, plus complete edits, in half the time I took on the front third of the book. It might not work for all, but hey, it’s worth a shot. 😉

For that example now, I wrote this story for my eHQ.com buddies who posted in Alternate Realities on my board. I’d foolishly made a bet and had to make good by posting a new story segment every time another member posted hers. It was a Write-Off (it SHOULD have been a good bet, she posted once every three months!). I had to write a new segment every single day, lol, so I used free writing AND still worked on my submittable book.

From “A Wedding Story”:

“I hate you. You are the reason fungus exists. You are the slime that grows in swamps that even acid can’t break down-”

“How long do you plan to keep this up, Rhubarb?”


“Because I was going to hail down a bottle of beer and I figured you might get thirsty having your mouth open so much.”

“Make it a white wine and I’ll keep it short.”

“No, you won’t, but it might slow you down. Be right back. How he managed to get such a lanky body out of a chair that gracefully would always be a mystery to her. The man was one length of something connected to another length. And that tux should be illegal. Or at least have some sort of warning on it. Caution: long exposure can cause blindness.

Or stupidity.

Ruth Anne looked to the faces across from her on the round table. Three girls, three boys. Alternating. The girls were all trying to make eye contact in some way or another. The boys were taking gleeful pleasure in stopping them. Until Bobby left. Now all eyes were on Ruth Anne.

For the first time ever, she couldn’t wait to come back.

You can see where it’s going and you can even see where the writer should or WILL fill stuff in, layer it and give it resonance. Right here, it’s bones. But hopefully, meaty bones.

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