Five Courses of the Rough Draft: Are You Hungry Yet? A Guest Post by Laura L. Zimmerman

Welcome to summer, dear friends! Are you savoring the return of longer days and sunshine? Today I have a special treat for you – a guest post written by fabulous MG/ YA writer and homeschool mom, Laura L. Zimmerman. And since we’ve been working in this series on putting together all the pieces to write a first draft, her post can get us thinking about what’s to come.

So without further ado, here’s Laura:

Rough drafts can be a tricky thing. The process that an author takes might look completely opposite from that of another author. We each have our own style, techniques, and rhythm we abide by, even if we aren’t aware of the specifics.

For a time, I felt pressure to write my manuscripts the same way as other authors—and within the same time frame. A favorite author of mine claims to write her books in about a month and she consistently does so for her multiple publishers. Another writer friend I spoke to recently said she’s lucky to get one manuscript done in a single year. And I have another associate who is so obsessed with editing as she works, that a single novel will take three to four years to complete.

The more I read about fellow writers, the more I’m convinced there is no cookie cutter way to write a book. Every writer is different, every writing process is different—and these are all good things. (I promise!) Some of the most successful authors publish multiple books a year, but just as many successful authors publish only one per year or every few years. The fact is, there is no rule that says a writer must produce a certain amount of work in a certain time frame to be a success.

You’ve been called to write. That’s what you need to do.

Here is the process I take when writing my own rough drafts:

The Hunger: This usually happens when I’m smack dab in the middle of writing another novel. (Oops!) This can be problematic since I should be writing one story but can’t stop thinking of another. It helps if I write a short outline of what’s floating around my head so I can walk away from it until I’m ready to give it my full attention. A lot of my ideas come from dreams, conversations with friends, or even a message preached in church. But once I get the basic idea it must “simmer” for a while before I can even begin to allow it to take shape. This can take anywhere from a week to a few months. I think on the characters, the setting, a few scenes that might be key to the story—but no real plotting comes yet.

The Appetizer: Once I’m ready to begin, I’ll begin by writing a scene. It can be from anywhere in the timeline of the story and may not even end up in the final draft. But I write something—anything—to get the juices flowing. I don’t know the characters yet so it’s important to allow them to “shine”, to take the lead and “show” me who they are and what they want. Often, the plot will change from my original vision just from writing a few scenes and seeing where the characters take it. The story might end up being something very different than what I thought it would be but I go with it. I’ve found I have less writer’s block when I go with the flow and don’t force my brain to adhere to my original idea, which is always a win-win.

The Meat: Now I’m fully in. This is where I might turn back to that basic outline and add new things I don’t want to forget. I might need to take a few days to research pertinent information before I can continue writing, too. But I still allow the characters to “speak” to me. I consider the next scene to write with some vague idea of where it’s headed but I try not to commit fully. As the dialogue is exchanged, a more important issue might present itself that must be taken care of before the plot can move forward. Or the character just might have a brilliant revelation I hadn’t considered and I realize that direction is much better than what I had planned before getting to know the character. By the end of this process, I fully establish the plot and will go back to write in missing chapters that I skipped during the Appetizer stage. 

The Dessert: This is the part where my brain won’t. shut. down. (Literally.) I ignore things like sleep, laundry and my family. (Mac N Cheese every night for supper is acceptable, right?) I am now just chapters away from finishing. The end is in sight! I know exactly what will happen next and I just need to let it happen. Here I often skip chapters and bounce back-and-forth near the end, depending on my mood for that day and what I want to write about. Is today a climax kind of day? Or should I focus on the wrap-up in the final pages? This is the most exciting time for me when writing a novel.

Feeling Bloated: I’m done! And here’s where I realize I’m only a small percentage of the way done with this project. (*gulp*) Thoughts of a hundred-and-one different things I’ve missed or various plot holes will suddenly become glaring. I question the consistency of my characters and wonder if I need another conflict or if that will just load the story down. Insecurity sets in and (slight) depression that I now have lots of months of editing ahead of me. But I don’t let myself stop there! Eventually, through each of those edits, I will regain the confidence I once had in my original vision. The story gets kicked into shape and I fall in love with it all over again!

The entire process can vary in length: I’ve written a full-length novel in 3 weeks (I never want to do that again), but I’ve also taken 6 months to bring another to completion. Unlike other authors I’ve spoken with, I don’t seem to have a time frame that is “normal” in which I write. And that’s okay. Because I am unique in my writing.

Again, it’s not about how long it takes to do the actual writing but staying true to that vision and making the story the best that it can be. So don’t get discouraged when you’re halfway through a rough draft and aren’t sure if you can (or want) to finish. Press on to the end!

After all, no one else will write it exactly the way you will. And your story needs to be told. By you.

Laura L Zimmerman

Laura L. Zimmerman resides in Kannapolis, NC and is a homeschooling mom to three beautiful daughters. She is thankful for a supportive husband, who is always quick to encourage her love of singing, reading, and drinking coffee. Laura enjoys writing YA and MG fantasy fiction and hopes to encourage children through her work. You can find out more about Laura at her website and blog www.lauralzimmerman.com, on Twitter @lauralzimm , and on Facebook. Laura is represented by Cyle Young through Hartline Literary Agency.

2 thoughts on “Five Courses of the Rough Draft: Are You Hungry Yet? A Guest Post by Laura L. Zimmerman

  1. Pingback: Guest Blog Post: Five Courses of the Rough Draft | Caffeinated Fiction

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