How I found the time and inspiration to write and edit 3 drafts in 30 days
It shouldn’t be a mystery that good ideas can pop up anytime from anything. In my case, it was as simple and sudden as a song. I was listening to Halsey’s latest album at my work desk when the tune of I Hate Everybody rang through my eardrums. The wedding dance-like melody transported my mind to the black-and-white imagery of a circus. Although the message of the song isn’t exactly sentimental (more along the lines of bitter, in fact), the striking beats of the bells still sounded magical. This was only the start of my month-long journey with my first, full-length fantasy novella. It was a unique process, but I’m sure a few of these steps will help you to spark your own plan.
Outline and plan for the right medium
With images of trapeze performances and ballerinas creating light with their hands, I began to outline furiously. But because I also had a screenwriting background, I started to write the novella as a screenplay first. Actually, this novella was originally intended to be a screenplay. Unfortunately, I found myself sixty pages in and not liking how the beats were forming. I felt like there was too much detail that the screenplay couldn’t hold. It was great that I had a plan, but I could have saved more time if I began the prose earlier. Though in a way, the screenplay was immensely helpful in helping for finishing the outline. At least I went into the novella with more than enough structure to start. I don’t recommend this to everyone as a regular outline should be more than enough. You’ll be amending it anyway, so it’s best to get it all down, but more about that later.
Get it all out in draft one
If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to edit as you go. Don’t do this! It’s better to get all of the overflows from your outline onto paper, no matter how messy. You’ll be caught up overthinking the process if you pause to correct it. So apart from simple grammar and dialogue fixes, don’t stop. Odds are, your final draft won’t look anything like this first one anyway. Unless you’re absolutely perfect, you’re going to need at least one or two more drafts. No writer is perfect, and even the most accomplished writes more than one.
Create another outline halfway through
Whether I’m writing a screenplay or prose, I always, always, always, plan for a second outline halfway through the draft. This is because my initial ideas usually begin to take on a life of their own about halfway through the story. This encourages me to develop the narrative, as Joh Truby says, more organically. Don’t attempt to choke out the story or characters in a rigid outline. With the structure in mind, go with the flow and be open to new developments.
Be careful not to oversaturate the plot
By the end of the month, I had a final draft that contained the same essence as my first draft, though several characters and subplots had changed. What I learned from this experience is that it’s super easy to overload the first draft. I had too many plot lines, unnecessary characters, and a few loose ends that didn’t make any sense. It might go without saying that this is inevitable when you’ve chosen to get everything out on the page. That’s fine, just as long as you do some serious cleanup with the edits before finalizing.
The best part of this experience is that I now have more confidence in working on my first novel. For the past ten years or so, I’ve started and stopped several novels due to technical issues, poor outlining, or writing myself into a corner. In my personal opinion, every writer should practice writing a novella before trying to complete their first novel. Of course, everyone is different, but a novella is a great way to prove to yourself that you can finish a full draft of a “mini-.” It gave me newfound confidence and encouraged me to keep the pages going one by one. In addition, if you’ve ever thought about screenwriting, do it. It’s a great way to help your brevity and will train your brain to think with an editor’s eye. Good luck and happy writing!
Every Aspiring Novelist Should Write a Novella First was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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Author: A.M. Cal