Mini Experiment: Fast Drafting

Today I intend to bite the bullet, take the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle, swallow the pill, and all the other other cliches that mean I ‘m going to stop moaning and making excuses and just do this. And by this, I mean (cue ominous music and peals of thunder) Fast-drafting.

What is fast-drafting?

“Fast-drafting is quite literally the process of writing the first draft of your novel (or short story, novella, etc.) as quickly as possible. No hesitation, no excuses, no editing-as-you-go.”  storied.com/blog/fast-drafting

Image by meminsito from Pixabay

No editing as you go? Is such a thing even possible? Well, gentle readers, I am about to find out. I have come to this sorry state because progress on my current manuscript has slowed to a miserly trickle instead of the gushing torrent I’d expected as I neared the end.

Seriously, after more than 100,00 words of my first draft of Skalsinger, I was hoping for a quick dash to the finish, something like this:

Image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay

And instead, for two weeks, I’ve been getting this:

Image by Marlon Ferrer from Pixabay

And I’m tired of it. It’s time for some drastic action. So, as much as the whole idea of fast-drafting makes my cramped, nitpicking, perfectionist soul cringe and flinch back with a gasp of horror, I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Enough cliches? Fair enough. On with the experiment.

The task:

Begin a fresh scene. Write using Scrivener for 30 minutes, then immediately switch to a pen and notebook for the remaining 30 minutes, so I can compare results between the two drafting methods.

The Rules:

  • Write as fast as possible, with no breaks
  • Ignore the voice that says it’s all rubbish and just carry on
  • Do not use the BACKSPACE or DELETE keys (ouch!)
  • Do not change anything once it’s on the page (double ouch!)
  • Do not use references to check for consistency with the rest of the manuscript
  • Do not make notes as I go about how to improve it later (yes, I do this)
  • Do not stop until the hour is up, no matter what

The Experiment Begins:

So, this is it. I am about to start fast drafting.

For one hour.

Using Forest App, which I’ve just downloaded to my phone.

Here I go. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side.

The results:

First 30 minutes (using Scrivener on my laptop):

I waited until I had the first sentence in my head, then started the timer. The first time I produced a typo, I went to use the backspace key, but just stopped myself in time. This kept happening for a while, but then the impulse faded as I got into the scene. And I really got into it: 759 words in 30 minutes, and I was till typing when the timer went off to switch to the notebook. The last time I churned out 700 words in a single session was three weeks ago, and that took two hours. As for the quality of the words, they are better than I expected. There’s some waffling and repetition, but that’s easy to tidy up later, and there’s some good stuff there, too. I’m more than happy with my progress in the first part of the experiment.

Second thirty minutes (using a notebook and pen):

There was a slight delay when I realised my fountain pen had run out of ink and I couldn’t find a new cartridge, but I grabbed a ballpoint and started in. Immediately, I noticed that my writing was much slower than my typing. I couldn’t get the words onto the paper quickly enough. No typos, though, and only one word scribbled out before I remembered I couldn’t do that. And the words kept flowing. Not only that, but the scene took a sudden new direction that I hadn’t foreseen and am quite excited about. More excited than I’ve been about this draft for quite a while, to be honest. I stopped writing about thirty seconds before the timer went off and left it at that. As I’d already known, I got far fewer words in this session: only 340. But I was writing the whole time, so I know it’s only because typing is faster, and not lack of inspiration.

Oh, and I planted two virtual trees in my forest. Strangely satisfying.

Conclusion:

I know this is only a first attempt, but I have to call it a resounding success. All my fears of fast drafting have disappeared. I wrote 1099 words in 60 minutes, and I’m excited to get back to this scene tomorrow. I call that a win.

I thought my usual editing-as-I-go method was giving me time to think, time I needed, but it wasn’t true. Reading back what I’ve written today, it’s just as good as anything I’ve produced this month (barring quite a few typos, but they’re easily corrected).

I will definitely continue with fast-drafting, but from now on I’ll be sticking with Scrivener and the laptop. Handwriting is just too slow, and now that I see a way to increase my productivity, I don’t want to handicap myself like that.

Fast-drafting rocks, and I like the app, too. Double win.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Have you tried fast-drafting? What methods do you use to write?

Mini Experiment: Two Golden Hours

THE CONCEPT

I don’t know where the original “two golden hours” concept came from, but I first came across it in regard to writing here.
Dr Jane Genovese had been impressed by a seminar called “Turbocharging your writing” run by Hugh Kearns from ithinkwell.com

Hugh then talked about the idea of nailing your feet to the floor to force yourself to write for “Two Golden hours”. He then warned us that during the first 45 minutes of this process, most people experience some level of anxiety and discomfort. It’s common to have thoughts such as “I can’t write this”, “I rather be doing something else” or “This is really hard…”. This is completely normal but often what happens is people think that something is wrong when they experience this anxiety. They think that because they’re finding it hard to write, perhaps they should stop and often that’s exactly what they do. Big mistake. “If you just hang in there, the anxiety will eventually disappear” said Hugh Kearns.

SLOGGING THROUGH THE MUD

At the time I read this, I was faithfully showing up at my desk at 6am each morning, with two hours at my disposal and the manuscript of Skalsinger open on my laptop, but it was like slogging through mud. My word count for the past week had averaged out at:

155 words per hour! 😧

Something needed to change, and drastically, or the final 10% of this first draft would take months to finish.

Enter Two Golden Hours and another writing Mini Experiment.

Hugh Kearn’s rules were simple:

  1. Write early in the day
  2. Use a dedicated place
  3. Close the door
  4. NO internet at all! Pull out the cable if you have to.
  5. Nail your feet to the floor and stay there, no matter how mentally uncomfortable you get
  6. Ignore your inner critic and just get the words down

Simple, but not necessarily easy.

A MODIFICATION

I did modify this experiment by including short breaks. I saw a Twitter post to this effect by Kelly Gardiner and asked her how she broke the time up. She does 25-minute writing sprints followed by 5-minute breaks to stretch, go to the bathroom, walk around, etc. But no internet! This made sense to me. So I had my plan. How did it go?

Minutes 0-25
Task: plotting/planning/making notes/ brainstorming
Notes: I found a plot hole and worked out what needs to happen next
Words added to manuscript: 0

1st break: drank water, stretched

Minutes 30-55
Task: Begin the new scene, which will be mostly dialogue
Notes: after a slow start, the words began flowing quite well, and I was surprised when the timer went off.
Words added to manuscript: 314

2nd break: bathroom break, then sat quietly. Realisation surfaced that the scene needs more conflict; I need to add a third character.

Minutes 60-85
Task: rewrite the scene, adding the third character
Notes: I felt it was working well.
Words added to manuscript: 212

3rd break: walked around the garden. Lots of ideas buzzing around my head, including how to end the scene.

Minutes 90-115
Task: complete the scene
Notes: the words felt like they were coming more slowly, but I pushed and completed the scene almost right on the timer.
Words added to manuscript: 289

CONCLUSION

As I spent the first 25 minutes just planning, I added 815 words to my draft in 75 minutes, equivalent to

652 words per hour!😊

This is a massive improvement on the past week, and suggests this method really works for me.

WHAT NEXT?

  • I’d like to plan ahead next time so I can try actually writing for the whole four sessions and see what that does to my word count.
  • I also think it could be valuable to do some single Golden Hours, just two 25-minute sessions with a break in the middle.
  • The breaks were useful and I would definitely keep them in. They were short enough that I stayed in writing mode, but they gave me enough distance from the task for new ideas to arise.
  • I’m sure that what made the biggest difference was excluding all activity on the internet during this time. Not exactly a surprise, but now I’ve proved what an effect it has on me personally, I know what to do. Can I do it, though? We’ll see…

Have you tried this or any other methods to maximise the productivity of your writing time? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Mini Experiment: Eavesdropping in Cafes

I’ve been hearing quite a bit recently about a technique to help writers improve their ear for dialogue and gather a plethora of shiny new ideas for stories at the same time: eavesdrop on private conversations in public places.

Now, the first thing I want to make clear to you is that this whole idea goes against all my natural instincts. When I’m alone in a public place, I would prefer not to be able to hear other people at all. If there was such a thing as a portable cone of silence, it would be tucked away in my handbag right now. My usual first move when entering a cafe is to look for the table that is as far from the nearest actual human beings as possible. I don’t want my valuable coffee-drinking/reading/ writing/Twittering time interrupted by random bursts of conversation that have nothing to do with me.

However, never let it be said that I am not willing to suffer for my art. And therefore, I embarked upon another Writing Mini-Experiment this week, with the aim of visiting two cafes, listening to as many random conversations as possible and scribbling any interesting bits down. Here are my results.

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Mini Experiment: Early Morning Writing

I am a morning person. I always have been. This doesn’t mean that I leap out of bed with a cry of gladness at the sound of the alarm. Far from it.  But once I’m up, I’m up. And I am more productive in the morning, no doubt about it. My brain works faster and I’m more motivated to get things done. And yet, despite knowing all of this, I have never tried writing when I first get up. Never. Until this week.

It started like this: I noticed the hashtag #5amWritersClub appearing now and again on my Twitter feed. My first reaction was a natural one: “5 am? They have to be kidding.” But it began to intrigue me. Perhaps I could give this a try.

The advantages were obvious:

  1. I would be the only one awake in the house, meaning it would be quiet. And quiet is my favourite soundtrack when I’m writing.
  2. It would be dark outside. No distractions outside the window.
  3. No other chores would be calling to me. Nice.
  4. I could be finished by 7 am and still have the whole day in front of me. Even better.

Unfortunately, the possible disadvantages were just as obvious:

  1. It’s winter here in Australia. 5 am is a cold, dark, unfriendly sort of time. I’m not sure we’d get on with each other.
  2. I’d have to go to bed by 9pm at the latest in order to get enough sleep. I don’t know if I could discipline myself to do that. Even if I did, it would probably take me hours to fall asleep, rendering the whole effort pointless.
  3. Could I write anything good at 5am? Could I even think? Morning person, yes, but still…
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