Karen Wiesner Answers
About the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS Method

Is an outline a novel    Half the time to write a novel    Problems with the book    Hours write per day    Obsessing over sentences    Defective copies
30-day schedule    Re-outlining a story    Story evolution worksheet    Electronic copies of worksheets/Upcoming workshops

FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS Bonus Website

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1. Is my outline, created using the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method, a novel?

No, not in terms of the standard definition of a novel. Your first draft is in outline form, not yet a fully realized manuscript. The first time you sit down to begin the actual writing process, you will create your second—and in some cases, final—draft. (I also call this your first full draft.) The outline isn’t something you could show an editor or agent, even if you’ve been working with them for years. Unless you have critique partners who are willing read something so rough, even they may have trouble seeing your vision as clearly as you will when your outline is complete. An outline won't contain the polished prose that a novel will, but it is the complete framework of your novel, and that's why it's so invaluable to start with one. Polished prose comes in the actual writing.

So, yes, your outline is the full concept of your novel, scene by scene, but, no, it’s not a novel since in most cases it’s written in a getting-down-the-basics way—-it’s not written in the same manner a novel is.

For instance, while a written novel may read:

She could feel him all around her, a prison impossible to escape. And she had tried to escape. He'd been here from the first time she met him. He'd never left. No matter where she tried to hide, she couldn't conceal herself from him. She couldn't wash away the dirty feeling or purge it with prayers.

As she acknowledged each time the darkness descended, she acknowledged the truth now: God had abandoned her. Abandoned her to this creature. This demon. This lover who breathed his magic, stole her senses, came inside her and seduced her into his perfect embrace.

I'm coming, my love. I'm coming...

You outline will mostly like read only this:

Sevil warns Maddie through their telepathic connection that he's coming for her.

As you can see, an outline and a novel are completely different methods of writing.

2. Can using the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method actually cut the time it takes me to complete a project in half?

When it comes to how long it takes to finish a final draft using a complete outline as a guide, we’re in an area that’s completely individual. Each writer is different and works at different speeds. A bigger book will certainly take longer to write. However, a more complex story shouldn’t impact the length of time it takes to write. You should have worked out the kinks of the story while you were outlining; therefore, while you’re writing each day, the complexity of the story won’t hold you back at all. The method contained in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, combined with the goal setting suggestions, should certainly cut the time it usually takes you to complete a project from outline to final draft in half—at least.

To give you some idea of the difference in writing time before and after I started using this method, take a look at these estimates:

Before I started using this method, I could write a full draft of a novel in about two to three months, not counting all the time that I lost inspiration, set the book aside, started a new one, and eventually came back to it. But remember that early in my writing, I required twelve drafts per book to get something halfway decent. Later, by using my earlier drafts but not yet using an outline, I got that number down to four drafts per book to achieve something I could send to a publisher or agent. Do the math yourself: When I needed twelve drafts per book, it took me two years or more to complete one novel. When I needed four drafts per book, it took eight months to complete a novel. I wasn’t published during this time, so though I could finish about one and a half books per year at the four-drafts-per-book stage, I had no actual releases.

Since I’ve been using a full outline and this method for achieving it, the most it takes me to complete an outline of a book—regardless of its length—is two to three weeks. In order to complete a first draft (which is the final draft) of a book is one to three months. I’m now able to have multiple releases each year since I’m published.

Depending on your publisher’s schedule, an author who can write about three novels a year in a single genre will have at least two novels a year released in that genre if she’s working at least one book ahead of those releases. If you’re able to get your schedule in line and can work more than one book ahead of your releases,...well, the sky is the limit!

3. Any problems I should know about the book?

FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS was a complicated book to put together, there's no doubt about that (although I think the method contained in it is very easy to use, and certainly gets easier with frequent use). I also had the most incredible editors, especially Kelly Nickell who had such a clear vision of this method from the start and all the way through the process of putting the book together. However, some of the things you might be confused by and need to be aware of because a few boo-boos showed up unwittingly in the published book if you've purchased a first edition copy (these problems were corrected in second and later editions):

Page 7, first paragraph, under the heading IMPROVING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY, 3rd and 4th sentence:

It says:

“A more complex book will certainly take longer to write. However, a longer story won’t increase your writing time because you will work out the kinks of a story while outlining.”


A more complex outline will take longer to write. Length of story won’t increase the time it takes to write an outline. Accordingly, a complex book won’t take longer to write, since the kinks were worked out while outlining. It may take longer to write a long book, based on a long outline. (see notes for FAQ #2)

What the book should read is:

“A longer book will certainly take longer to write. However, a more complex story won’t increase your writing time because you will work out the kinks of a story while outlining.”

* * *

Page 137, very last paragraph that starts with “To avoid writer’s block…”, 2nd sentence:

It says:

“(Remember, if you want to write more than one scene per day, there’s no harm in that.)”

You really need to read the paragraph before with the sentence in this paragraph to understand why this inserted remark doesn’t fit with the point I was trying to make. There is harm in writing more than one scene per day if you’re prone to writer’s block or burnout. Why that’s the case is clearly explained elsewhere, but the beginning of this comment confuses things a bit. It should say:

“(Write necessary details for any scenes in your outline; just don’t write the actual scenes.)”

* * *

Page 152, the example (Goal Sheet 4) at the top of the page should look like this:

Date          Scene(s) or Pages to Edit

August 5          80 pages
August 6          80 pages
August 7          80 pages
August 8          80 pages
August 9          80 pages

Please accept my apologies for any confusion or annoyance these problems may have caused. FIRST DRAFT has been reprinted several times now (it's in the third print run as of April 2007), so these problems were all corrected.

4. Karen, I'm wondering how many hours a day you write while converting your extremely detailed outline (as described on your FIRST DRAFT web page) into an actual novel draft?

While writing a book, I write 2 to 3 hours in the morning, five days per week, working from my extremely detailed outline. During that time, I can produce at least 3 chapters in that time. When I'm a deadline, I tend to write for 5 or more hours per day, occasionally also on weekends, and naturally, I can produce 6 or more chapters in that time. It depends how many other things I have to do and how close my next deadline is. In the most general terms, a 90,000 to 100,000-word book will take me about a month and a half to complete if I'm not on a tight deadline, in which case I can finish it in 3 weeks (the outline itself usually takes no more than 2 weeks to a month). I can write a novella in a matter of days. Revision takes less than 2 weeks for a novel, a few days for a novella, and that produces final draft material in almost all cases.

5. As I mentioned to you off-list, Karen, I'm very excited waiting for the copy of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS I ordered. Being a slow writer is the bane of my professional existence. When I first started, as a teenager, I would get "inspired" and bang out a story on the typewriter {this was when dinosaurs walked the Earth, you see : )} as fast as possible, stopping for breaks only when forced to. Now I obsess over every sentence, so that I end up with a very polished first draft -- but a very slow one.

Guess I'm a dinosaur, too. I started out with a typewriter. ; ) You can obsess over every sentence...but only after the full first draft of the novel is written (based on an outline produced as described in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS). I think you'll find that after using the 30-day method once or twice, and starting each project with an outline, you'll obsess considerably less over every sentence. Consider the fact that your first draft of a novel using the 30-day method is actually the outline! I don't know anyone who obsesses over how well written their outline is. The point of an outline is to get the novel out, scene-by-scene, in as much detail as possible. When using your outline to write the book, you will be more careful about how your words work on the page, but I find myself viewing my first actual draft much more leniently. Because I used such a complete outline and worked all the kinks out of the story during the process, I know everything I need is there. I use the first actual draft as a means of just getting the story written. Once that first draft is done, then I worry about the words and go over my manuscript carefully, polishing and layering the depth of details and characterization. But, remember, even that takes me only two weeks to complete, so, because I started with the outline, the work necessary for revision is much less intense. Please remember that you absolutely need to write your first draft without looking back, revising, polishing, obsessing, straight through. I also recommend that you give the book as much shelf-time as possible after you finish writing it (without looking at it at all during this time). By the time you start your revision on the story, you'll be able to see it with fresh eyes. Your story will be that much better for waiting to do anything with it through the process of writing it and putting it on shelf before you revise.

You can really see that the order is changed in this method--and it really makes so much more sense this way. Generally writers start and finish a story off the top of their heads. That first draft is probably not strong enough to be considered a final draft. In fact, it'll probably need to be completely re-written and polished multiple times. Throughout each of these drafts, the author is obsessing over every little word and creating a considerable amount of work for herself--work that doesn't have to be so intensive, time-consuming, or duplicated more than once. With the 30-day method, it's the complete opposite. You don't waste effort or re-do steps. Everything is done once. What you end up with is a polished, clean novel produced in less than half the time (and certainly with a lot less effort) than previously required.

6. The copy of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS that I purchased had some problems. What can I do?

Writer's Digest Books has been made aware that at least one defective copy of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS was purchased--a printing error, not something that happened in-house. These defectives were only in first edition copies of the book (as of April 2007, FIRST DRAFT is in the third print run), so these problems were all corrected. Please accept our apologies for this inconvenience. If you purchase an anomaly such as this defective copy and would like a "perfect" copy (at no cost to you for replacement), please cut and paste the following list into an e-mail, supply the necessary information, and send it to the e-mail address below:

Your name:*
Your physical mailing address:*
Please describe the defect in the copy you purchased:*
Please give specific details on where you purchased your copy (i.e., USA, Writer's Digest Bookstore, Writer's Digest website. If you purchased your copy from a bookstore, please include the full name of the bookstore, as well as the full address--this information is vital):*

*Please be aware that all fields are required in order for you to receive a replacement copy. A replacement will not be shipped if the form isn't completely filled out.

7. As I'm reading FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, I'm finding a lot I can use in my own writing...but the 30 day schedule seems a bit daunting.

The schedules were a great hook that my publisher wanted to use, and I think they work very well for that reason and for the reason that I think all authors could use a challenge. Though the schedules weren't something I originally intended as part of my outlining method, they do give clear direction on what to do and how to progress each day. That said, the 30-day method is very adaptable. My hope is that each author will use it in the way that most benefits him or her. If, after repeated use, you're still finding them far too hard to stick to, set your own schedule accordingly. You might enjoy the challenge though.

8. I was so glad to see the section on re-outlining a work in progress or a manuscript that was done. I had a couple novels rejected by editors and agents, so this might help me figure out how these books can be fixed.

Chapter Eight of FIRST DRAFT should prove invaluable for many authors for just this reason. I've have two instances in my own career of books that absolutely weren't working, and in both cases it was the characterization (though it certainly didn't seem like it at first) that was the core problem. Without characters who are actually breathing (and not doing the walking and talking imitation of it), every story will fall flat.

9. The story evolution worksheet is really intensive! Any tips on using it, outside of what's provided in the chapter devoted to it in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS? Why are items 11 and 12 eliminated after the first run through? This caused me some concern about my story. I wasn't sure how to show some of the sub-plots. Also, I need to go through the example again, but I had trouble outlining the secondary character events and reactions. I think it's because I tried to keep it in sequence, and that might not be necessary in this worksheet. It may be because I already have the story written in a particular order. Thoughts?

The in-depth story evolution worksheet is provided to help you create the framework for the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Read the chapter carefully and make an attempt to use the worksheet to unfurl the steadily evolving plot of your story. If you find that this worksheet is actually doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to do and you stop progressing in the development of your outline because of it, skip the worksheet. As I said in an earlier answer, this chapter and worksheet were intriguing suggestions my publisher made when the book first went into revisions, and I was able to provide something that I think will prove invaluable to many authors. That said, it wasn’t something that I originally intended to be included in the outlining process. I think you will find it enhances the rest of the steps anyway.

If it works for you to use the story evolution worksheet as you plot your novel from start to finish, great. Then it’ll prove to be a valuable tool for you. If it doesn’t work at this early stage in your outlining, try using it later in your project instead. I consider the story evolution worksheet a remedy for when you run into trouble while outlining or after you’ve completed a project that didn’t quite work. This worksheet should help you push forward or to pinpoint exactly where your story problems lie. At that point, it’ll be really helpful. For now, skip it as a step in the outlining process if it’s not helpful here, and try using it later if you run into problems.

Concerning items 11 and 13 on the story evolution worksheet, these two aren't actually "eliminated" per se. They're "fulfilled"...or basically, expanded in a much greater way, in 13-17 as the characters prepare for the showdown with the villain (or whatever your conflict is). So you'll still have those events--they just might be in a different order, and should increase the tension tenfold.

Concerning subplots on the story evolution worksheet, once again gain, don't get caught up here. You might need to move on to the next step. All of this should be worked out in the formal outline. I don't want my explanation here to confuse you more concerning the story evolution worksheet, but don't get caught up in trying to match your story to the worksheet. While it may help you find holes, if you fill out the worksheet and it looks like there are holes in your story but you honestly don't feel there are holes in your story in the areas defined in the worksheet, then don't worry about it. Once your formal outline is complete, you'll be able to see if your story is missing something easier. Writer Stefani Catenzaro says that when converting her evolution sheet into scene capsules, she saw problems right off the bat. Before she did this, her manuscript had many problems, but with this method she's able to worry about the major problems right away and contend with details and dropped threads later. Florence Cardinal adds: "My plot evolution didn't follow exactly what Karen has in her book, but I do have a thorough plot outline of the beginning, the middle and the end, and I can see where my story is going and where it went wrong before."

I consider the story evolution worksheet mainly for problems. If it's not helpful and confuses you, then it's best to save it for a time when you have serious problems in your story and you can't figure out where the problems are coming from. It would be quite amazing if one worksheet could follow every single novel from start to finish, but this one won't in every case.

10. I just got my hands on the book a couple of days ago, Karen, and I'm in love. What I do wish...that I could order a CD with all the forms instead of having to copy or remake them. I know they all existed as forms on your computer...and I know Writer's Digest does CDs with its Writer's Market. Any possibilities there? Also, it occurred to me that you might want to do online workshops...and you could include the forms in the workshop if you don't have copyright or permission conflicts.

FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS was designed so that it would be as functional as possible. The worksheets can easily be duplicated on your own computer--for your own use--if you aren't able to make copies directly from the appendices. Essentially, create a template of the most often used worksheets from FIRST DRAFT, and then cut and paste those into separate documents each time you want to really use them. That way you at least don't have to keep typing them over and over.

View or download five outlining worksheets from FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS

View or download the five outlining worksheets from Appendix E of FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FINISHED NOVEL {A Writer's Guide to Cohesive Story Building}

A PDF download of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS is now available! Visit to order a copy.

As for workshops, check out my appearances here: I may look into doing online workshops at a later time. Participants in online workshops can get the worksheets with the purchase of the book.

FAQs Page 2!
FAQs Page 3!
FAQs Page 4!

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Disclaimer: Everything contained on this page should be construed as advice only. Karen can’t be held accountable for any actions taken or consequences brought about based on this information.

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