Karen Wiesner Answers
About the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS Method

Changing story goals   Reader workshops based on FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS
"Misleading" review of FIRST DRAFT on    What constitutes a first draft
Losing steam after the initial idea peters out/jumping into the writing before the outline is done/writing process growing stale
Importance of a day sheet in visualizing a story from start to finish    Seat-of-the-pants writers
Story threads and length of preliminary outline    Outlining based on a previous draft

FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS Bonus Website

green divider

11. I spent yesterday afternoon with FIRST DRAFT. I love it so far. The only thing that has me worried is that my characters can't achieve their story goal without changing history. The matter is resolved, but not the way they originally wanted. From what I learned with GOALS, MOTIVATION, AND CONFLICT, goals can change, so I wasn't too worried before. Now I'm wondering. Thoughts?

Every book is different. It would be really nice if everything could fit into one definable category (or worksheet, in this case--my Story Evolution Worksheet, if that's what's giving you trouble), but the fact is that not every book can be neatly defined. The Story Evolution Worksheet is just a place to get the basic plot down. Your book might not fit into it nicely, and that doesn't mean your plotting or story goal is off-track. If the story works the way you're putting it down, then go with it. However, I want to make a point here, in case your problem is specifically with your story goal. I don't believe a story goal ever really changes (i.e., does a 180 and completely alters from one theme or conflict to another). Your story goal, all story goals, will evolve in many different directions. Conflicts change course, and therefore so will your story goals and character motivations. A stagnant story goal would be as boring as a character who experiences no growth throughout a novel. It doesn't sound to me like your story goal changes, but more that it evolves, and that's exactly what it should do!

12. I'd love to do a workshop for my local chapter based on the book. Would you object to this?

As long as you state that Karen Wiesner's reference FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS was used in preparing your workshop, I'm all for word of mouth of this sort! On handouts, be sure to include all publisher information contained in the main section of my website. However, be aware of the following stipulations: Credit for the book must be given in any form of writing about the workshop (handouts, websites, course/workshop write-ups). All students participating in the workshop must purchase their own copies of the book--in other words, workshop leaders are not allowed to provide students with photocopies of any material lifted from the book. Links to bonus material (including the worksheets from FIRST DRAFT provided on this website) are permitted, but must not be distributed in any form, including the uploading of said bonus material on any website outside of this one and sending via e-mail or snail mail. Finally, I'd greatly appreciate the inclusion of a link to FIRST DRAFT at Amazon on the handouts. Let me know how your workshop turns out!

13. A reader review, called "Very misleading title", of FIRST DRAFT OF 30 DAYS was recently posted on, covering several negatives about the book. Care to address those negatives?

First of all, I want to state that my purpose in "contending" with this "very misleading" review is not because I can't take the bad with the good--as all authors have to face for each book they write. I don't expect every author to find FIRST DRAFT helpful for them personally. Some authors simply can't work in a way as organized as this method requires. I fully accept that. If they've found something that works for them, I'm happy! However, I am a little worried that the review could be as misleading as it claims my book is, and I'd like to address some of the issues that might be confusing other readers who might otherwise be interested in the book.

First, the author of the review states--as though my intention with the book was to mislead readers into thinking they'll have a completed novel in 30 days--that they'll come out of the 30 days required to complete the process detailed in FIRST DRAFT with nothing more than an outline--not a first draft. The term "first draft" was explained in-depth in the first chapter of the book (and most of the chapters afterward, if they were read thoroughly) as the complete framework of your novel. If a complete framework of the novel isn't the first draft of a novel, I really don't know what is. However, see my points made in FAQ 1 for my clarification on this point. Some of these points were covered briefly in other FAQs on this page, so be sure to read each one if you have any questions, or drop me a note.

Second point, I'm not an author only of "crime/suspense/thriller genres" as the reviewer states. In addition to writing mystery novels with my partner Chris Spindler, I also write heavily (and solo) in the romance genres, include romantic suspense, romantic paranormals, action/adventure romances, mainstream romances, and inspirational fiction. I also write a variety of reference titles, children's books and poetry. I plan to write horror later this year, and I've just completed a contemporary gothic romance. The crime/suspense/thriller worksheets in FIRST DRAFT are included because mystery authors have certain needs that most other genres don't. How often do you have a lot of facts, suspects, timelines, etc. to juggle in some of the more straightforward genres like contemporary romance and coming-of-age novels? Certainly not as often as with crime/suspense/thriller novels. In addition to the crime/suspense/thriller worksheets, FIRST DRAFT also includes other worksheets that will work for any genre. No fiction genre is left out (look carefully--you'll see this is most definitely the case). The huge number of worksheets included in FIRST DRAFT can be used for any genre. I dare say with a little modification, you might even be able to use some of the crime/suspense/thriller worksheets for other genres, as well. The author of the review seemed offended by the fact that I included these crime/suspense/thriller worksheets. It certainly wasn't meant as a slight to other genre authors (considering the fact that I myself write in most genres!), but were included more to provide comprehensive aids for all genres. A friend of mine, inspirational author Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, sent me examples of the worksheets she uses for her inspirational novels. Though most of this information could easily be incorporated directly into your outline, you could also use Diana's worksheet models to aid your progress. You can find her worksheets here: If you have a worksheet you'd like to share with other writers, send me a link and I'll post it here.

Next, the romance thread in the plot sketch is not necessarily optional, as the reviewer states. The plot sketch worksheet includes two ways the romance thread can be used: If the romance is a central portion of the story, then it'll be placed at the top with the story goal since the romance thread and the story goal will be equally important in that particular book. If the romance is just a subplot of the story, then naturally it'll be placed with the other subplot threads instead of as an equal to the story goal.

Finally, this reviewers states that for any author who uses an outline merely as a guideline, this method will mean a lot of "writing before the writing that may not prove productive in the long run."

Letís set forth the usual method used by most writers for getting to a manuscript polished enough to send to an editor: Little or no pre-writing on a novel is done. The author has an ideaó-an idea that may or may not be terribly well-developed in his head. Generally, thereís a lot or a little brainstorming involved in this process. One day the author sits down and writes Chapter One. Now, if this author is a crash-and-burn type who doesnít need to eat, sleep or leave the house, he could conceivably finish this novel in a short amount of timeó-maybe a month or two, possibly less. But, letís face it, most of us do need to eat, sleep, leave the house occasionally, not to mention pay some attention to our family. A draft of a novel will take anywhere from 4 months to a year or more to write. What does this author do now that he has that first draft? Well, now he starts on the hard part of this whole writing process most writers use. He got the easy part of the way and left himself with the torturous work of untangling, sorting out, revising and polishing up these 300 or more pages. Many authors who employ this method of working may need to do multiple drafts or revisions to get to an editor-quality manuscript. Also consider that most authors obsess over every word, before they write it, while they write, and after they write it. Theyíre revising pretty much all of the time! I'd venture a guess that an author like this does 100% more work than he really needs to.

Now, letís look at how the process of writing a novel should be in the ideal: The author has spent a considerable amount of timeó-maybe, hopefully, even yearsó-brainstorming on a particular idea for a story. He may have also written quite a few notes on this idea. Now, itís time put it all together. He starts with the basics of pre-writing (see FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS for specifics on what constitutes a preliminary outline or pre-writing). With these elements, his pre-writing is done. Itís time to put all of that into a formal outline. He writes Chapter One at the top of the page, sets the scene, and writes a draft of what happens in that scene using any of the pre-writing he's already completed. He writes Chapter Two at the top of a new page, sets the scene, and writes a draft of what happens in that scene. Chapter ThreeÖ and so on. He goes as far as he can in the story, working his way chronologically from the beginning of the book to the end. When he can no longer work chronologically, he skips around, working on scenes that will come in at some later point in the book, and so the middle and end of his book begins to gain some structure. As he's working, all his pre-writing elements are getting expanded on considerably, taking on layers of richness, complexity and depth. He keeps working like this until his outline contains every single scene he'll have in his novel. Then he goes back over his outline and fills in the holes, fleshes out the scenes with dialogue, introspection, action, descriptions, appropriate tension in all its wondrous forms. You see, this isnít simply an outline. This is unmistakably the first draft of your novel. This outline is approximately a quarter of the size of the completed novel. An outline like this is includes every single one of the plot threads, unfurled with the correct pacing and the necessary tension from start to finish. All of those plot threads develop and conclude logically. When I write a novel, I never have to face a sagging middle, deflated tension, a poorly constructed plot thread or weak characterization because all those problems are fixed in the outline stage. I revise my outline until itís completely solid. I work out the kinks in my story in the outline stage, and I secure for myself that the writing and revision of my novel will be the easy part of the process. With a situation like this, you do all your hard work first, and you never need to duplicate any part of the process.

This said, the first couple of times you use this method, it may take you much longer than 30 days to complete the outline. It may seem like a lot of work, like this Amazon reviewer imagines. But it will get easier. And eventually it probably will shave off a considerable amount of time from your annual schedule once you get into the 30-day flow of outlining on all of your projects.

Let me conclude this by saying, I'll accept a negative review like this long as the reviewer actually reads my book first and tries the method on his own work at least twice. (grin)

14. I've always considered the first draft a rough draft that I revise over and over after I get the first pass out, usually as fast as I can, with little or no pre-writing, but I know others consider the first draft a painstaking process of developing a story slowly, then going back over it later to revise one or more times. What constitutes a first draft? Can an outline actually be considered a first draft?

This is an extremely interesting question that came to me based on a review I received. Many writers dash off a first draft with little or no thought. The point for them is to get the story out. Other writers take a long time to slowly and steadily develop a story, and during this process, they probably revise quite a bit as they go along. Once that first draft is finally finished, they may revise one or more times, and possibly these revisions are as intense as the first pass.

With the method in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, the completed outline after 30 days would be much more detailed and complete than this first draft that most authors dash off the top of their heads is. In fact, it's probably close to the painstakingly crafted first draft described above, yet it only takes 30 days (possibly less) to complete. The first actual writing of the novel may require only editing and polish to make it publishable.

So which is it? Which one of these options really qualifies as a first draft? Does a first draft that's not terribly well thought out and requires multiple revisions qualify simply because it's the first actual writing of a book? Does an excruciatingly slow process of completing a first draft, followed by multiple revisions, qualify because it requires so much effort? Or does a first draft that's the complete, solid framework of a novel that can be used to write a salable novel the first time qualify?

My personal opinion is that they all quality as a first draft. But the author who dashes a story off without much pre-writing is going to go around and around and around, re-writing their story if or until they actually have something publishable. An author who takes a long time writing a very complete, carefully crafted story during their first draft might be better off in the long run, but, chances are because they didn't start with a full outline, they may end up doing a lot of revision when they're done, regardless of the immense amount of time and effort they've already put into their story. The author who uses a full outline like that described in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS will end up with very close to a first draft with the outline. The second draft--where the book is actually written--may end up, after some editing and polishing, a final draft. That's how it works with my own novels, and I'm convinced I'm not a unique author. What works for me can work for others who like the method I've laid out.

My outlines are first drafts. They contain everything my novel will, including dialogue, descriptions, introspection, action, and even directions for tension. The process of writing an outline can be very much the same as a first draft written with painstaking attention to detail and development. It simply makes the most sense to get it started in an outline instead of waiting for the actual writing of the novel, which will require so many revisions during and after the book is completed. That's reason I wrote FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS and the reason for the built-in flexibility of the method I've set down there--it really does take into account that writers usually have some process of their own for writing a book. If it's one thing I've learned, everyone has their own way of going about the process of writing a book, and, at least for me, I've never written a book the same way twice. Each time is just a little different. But it's very good to start with a roadmap before you jump in. You'll just save yourself so much time and effort doing it in the logical way I described in #13.

15. I tend to start a story really well. I've got a great idea and I jump in without much more than that. Once that initial idea peters out and some sort of roadmap is required, then I seem to lose interest in the story. On other stories, long before I'm done with the outline, I can't wait to get started writing the book, so I jump right in. What can I do in these situations?

Take a look at Chapter 5, page 96 in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS. There's a section called "Outlining and Writing in Tandem." When I first started using an outline (which was NOT natural for me at all), I used this technique to help me get going. Basically, start your outline, get as many chapter drafts written as you can, and if you hit a roadblock, write the first scene outlined in your story. If you can return to the outline, great. If you can't, write the next scene. Doing this helps your mind really focus on your characters and the plot, get to know them better, and it should help your mind to brainstorm enough that you can push forward in the outlining. After you've used this method a few times, you should get the point where you're able to outline straight through without writing a word of the actual novel (which is really your goal), but this might keep you from losing steam. See the section in FIRST DRAFT for more details about this process.

If your outline is flowing, don't break it up by starting the writing. See the outline through. Your first draft actually writing the book will be 100% better and stronger. Only if you lose your enthusiasm for the story or hit a roadblock (can't finish the outline at any point), try the writing and outlining in tandem, always trying to get back to your outlining exclusively. See my reply to #22 for more information.

All this said (this advice isn't from FIRST DRAFT and is given to those who have used the method in FIRST DRAFT quite a few times), if you've written one book after another and you're finding the process stale or declining, I highly recommend that you try the exact opposite method of working than you're currently using. It really will help infuse your writing process with life again. I've been working with a preliminary outline which gets converted into a formal outline, then I set the finished outline aside for a couple months before writing the book...and I feel like I've gotten into a rut. The finished product is always quality, but the process I'm using is leaving me bored out of my skull lately.

16. Having scene capsules on separate pieces of paper makes it hard for me to visualize the story from start to finish, and I can't see any plotting problems in this way.

Chapter 5, page 98 of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS covers the creation of a day sheet, which is so invaluable at many critical points in the process of outlining and writing your book. When I finish an outline, I always create a day sheet for the story, which covers very briefly every scene in the book. You can see right away where the pacing is off, or where there are holes in the story. I've even found extraneous POV character scenes using this. See the section in FIRST DRAFT for more details about this handy, multi-functional worksheet. Writer Marie Benesh offers this tip for handling a last-minute addition to an outline: "Because of the changes I'm making later on, I had references to change and fix, and somewhere along the way, my hero just took off on a scene of his own.... I had to add that into my day sheet and was glad I used Excel for that because the re-numbering was a snap (highlight the above two numbers, then drag to the bottom--all done!). Sometimes I use Word tables, and that wouldn't have worked as well." Thanks, Marie!

17. My seat-of-the-pants method of rewriting wasn't cutting it for many years, so I decided to try getting structured. Using the 30 day method is tough for someone so used to winging it!

To those who are seat-of-the-pantsers, you're really not alone. It's how I started, and it was horrendous trying to break out of that. I didn't have any guidelines for it either. I went from 12 start-to-finish overalls of each story, down to about 4 of those over the course of many, many years. I never sold anything or had much interest from publishers or agents during that time. Then I got pregnant, and not long afterward a publisher offered a contract. (I know the beginning of FIRST DRAFT talks about this briefly, but here's a bigger version that will probably make many of you think you're not so seat-of-the-pants as you originally thought. How can you do much worse than 12 full drafts per book?) My version of an outline before I started a novel was very rudimentary, nothing like you see in FIRST DRAFT--it took me about 2 or 3 years to get to the point of being able to outline a novel from start to finish without writing a word of the actual novel. At first, I had to do the outlining and writing in tandem just to progress the story. But, as this method in FIRST DRAFT developed, I was able to see the whole of the story so much more clearly than ever before. I think part of it was that, when you don't write with an outline, you get very focused on scenes. Specific scenes. When you write with an outline, you're viewing a much bigger picture. It takes time for your methods to adapt to a huge change like this. Remember, I didn't have a guideline. In FIRST DRAFT you now have that guideline, but you're also going to be adapting that to your own methods, so it's going to be that much more easier for you, even if it does take you a couple novels to really get your own strategy down.

One of the biggest parts of streamlining your writing style is really about getting your muse in line. That tussle was the turning point in my own career. Once my muse became my assistant rather than my master, everything about writing and writing career became 100% easier. If you're striving to use an outline, you've already taken your muse by the horns. He or she might not like that and may even make your life misery as you wrestle to align the two of you as a team. Stay focused, though, and pretty soon he'll realize he likes his new role much better.

18. On Worksheet 4, are we supposed to write the definitions after the words? I'm not sure how to fill this out. How many pages is the preliminary outline supposed to be, and how is it different from the worksheets?

Concerning Worksheet 4, no, don't write the definitions of the story threads. Just start working out basic ideas about what you think the story goal for your book is, list some of the subplot threads you have in mind for your story. If you have some ideas about particular scenes with tension, you can write those in the space provided. You might also have some ideas about your black moment and resolution. This is the place to put these things. But it's just to get your mind going on these areas. Truthfully, you might not end up putting something after each word, and that's fine. This worksheet is a way of brainstorming and seeing how much you already have in mind for your story. The majority of your "putting the puzzle pieces in the right order and creating new ones" work will be done with the formal outline.

Length of the preliminary outline really will varies so greatly, depending on how much you've already brainstormed on your story in the past, how many ideas you have about your story. All I can really tell you is that if your story is a really sketchy idea, your preliminary outline will probably be the same way (but it will grow during your formal outlining!). If you have pages and pages of brainstorming notes already written about it, along with dozens of scenes, you may end up with quite a bit. But it actually doesn't matter how long or how short yours is. The steps in this book build on one another, and your outline should grow dramatically through each one.

How is it different from the worksheets? The preliminary outline is really where you're writing down specific ideas (or, in some cases, more general overviews) you have for scenes in your story. Generally, you'll start with what you know about the beginning of the story. Just allow yourself to write these things free-form. Let it come out where and when it wants to, and don't really worry too much about whether it should go in the beginning, middle or end of the book (there are worksheets for all, but I always do this free-form, writing straight through in whatever way it comes to me). You really want to start the ball rolling until it picks up speed and starts adding to itself on the way down. Go as far as you can on that before moving on to the next step. Remember, the preliminary outline is really the place where you're going to be seeing how much of an idea you have. It will grown through the next few steps, dramatically during the formal outlining, but the preliminary outline is so important because you now have pieces of whatever size of your story that you'll be putting together in the right order later.

19. I just couldn't get up the energy to cut and staple all the scenes of my previously drafted novel (described in Chapter Eight) to sort them before I begin outlining the story. Would you normally eliminate that if you already had an outline?

Only if you know something is wrong with your outline would you do the cutting and stapling, and then only if that something is pretty major and runs through the course of your whole story. In Chapter 8 (page 128), there's a section called "Revising an outlined novel without starting from scratch." Use the procedures there to save you the trouble of cutting and stapling if the problem isn't too great. Another author, Teresa Harrison, has suggested using paper clips during this process. Teresa says, "While I divided the scenes, instead of stapling them, I used colored paper clips to denote whose POV the scene was in. Like I used pink for all the scenes in my heroine's POV. So when I look at it, I can easily see if one character has more POV scenes than any other. So far it's also been helping with the scene capsules because I just pull that scene out, and I immediately know whose POV it is." Thanks for the tip, Teresa!

FAQs Page 3!
FAQs Page 4!
Back to FAQs Page 1!

green divider

Do you have a question about the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAY method, or another aspect of writing? Submit your questions here:

Please do not submit any material for critique. It will be deleted without being read.

Disclaimer: Everything contained on this page should be construed as advice only. Karen canít be held accountable for any actions taken or consequences brought about based on this information.

Subscribe to the Karen's Newsletter!
Subscribe to KarensQuill
Powered by

green divider

About the Author

green divider

Jewels of the Quill

Free Monthly Giveaways!

Home button


Button design by Karen Wiesner.

If you experience technical problems with this site, please contact the Webmistress.