FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS
Karen Wiesner Answers
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
About the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS Method

30 days recommendation and when to write
Staying focused on your WIP when you have a new story screaming for attention    Chapter/page numbers on fact sheets and timelines
Blog along    Character sketches    Research    The importance of letting a book sit between stages    Exploring all the angles of a story--in your outline!

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20. I'm going to work on outlining four almost-finished stories I have. Do you recommend I take 30 days on each revamp? Also, I work full-time outside of my writing. Should I allow extra time (say about an extra 2 weeks per book) to make it up? Early mornings and evenings, when I don't always feel like writing, mean less writing time but sometimes (not often) I'm just too tired.

The 30 days specified in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS is merely a guideline, mostly for writers who need a schedule in order to keep themselves disciplined throughout the process. If you have your own internal clock on these things, if you work either faster or slower, you should use that. See further details on this in the introduction of the book.

I also don't recommend writing when you're dead-tired. We have to have a life outside work and writing, don't we? Set your own schedule. Yes, if it's the only time you have to write, take what you can, but remember even one superficial pass of a character sheet is progress. Challenge yourself, but don't kill yourself.

21. I have four books, all in various stages of completion. I'm itching to get these stories out of the way because I have a new story screaming at me to write it. Any tips for staying focused on the WIP when this happens?

Boy, have I had this happen to me! My suggestion: If you haven't already started a story folder for this new story screaming to be worked on, create one now. Then take a weekend and write as many notes (free-form--let your imagination take you where it will) as you have for the story. Chapter 1 in FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS goes over this. I'd also print a character worksheet for each main character and maybe the setting and plot worksheets as well. Stick those into the story folder, too. Writing those notes on the story will probably be enough to purge it and keep the story from screaming for attention until a later, more opportune time. But, if you have some time on a weekend here and there, and you have more ideas on the historical, write notes in long-hand. Typing them later, when you're actually going to work on that outline, will firmly put the ideas into your mind, where you can move it around with your other story pieces and figure out where it belongs. Maybe fill out the character and other worksheets as far as you can. Just keep tucking this story folder back into your story cupboard after you've "purged." By the time you get to write this story, you'll have so much together, the outline will put itself together.

And it's really the only way to keep yourself sane. I have about 50 stories brewing in my head right now. I need my story folders to keep everything brewing and retained somewhere more permanent than a memory that isn't as good as it used to be.

22. On your fact sheets and timelines (Worksheets 10-14), you have a spot to fill in chapter number or page number. Which numbers are you referring to? From the manuscript? I ask because, although some of my manuscript is written, the majority of it is still in summarized form on Worksheets 5-7.

Okay, this is how I do it:

When I write up my fact sheets and timelines, I start out using the chapter and/or page numbers of my outline--wherever I have a fact or detail specific to my timelines, I'll jot it down on the fact or timeline sheet. This helps me to locate these instances easily while I'm completing my outline, and I can easily compare to make sure I don't have any errors.

Now, while I'm actually in the process of writing this book, I either go over the fact sheets or timelines I used for the outline or I print new ones, and I write down facts and timeline details as I'm working, so I can check the consistency of anything very easily while I'm writing the book. So, let's say I have a timeline that says the heroine was 13 when she was kidnapped, right? I'll put this fact on my timeline, as well as the chapter and/or page number, after the pages are printed for that day. Two weeks later, when I'm wondering about the age of the heroine when she was kidnapped in a scene much later, I can easily look at my timeline and find out the answer, and I can also double-check on the actual pages the information is contained elsewhere in the book that I'm being consistent.

Once your book is fully revised, I highly recommend that you go through it once more and update your chapter and page numbers for fact and timeline details. I can't tell you how many times I've been in the revision process with my editor, and she'll make a comment about the possibility of some timeline or fact inconsistency within the book. Then I can go back and easily verify in every location where I've mention this particular fact that it's correct in every place I mentioned it within the book. Believe me, you'll save yourself so much time and work by doing it this way this instead of trying to read the whole book to find out where you might be off.

All of this is so important especially if you're writing a mystery or suspense novel, where these details can change everything--certainly will change everything if they're not correct.

23. I'd like to see the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method in action. Any suggestions?

Sure thing! First, be sure to visit the FIRST DRAFT bonus website, where you'll see all the steps in the FIRST DRAFT method performed using my novel SWEET DREAMS.

You can also blog along with these writers currently using the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS METHOD:

Kathy Elkins McGee: http://www.kathyelkinsmcgee.blogspot.com/
Kerri Woodrow: http://kerrywoodrow.blogspot.com/
Michelle Norton: http://fnproductions.net
Kelly Boyce: http://lochbriar.blogspot.com
Stephen Quentin: http://viroconium.blogspot.com/
J.L. Baum: http://thiswriterscoffeebreak.bravehost.com/
Diana Lesire Brandmeyer: http://dianabrandmeyer.blogspot.com/
Tammy Cravit: http://blog.wordsofwonder.net/fd30/
Teresa's From the Heart Journal: http://teresainga.bravejournal.com
Lynn Wood: http://writingroad.blogspot.com/
Lady Tess: http://ladytess.blogspot.com
Shari Haynes: http://sherihaynes.bravewriting.com/entry/9316
Florence Cardinal: http://www.florencecardinal.com/Blog.html
Jeri Smith-Ready: http://www.jerismithready.com/blog/
David Richardson: http://www.creativeword.co.uk

Interested in joining a group of authors using the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method? Visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fdI30d/ for more information!

If you're blogging your progress using the 30-day method, send me your name and a link to your blog, and I'll include it here!

24. Concerning character lists, how deep into our character lists should we go when making character sketches? If we have some blanks on the forms should we keep forging ahead or hold until we figure out what to put there? I've noticed that one common "blank" on my character sketch sheets is for mannerisms and character tags. Do you have any suggestions for brainstorming those?

First off, how you handle your character sketches and any of the pre-writing described in Chapter Two of FIRST DRAFT will be very unique to your own writing style. You may have use this method for several projects before you come up with what works best for you. For myself, I've found a couple of truths hold true for each of my character sketches and pre-writing for projects, and I'll share those below in response to your first question.

1) If the book is one I know well because I've either brainstormed tremendously on it or I've written a draft or more of it before, and therefore the outlining is going to be a piece of cake, my character sketches do seem to be more sparse. Sometimes I only end up with a page or two for them total. The characterization comes much more from outlining the actual scenes because I know the characters pretty well, and the sketches would be almost like unnecessary reiteration. On projects where the opposite is true (in other words, the outline is coming harder because a lot of the story ideas are sparse in my mind), my character sketches seems to be much more in-depth to counterbalance that. They may be quite a few pages by the time I get done going over them.

2) I have to admit, I've always distrusted character sheets though I use them now simply because characterization is hands-down the most important part of every story and I really can't chance on coming up short there. Too many character sheets get into areas of a character that just plain don't matter or really kind of distract from the main points. If you find yourself feeling distracting from learning more about your character when you fill out the character sketch, skip those areas. I've learned that a character sketch is really just a place to get your characters going. Sometimes I have a lot of blanks on my character sketches. Occasionally I'll come back later in my outlining and fill in the blanks when I know more about the character and the story. Most of the time I don't. I prefer to sketch my characters within the outline, in due course from start to finish. It just comes easier for me that way. If a new mannerism or some other aspect of the character's personality or history is revealed to me as I'm outlining the story, it's just so easy to go back and drop that aspect or hints of it into the outline in earlier scenes. Some might find the opposite is true, and it's harder for them to outline if they haven't completely filled out the character sketches. You'll find out through trial and error what works best for you and/or a particular project. For now, leave the areas you don't know yet blank and come back to them later if you feel the need.

3) I've also learned from writing quite a number of books that no two projects are the same, and my writing style evolves continuously. I've never written a book the same way twice, though I do use similar strategies (the FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS method obviously) for each one. Sometimes things are hard, sometimes they're easier, regardless of whether I use a full outline (many times, I don't outline novellas, or only partially outline them before writing) and/or a lot or a little pre-writing for the preliminary outline. While some of the ways my writing style have evolved over time are not so good (laziness has been a problem for me since FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS was published--must be the rebel muse in me or something ), I think it's really important for your growth as a writer to continue evolving. For that reason, you may find that you're doing more preliminary outlining discussing in Chapter Two, or you may find you're doing much less because the outline becomes so much more the focal point than the pre-writing.

4) The pre-writing in Chapter Two of FIRST DRAFT--including character, setting and plot sketches, summaries of the beginning, middle and end--is really designed to get writers thinking about areas that they've always seen as part of the whole, but never separately before. In the beginning, I needed to perform all of those steps as I learned how to sufficiently develop each aspect of a book. But I've now worked with this method so often on so many different books that a lot of it has become instinct for me. I understand the importance of solid characterization now whereas I really was flying blind in the beginning. I understand now how well-placed descriptions can really enhance all the other parts of a book. I understand plot as separate from the romance relationship, which was something that was so hard for me when I could only write romance novels with little conflict outside of character growth development. Because so much of this has become instinctive for me, I really don't formally complete setting sketches or plot sketches anymore. I do those things within the framework of my research and then the formal outlining. The same goes for the summary outline, miscellaneous scene notes and closing scene notes. I do these things within the framework of the formatted outline. What you really want to do with the pre-writing is use it as much as you need to until each aspect becomes instinctive for you and you're able to perform the steps within the formal outlining. That's your goal with the FIRST DRAFT method.

If we have some blanks on the forms should we keep forging ahead or hold until we figure out what to put there? Always forge ahead. Don't stop for any particular step in the pre-writing and if you use the story evolution worksheet--yes, I did say "if" because the story evolution worksheet is not required unless you have problems and/or find it helpful to use early on--except research (which we'll talk about later today). Even when you're forging ahead, part of that will be backtracking because it will help you push forward in your outlining.

I love mannerisms and character tags and traits that really define and produce such colorful characters. Not all characters need or should have them, but some really do seem to require them. My suggestion is to use them for the characters that will allow you the most mileage. In other words, if you really want a character to stand out or you want to call special attention to something about them that's really going to play a big part of his development or the plot later, incorporating hints of the mannerism early on will be invaluable. Start thinking about those things early on, even if you can't come up with something to fill in the blank on the character sketch.

To give you some suggestions on ways to use these things, in my release, WAYWARD ANGELS, the heroine has many strange traits that at first just seem off-the wall. She's forgetful and impulsive (in her first POV scene, she doesn't get fully dressed before running off to an interview); she has a cute, strange habit of making the animals she meets through the book have their own personalities and backstories (so she doesn't have to talk about her own); and she's living with her father at the age of 31 though she seems to resent this fact. These are just some of her many mannerisms and traits that hint at something deeper than what you see on the surface for part of the book. In this case, the reader eventually learns (long before the hero) that's she's bipolar and some of these things above are indicative of her unwillingness to accept her condition.

In the same book, I wanted to show how the hero has cut out the things in his life that led to his downfall before. Several times, it's mentioned that the only color in his house is black and white (this is true even of the shelter for troubled boys that he runs) and there are absolutely no decorations to be seen. This is something that mirrors a sort of black and white fear in his life. A fear of letting color back in and the trouble that came with it before.

Less profound are the way a character in one of the Falcon's Bend stories begins to insult another character's lack of femininity whenever he realizes his own reluctant attraction to her. Just in dialogue, I like to give at least one of my main characters a way of thinking or a specific phrase that's unique to him or her and that the reader will recognize as distinctly his or her own.

These are just some ways you can put mannerisms and tags and traits in your story that can really create a deeper meaning or just enhance the reader's feeling of knowing your characters. Sometimes I outline half a story or more before anything like this comes to me, but I find it easy to drop the mannerism or hint of them in when I go over the outline to make sure it's all there and strong enough. Just keep the possibility for them in mind as you go along and try to make them something that's really cohesive with a deeper element of your character's personality or history. Parallel it in a way that doesn't seem like something you just threw in for the hey of it. Your story will be better for it.

25. I have run into one stumbling block in my writing: research. Obviously, with a historical novel, there's going to be a lot of research. My question is, how do you know how much research to do without getting sidetracked? I could easily spend the next year pouring over history books and old maps! I did enough research to get a good feel for the period and area, but I found that I needed to go back and do quite a bit more because my story took an unexpected turn. I'm wondering if I had spent more time doing research up front, I wouldn't have had to stop in the middle of my formal outline and go back to the library. What guidelines do you suggest for doing enough research, but not so much that the project gets bogged down?

I'm not a big fan of doing research, that's definitely true, and so I've worked out some ways over the years to make it much less time-consuming. Much of those ideas you'll find in Chapter Three of FIRST DRAFT. Here are some things that didn't make it into the book, or are expanded from what you'll find there.

First, as far in advance as you possibly can, sit down and make a list of the things you think you might need to research for an upcoming book you plan to outline. If you can, do this for all the upcoming books you have solid ideas for and attach this to the front of your project folders (talked about in Chapter One). Having this is, as I said in the book, like having a prepared grocery list. Far in advance, you can scope out your local library to see what they have that you might need, or, if you decide to purchase the books either used or new, you can start gathering these books in preparation for any free time you might have to do your research. I think it's better to do research over a long period of time, even years. It's also a great idea to consolidate this research in an organized way, in case you can re-use it for another book or books.

So, the first point is you want a list of the research materials you need. Then gather all these materials so when you have free time, you can start reading and identifying the research you need for your book. As I mentioned in FIRST DRAFT, don't make a job out of this research. Just highlight the things you need in the books/materials you use for research. Don't yet start transcribing it in a place where you can consolidate all the research you need in various connected files. Research is a huge job all at once if you not only need to find the research but prepare it. Do it in steps instead over a period of time. Once you get to the research step in the process of outlining a book, the ideal situation is that you've amassed, read and identified most of what you're going to need by highlighting those portions. You can transcribe all this research into one or more documents during the research step of your outline.

To give you an idea how to do this, in one particular police procedural book I outlined with my mystery partner, I needed to do quite a bit of research on bank robberies (examples and the legal aspects), maps, and various other things. I had separate files on my computer for the bank robbery information and the maps. I created separate sections in each of those files so I could group the information in a way that would be easiest for me to use when it came time to outline the book. So, over a period of time prior to outlining this book, I did the reading and identifying of the material. When it came time to do the research step in the outline, I typed up all the stuff I'd read and identified as something I needed to complete the outline. Once I transcribed it all and consolidated it, I printed it and put in a binder with section dividers. While I was outlining, this binder came in handy in so many ways. I imagine you'll do something similar with your historicals. As I said before, this also works great if you ever write a book with some of the same information you researched for this one. You don't have to re-do it, and you should be able to find it easily later if you have it in labeled binders.

In FIRST DRAFT, I talk a lot about writing a novel in stages, which usually goes something like this:

1) brainstorm (preferably for years)
2) research (gathering, reading and identifying)
3) preliminary outline
4) research (transcribing and consolidating)
5) completion of formal outline (your first draft)
6) set the outline aside (preferably for a few months)
7) just prior to writing the book, go over the outline again (this is an excellent time when you've had adequate time away from the outlined story to gain fresh eyes. If you have questions about certain aspects, you will more readily be able to identify what additional research needs to be done)
8) complete a draft (the second, technically)
9) set aside the book (preferably for a few months)
10) revising, editing and polishing
11) send the book out to critique partners for feedback
12 ) set aside the book (preferably for a few weeks)
13) go over the feedback from your critique partners and do the final editing and polishing

In the course of a year, I alternate my time between novels or novellas in the various stages of completion mentioned above, and I can write at least 4 outlines or books per year. 2005 in particular has been very productive for me because I've been able to alternate so effectively between so many different projects. So far, I've written 3 full novels, 4 novellas, 7 proposals, 6 outlines, and will have at least 6 books published by the end of 2005.

Take a look at the 13 stages of writing a novel above. You can really see lots of free time when research can be done on various upcoming projects, can't you? The FIRST DRAFT method is really designed to encourage productivity in this way, so you don't spend a full year researching, outlining, writing, or revising a single novel, but you do that all of that over time, in logical stages.

Outlining in itself will show you areas where you need to do research, but there are various other times during a project that you may realize you need to do additional research. If it's not a huge aspect of your plot but something small, you could do it in-between stages instead of immediately. If it's going to change a lot or everything in your outline, then you really do need to do it as soon as possible. It doesn't make any sense to have to re-write your outline so significantly if you know research could alter it significantly, but if it's a big or small "detail" it is something that can be done in-between the other tasks.

On the whole, in the preliminary stages of your research, try to limit it to what you know you absolutely need, not things you aren't sure about exploring. If you do want to explore, do it well in advance to see if it's something you want for your story. If you find out early enough that it's not right for this particular project, you can abandon the research whenever you want. Once the absolutely necessary research is done, you can usually find time between stages in a novel to explore those maybe items. Take a look at pages 136 and 137 of FIRST DRAFT, then pages 128-131. I talk a bit about how easy it is to incorporate research (whether it's large or small) at whatever stage you're in in the outlining or writing in these sections. Use your day sheet (pages 98-100) to help you know where this research needs to be incorporated in your outline or novel. You'll have to decide what's too much in terms of research, but hopefully this will give you some general guidelines about how to go about it.

26. I used FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS and method a month ago and completely outlined a new story. I've been feeling so unmotivated (and guilty!) since, but after reading your post about setting it aside I realized that's what I've done, and I'm actually supposed to! Wonderful! I'm excited now to pull it all out and look at it with fresh eyes again.

My set-it-aside-between-stages recommendation listed in #25 is really all about getting rid of that lack of motivation (I call it sick to death of a book) for a project. I get to the point where I feel like if I ever have to look at it again, I might scream. Setting it aside between the various stages the project goes through really gives me back my motivation for it (and my love for it!) in spades. I'm always amazed at how much better I can face the project again when I haven't seen it for a month or two. The work becomes easier, too, and that's definite progress.

27. A number of years ago, I learned to plot out a book using index cards and whatnot. This worked great because I tend to be very linear. I haven't been able to extensively pre-write my current WIP. New characters keep showing up, the existing ones do the unexpected, etc. This is fine, it's making the story better, but it's making me just a little crazy. My question: Is this a transition of some kind? Can your method help me focus down more or is focus the problem?

This isn't a strange question, and I believe it's one more authors should be asking. Earlier, I talked about how our writing evolves or goes through transitions. I do believe we all go through a great number of transitions in our writing. That's normal. In most ways, it's very good because it helps us to continue growing and learning better ways so our stories can be stronger. Sometimes it's not so good because we all have a tendency to get caught up in very bad habits that become the norm for us if we don't do anything to prevent it. The best time to break habits is as soon as we realize we're doing them. Easier said than done, I know.

Most writers do start out like this. I call it writing by the seat of your pants. It's how I started, and it was horrendous trying to break out of that. See my answer in #17. One of the biggest parts of streamlining your writing style and trying to find the correct focus that will help you be at the peak of productivity 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 my 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. I've uploaded an article to the FIRST DRAFT website which was originally intended to be the introductory chapter of FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS. The article is called "The Four Myths Your Muse Desperately Wants You to Believe." Mastering your muse if an essential part of becoming productive. Click here to read it: http://www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/muse.pdf.

Now, to continue with answering the question, I don't believe your problem is that you're in a weird transition phase as a writer, or even that you're unable to stay focused. I believe the only problem here (if you've mastered your muse) is that you don't see your outline as a place that you can--and should!--explore new characters, new plot threads, etc. You (and so many writers--you're certainly not alone in this!) need to change your way of looking at an outline. An outline is an absolutely ideal place to explore new characters and new plot threads.

To give you an example, let me tell you about something I just went through. A couple weeks ago, I was working on the outline for Book 5 in my Wounded Warriors Series, UNTIL IT'S GONE. This is actually a book that's been with me for more than ten years. While I've written a couple drafts of it (all before I got into working with outlines), the story is still extremely rough and there were several blind spots for me in it. But I wanted to get going on the outline because the romance relationship and characters, as well as some of the basic plot, were already in my head and I figured I'd work it all out eventually.

I worked over a period of about a week. During that time, I managed to outline the entire book except the very end. I ran into a lot of problems at that point because I was starting to see that I had some possibly extraneous characters who were playing pretty major roles (in one case, I realized I could a use certain character, but I needed to cast him in a whole new role within the story) and my basic plot wasn't working the way I'd hoped it would.

While I was working out the outline during this time, I'd had some vague ideas about different directions I could take with the plot that might make it stronger. After spending a good amount of time brainstorming on how these might work, it became clear that I wouldn't be able to use maybe a dozen, in the end probably two dozen scenes, I'd already outlined. Everything around these scenes was good--the romance relationship and characters were solid--so it wasn't a total loss. The next day, I went in and I deleted the scenes that I knew I wasn't going to be able to use. Took maybe a half hour to delete just those draft of scenes. Then I started laying in my new plot line, deleting a character I knew no longer worked in the story, and setting the groundwork for the new role the other character I mentioned above would be filling. By the end of the day, I pretty much had the outline back to the same point it'd been prior to realizing that my some original ideas weren't work. The next day, I kept going over my outline, filling in the areas that had been fuzzy the day before with new ideas. I kept pushing closer to completing that last 1/4th of the book. If I got stuck again, it was easy enough to delete the scenes I suspected were causing the problems and brainstorm on stronger ideas for them.

Now, after having read this scenario, do you see the huge benefit of exploring new characters and plotlines in an outline rather than writing the book and trying to working these things out at the same time? I lost maybe a day or two backtracking by deleting bad ideas and coming up with new ideas. If I'd skipped the outline and went directly to writing the book, I would have spent at least a month getting 3/4 of a book written and then having to delete over half of it because it wasn't strong enough. I'd have to re-write probably a good portion of it from scratch. Even then, I probably would revise the whole thing multiple times until the book finally came together. If could conceivably take months, maybe even years, to complete a single book working like this. Keep in mind, too, that writers will obsess over every word, every sentence, every paragraph as they're writing a novel. So, not only are they trying to figure the novel out as they write it, they're trying to make it perfect at the same time. Needless to say, this is not very productive.

An outline is a mini version of your book--it contains every single scene your full novel will on a much smaller scale. It's a complete snapshot of your novel. Which means that if you realize halfway through or even all the way through outlining a book that a lot of your ideas for it aren't working, it's just a matter of deleting the offensive scenes and starting again in a new direction. You're talking a change that should take you days instead of months or years to turn around. And most writers aren't going to obsess over what they write in an outline because it's not intended to be wonderful prose. The point of an outline is to set down the basic events that happen from one scene to the next. You can worry about polishing the words when you should--after you've written the book based on a solid outline and, preferably, you've spent enough time away from the story to see it with fresh eyes. This is productivity in the ideal, but it's within every writer's grasp if we can change our rigid ideas of what an outline is or can be.

Use your outline to explore any angle you want. If new characters crop up, wonderful! Include them. If they're not right for the story, getting rid of them won't take you much time at all. Explore a new plot thread--follow wherever it takes you. If it's a logical thread, keep it! If it's not, delete it. You'll only lose a little time, and your story will be stronger for it.

Will FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS help you to stay focused? Definitely! When you start with all the necessities of pre-writing, then more into writing a formal outline, you set yourself up to be focused on the things that matter in your novel. By the time you complete all the steps in the method, you should end up with an absolutely solid outline of your story, scene by scene--one in which you've explored every avenue and come out with only those that work logically and flow with the premise and characters in your story. You never rewrite hundreds of pages, cut them, start again somewhere else, and keep doing this until you finally figure the thing out.

A couple of hints about staying focused and solid plotting:

It's always an excellent idea to take your basic plot or one or more of your plot threads and follow it through from start to finish outside the context of your story, followed by inside the context of your story. In other words, lay out any of your plot threads that you're not sure is strong enough in one place outside of your outline (I cut and paste it into a separate file on my computer). As you go over the plot thread outside the contest of your story, ask yourself these questions: Is it logical from start to finish? Does it flow naturally? Is the pacing on-target? Did you drop enough foreshadowing or hints or intrigue about it throughout the story? Do you have any questions about aspects of it because it doesn't make sense in places? Work out the kinks of that plotline outside the story, then go back to the outline and smooth that plot thread out with the rest of the scenes around it. Focus on each plot thread individually. You can do that even with characters and the role you've designed them to fill. Follow that character from start to finish and ask yourself questions about him or her: Is she consistent in her reactions? Do her personality traits fit the role you want her to fill in the story? Is she growing? Is she likable and/or interesting? Is she necessary in the story, or could she easily be cut from it without changing much of anything else? I strongly urge everyone to read Chapter Six of FIRST DRAFT because you'll really begin to see your threads in context within and without your story, and that helps to make stronger novels.

To go along with the tip above, take a look at Chapter Five, page 98 of FIRST DRAFT. This section covers the creation of a day sheet, which is so invaluable at many critical points in the process of outlining and writing your book.

Take a look at Chapter Five, page 96 of FIRST DRAFT. 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.

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. Early this year, I'd been working with a preliminary outline which I converted into a formal outline, then I set the finished outline aside for a couple months before writing the book...and I started to feel like I'd gotten into a rut. The finished product is always quality, but the process I'd been using left me bored out of my skull. I wrote about a dozen novellas without outlining much or at all. My enthusiasm came back in spades, and I was able to go back to outlining after that. Try mixing it up and doing the opposite if you have a hard time staying focused.

If you've done many of these things and nothing seems to be working to keep you focused, you might want to consider setting the project aside for a couple weeks. A couple months is even better. Keep the story in the back of your mind as much as you can, because your "creative coffeepot" is capable of the most amazing things if you set it to brew on a low flame for a good amount of time. I've set aside outlines that didn't quite work many times before, and by the time I return to them I'm bursting with new ways to fix the problems. See #25 for more information about taking a break during stages in your projects.

FAQs Page 4!
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