Monday, September 9, 2013

Six Reasons to Take Six Weeks Off From Your First Draft

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

My husband loves all things camping and hiking related. Because of that (and because he's good looking and persuasive), I've done more hiking in the last couple years than I have during the rest of my life. And when I feel like I'm making progress toward the top of a mountain or along a trail, I really enjoy hiking. I don't like it so much when the trail turns into scree or rock fragments, when with every step I take, my foot slide back a few inches. That gets discouraging quickly.

And the same goes for when I'm writing. Between my checkout phase in writing the book and getting to type The End, I often feel like I'm scrambling up rock fragments. Some days are great and I feel like I'm making progress. Other days I slide and grow discouraged once again.

Writing the last ten or twenty pages of my book always takes me longer than I want it to. Part of this is probably due to my "plantser" nature. I typically know the gist of how my story will end, but not really how the scenes will play out. I crawl to the finish line, to the rim of the canyon, and I don't get there with poise and grace either. My knees are bloody, and I'm sweaty, but I did it! I finished the book, I typed The End! I made it to the top!

And this is the moment when you realize you're actually standing between two canyons. Yes, you finished hiking that first one (writing the first draft) but blast it - there's another one you have to hike down and up before you can call it done (edits)!

In my younger days, I would immediately print out my manuscript, just so I could feel the girth of my months of work. And then I would start reading it as I ate my celebratory ice cream.

But my joy would, before long, start to nosedive. Gosh, that character was reading flat, wasn't she? Oh, and look at that plot line I foreshadowed in chapter two but never followed through. Whoops, that character is name Amy, but I know in later chapters I was spelling it Amie.

When you finish your first draft, you're (rightfully) very excited. This is a milestone. Grab some ice cream, tell your critique partners, and then give yourself some time off to enjoy it. Stephen King recommends six weeks, and I whole-heartedly agree. Here's why:


1. I need that celebration time. I need to bask in the glow of the finished first draft or else writing starts to feel too much like a job that I'm just grinding my way through. While technically this is a job for me, it's also a passion of mine. I don't want to lose that.

2. I need that rest and recovery time. Typically I've pushed myself hard to get to this point, and I not only need some time to sleep, I need time to catch up on email, reading, laundry, and a number of other things.

3. I need clear vision. Time away from my plot and characters helps me to see them more clearly when I come back. I've tried taking just two or three weeks off and the quality of my editing work just isn't as good.

4. I need to work on that new story idea! When I'm about 2/3 of the way through a book, I often come up with a new story idea. One I'm itching to work on but can't because I have to finish this first draft. My six weeks off is a great chance to indulge in my new idea!

5. I need to lose my emotional attachment. It's a lot harder for me to "throw away" words I wrote just yesterday or last week than it is to chuck words I wrote 6+ weeks ago. I lose my emotional attachment to the words, which means I can make the necessary cuts.

6. I have a chance to ask myself why I wrote this book. And that perspective makes a big difference as I shape the story moving forward.

Six weeks used to feel like agony, so I understand when writers are going crazy trying to hold off on doing their edits. But now I view that time as restful, rejuvenating, and critical to creating a book I'm proud of.

If you've finished a first draft, have you tried taking time off from it? How did it work for you? What do you think you'll do next time?

43 comments:

  1. I've read your book and I've decided not to touch the my newly finished 1st draft. :) And I have a new novel to continue for the rest of the 100/4/100 (thank goodness!);) But now I understand more on why to take that time off. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR EXPLAINING THAT!!!!! And now, I totally agree with you (i just wanted to get it over with! editing etc...) (and btw, the weekend is TOO long!)

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    1. Psshh. I took a YEAR to finish my first draft. :)

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    2. Haha, Connie Jean, that's nothing. :) (I'm not saying anything more than that. . . .)

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  2. For me, six weeks isn't quite long enough, but part of that is I write my first drafts slower than you write yours. (I think you once said they take you no more than 8 weeks. Mine tend to take more like 4 months.) Maybe it's because it takes me so long to write them and I edit a little bit as I go, but I need at least three months off from my story to forget it enough that I re-read it with some distance.
    And I normally write another first draft during the three to four months I take off.

    Thanks for a great post, as usual, Stephanie!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. My first one took longer than 8 weeks AND 4 months! Probably for a few reasons such as...it was my first "serious" one, I had to restart it and spend a good bit of time thinking about plot...

      As for my current one? Well, let's see, I started it in mid-May. It's now September and I'm maybe a quarter to a third of the way in. LOL Not looking so good...

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    2. Yeah, I'm usually able to my drafts in 8-12 weeks. But I haven't written any enormous books yet.

      Stephen King writes short stories during his time off. I'm not a short story writer, but I do try to make progress on another story idea during my break.

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  3. Yes, it does help to lean back and forget about that first draft.

    I had to edit a few pages off one manuscript that I had written 'cause I needed to take it to a writers conference for a critique group. But I haven't really touched that manuscript since than.

    It feels good to not stress over a first draft manuscript for a while.

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  4. Heh. Lessee... I've only finished a handful of first drafts. But I usually take a long time off... With my first one I waited a year. >.< Psh, what? I didn't forget about it... With this last one I finished in Camp Nano April, I waited until like late August to start editing. That may or may not have something to do with the fact that I usually take a while to finish first drafts and I don't like to be editing and writing at the same time. >.< The voices of the different characters gets mixed.

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  5. When I finished my first draft at the end of July, I took off the recommended 6 weeks. I started editing the first of this month and let me say, if I hadn't taken those 6 weeks off there's no way I'd still be working on this WIP. Thanks, Stephanie!

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  6. I haven't done this yet, but I'm planning on it! Thanks! I have a question. Do you literally type the words the end at the end of your WIP? Or just have a ending sentence that says "I'm all done!"

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    1. I literally type the end, but you can type that you're all done if that makes you happier :)

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    2. Okay! :D So it's pretty much preference. :) Thanks, Stephanie.

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  7. Well, I somewhat accidentally took off several months after finishing my WIP in April. I think it both did me good and bad. Good to give me some space and time to write my new story, and bad because I kept putting it off and putting it off and putting it off...I'm finally starting to slowwwwwly work on it, though. Next time I'll give myself a limit for my "time off" ;)

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    1. Oh, that's funny, Amanda. I guess it can be like the check out phase, where you're having so much fun with your rejuvenation that you eventually have to make yourself get back to work :)

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  8. I'm taking the six weeks off happily. I'm not missing my book much right now--I have other things to think about and time away from my book never was that hard (though I love my characters dearly). I think so long working on it got me a little sick of the story. But the other day I had the first pangs of excitement for draft number two, so I'm thinking taking so much time off is a great idea!

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  9. I'm on week 4 of my 6 week break. I took your advice and did this last time I finished a draft, and it was SO worth it...but it's still about to drive me crazy! Haha! I had asked my sister to read over a particular scene for me, but when she asked for it, I realized opening up that document on my computer would be way too tempting for me. She'll be reading it later this month ;) So at the moment I'm recharging: I'm reading and studying up on writing techniques and taking time to write some poetry.

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  10. Fab post! Sharing now. (For the record, I wrote a much longer comment, but I think the blog ate it.)

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  11. About 2/3 through my WIP I got completely sapped and took a several month break from it. Then I finally forced myself to write. I don't have to worry about wanting to keep those last words. I HATE them. It's awful, full of little plot holes, terrible dialog, flat characters.... So I'm not attached to the last third of it at all. Not to mention the first 2/3 isn't anything to crow about either. ;)

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  12. I sort of did this. for the first two weeks or so I kept wanting to open the file back up. Then I completely lost all motivation. It has been almost three months now since I finished the first draft and I cannot get myself to work on it. I've only opened up the file once, and I think I only made things worse...

    So Stephanie, when you go back to edit do you have a list of scenes you already know you want to put in, or do you just read it over and think, "Oh, I could put something there," and then try to come up with something?

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    1. I feel ya, Katelyn. That's what happened to me. -_-

      And good question. I'm now wondering the same thing.

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    2. Sometimes during my break, I'll have thought of a scene or two that I want to add.

      The first thing I do when I open the manuscript after my six week break is read through the story in as few sittings as possible. While I read, I just a few notes for myself about scenes that I think should be added. That's when I get the bulk of my ideas for those.

      Was that helpful?

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  13. I took six weeks off when I finished my first draft, but it was TORTUROUS! For the first three weeks at least, but then the urge to click on the file just slowly...faded...away...

    So now I'm supposed to be editing, but I have so little time these days :( I have my blog and homework and revision and I have to actually read some books in that time too otherwise I'll go INSANE, so my novel has been getting woefully little attention. And that new idea just BEGS that I write it, or at least plot it, but then I feel guilty about abandoning my first baby for the new one. I can't win! :(

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    1. Awww, I know the feeling Hannah. I eventually did abandon my first novel for the new one, but only for the summer. xD Now as I said above, I'm forcing myself to go back to it. And now? It's the new one getting abandoned. *facepalm*

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    2. Lol Amanda. It'll be nice when we can work on this full-time, won't it? No more maths or physics or chemistry...sigh...if only...

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    3. Blech, I'm doing physics this year too. And Algebra, which is both more and less terrifying than I expected if that makes any sense xD

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    4. Lol. I know what you mean. I loathe algebra too -- HOW DARE MATHS DESTROY THE SANCTITY THAT IS THE LETTER? HOW *DARE* THEY?!

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    5. LOL, yes...in some ways I don't mind it as much as I thought I would--I like equations for example (for some strange reason unbeknownst to me xD)--but in others? *shudders*

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  14. Thanks for this post! I so like it... I have a first draft waiting somewhere (let me see this is, er, week three, I guess), and I think it was a good idea to leave it for a while. I'm now working on a totally other project (thanks to 100/4/100 I had to come up with a new idea in two! days. That's not that long, but it worked ;-))But right now, I feel my hands itching a bit to open that document again, although I know there has to be fixed a lot.

    Other question: Is there going to be a new contest somewhere soon, or is it just 100/4/100 (which I like!) the coming months?

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    1. We'd like to have another one, we just need to figure out timing :)

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  15. Those six week vacations are pretty awesome! Rather than committing myself to one big work, I work on whatever the heck I want to! Short stories! Novellas! Plotting! Writing random scenes! Fantasizing about the next big project! And of course, sleeping! (And dedicating some time to all my other neglected passions.)

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  16. I always take 6 weeks off now! I hadn't even heard of it before I found GTW...and now, it's like part of my drafting processes. I do a lot of normal things in my 6 week break, like reconnecting with the family, that kind of thing. I feel like the book isn't so bad when I come back. Plus, I usually forget half of what I've written so I get lots of surprises when I reread. That is both good and terrifying.

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    1. Yes! I experience that same thing. Moments of, "Hey, that's pretty decent" to "Yikes, I clearly just wanted to finish this chapter."

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    2. Ah, yes, for sure. That's happening to me a lot these days :)

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  17. Great post! I like your title!

    By the way, I just finished reading "The Revised Life Of Ellie Sweet"! I absolutely loved it and finished in a day! I connected with Ellie so well because I'm one those girls who would rather sit in my room all day and write then being with people. And one thing I found ironic was that my school is doing an Anne of Green Gables play this year! Maybe I'll be Marilla! =P

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    1. Oh, that's so nice! Thank you, Fire :) Ellie was a very easy main character for me to write for reasons that are probably pretty obvious.

      I'm so comforted to hear your school is doing Anne of Green Gables! My middle school did that play, but after the book was published, I had this moment of terror of, "Do schools still do Anne of Green Gables?"

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  18. Thanks for this post! I finished my first draft mid-August and I don't plan on looking at it again until November. . . So far it's working out pretty good because I'm in college and already the schoolwork is piling on. I am doing what you mentioned and am working on another story idea. :)

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    1. I'm impressed you're managing to write while in college, Joy! Good for you!

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  19. This is a good post! I'd like to take off six weeks this bout for a draft I'm working, but I may try three because I'm trying to get draft I'm working on finished by a certain time. I can't wait to take a break though. I've been writing 1500 every night for nearly two months and I need a breather. XD

    Stori Tori's Blog

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  20. The way I cooked through my drafts was I wrote all three books through once, just to get the story done. I treated the entire series like one book. Now that I'm done, a couple years later (with school, it's hard to write as much as I want to), I'm coming back to book one. I've lost the emotional attachment and I've grown up since then. I realize the talk of my characters was so "Sevvie" (seventh grader) like for a character who is supposed to be in some kind of terrifying situation. Helps a lot to take a break, I've realized.

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