Writing Q&A: First Drafts
Still working my way through the list of writing questions I received for my Writing Q&A segment. I’m thinking about making this a weekly feature, so always feel free to shoot me a question!
Today’s batch of questions revolve around the ever annoying first draft.
- How did you know your idea for Interrupted was big enough for a whole novel?
Short answer: I didn’t.
Long answer: When I first started writing Interrupted, I never thought it would expand into an entire novel. All I knew was that I felt compelled to write about Allie and her story, and I just started writing. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was nearly one hundred pages into the story and the ending still wasn’t in sight yet. That’s when I stepped back and realized, hey—this could be a full-length novel. So I started brainstorming how I wanted it to end, and began actually planning out the plot line. It may have been a late start, but it took me a while to figure out it was going to be a whole novel!
That was for Interrupted. It wasn’t until I got a publishing deal for the first book that I started working on the second. The funny thing about publishing is that once you have one book published, you don’t even have to finish the second one before you can get a contract on it! However, I’ve never personally taken that approach. For every book I’ve written so far, I wanted it finished before I even showed it to my editor. It may not have been perfect, but it was a whole novel.
However, my mindset did change in that I don’t really have the flexibility now to start something and not finish it. When you’re not under contracting obligations, you’re free to mess around with ideas and figure out what you want to do. Once you’re published, though, you have to meet certain timed expectations. So I know that if I start something, it has to be finished relatively quickly so I can sign a contract for it. Because of that, I have to start writing a book with the expectation that it will be a completed, published novel.
How do I know if an idea is big enough for a whole book? It’s hard to say. Usually, before I write more than ten pages of something, I ask myself these questions: Is this something I’m passionate about? Will I never grow tired of this main character? Are the characters interesting enough that even potentially boring scenes will be entertaining? Does this have a great message—one that I have to share with others? If the answer to all of these is yes, then it’s definitely worth writing into a whole novel.
- Did you outline your novel before you wrote it or just hop into it?
Once again, my answer to this question is different for Interrupted than it is for any of my other books. When I started Interrupted, I never planned to make it into a whole novel and I definitely never intended to publish it, so I didn’t really have anything mapped out. For the first half of the book, I just wrote whatever it seemed would logically come next. It wasn’t until I was over half-way through with the first draft that I started thinking about and planning out the ending.
For the second book, and the book I’m working on now, I had more thought-out plans. Before I even started writing the first few pages, I typed out a short synopsis. I wanted to know where this was going. How was it going to end? How were things going to get sticky from then on out? And how would it all wrap up? I wanted all of that answered before I started the first draft. I also wrote notes to myself whenever I thought of something deep that really resonated to me about the story. Whenever I’d think of something like a great takeaway message or a redeeming moral in the story, I’d write it down. Then I’d mull over those thoughts whenever I was having trouble getting through the tough spots in the story. It’s good to have something inspirational written down to remind you why you wanted to write the book in the first place.
- How long did it take you to complete the first draft of your story?
First draft? Probably three or four months for Interrupted. Four or five months for the second book. And I think it’s going to take even longer for this third one, the way things are moving. First drafts don’t usually take that long for me, believe it or not. They’re dull and annoying and frustrating, but they usually move pretty quickly. It’s once I go back and edit that things get more interesting and slower-paced. Two or three rounds of editing can take just as long as the whole first draft. By the time a book is completely finished, the overall amount of working time is usually six or seven months.