Now that I have discussed the inspiration behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter as well as my plotting process, I want to share with you all my drafting process. I wish I could say that I have some magic secret to divulge. You see, back when I was “struggling” as a writer (read: not writing), I used to scour the internet for information on how to write a novel. Even though I knew better, I kept hoping that someone, somewhere would share the secret formula that would finally allow me to write a complete manuscript.
If you are like former-Kate and are looking for that secret, I’m sorry, I don’t have it. And frankly, it doesn’t exist. The only way that this first draft got written was through hard work, time management, and fear of embarrassment. While my process may not work for you and will definitely not give you that magic spark, I hope it will pass along a healthy dose of realism and optimism.
Step One: Find Your Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
If you are a writer, you likely know your intrinsic motivation. You love to craft stories, you love language, you love getting lost in your own world. Whatever it is, you should already know why you write for you. For many writers, this is enough. However, some of us (read: me) need a little extra push to get started. That is where the extrinsic motivation comes in.
For me, I had two extrinsic motivators to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter. First, I was participating in NaNoWriMo, which gives a pre-set word count goal and comes with a huge support network. Second, I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo. By being so vocal, I triggered my inner sense of obligation, which has always been my best motivator in my academic life. If I feel obligated to do something, my goodness, I will do it.
Step Two: Sit Your Butt Down and Write
If there is a magic secret, this is it. During every single day of NaNoWriMo (except for Day 15, my “break” day), I sat down at the computer to write. Even when I was tired, even when I wanted to see family or friends, even when a good movie was on, even when I had a migraine the size of Russia — I sat down and wrote.
Step Three: Turn Off the Inner Editor
It is important to note that I also sat down alone. I left my inner editor at the door. I wish I could tell you exactly how to do this. It is a concept I struggled with for years. However, all I can say is that I had a major mental shift. Part of this is due to my recent mental change in the way I think about writing, but the other part consists of repeating mantras and just blocking out the editor.
If you struggle with shutting up your inner editor, try repeating something like this: It is OK if the first draft is bad. I can edit later. However, if I do not write the first draft, I will never have anything to edit. So, editor, shut up and let me make something for you to edit.
Step Four: Set Small Goals
Because I went into my draft with specific story beats in mind, I was able to write according to the beats. Therefore, each writing session was linked to a beat or scene that needed writing. This made my writing sessions seem manageable. After all, sitting down to write and saying to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to write a novel,” is a terrifying, paralyzing task. In contrast, sitting down to write and saying, “Okay, my character simply needs to go grocery shopping,” is much more achievable and way less overwhelming.
For the record, even though NaNoWriMo suggests tracking daily success by word count, I find that writing scene by scene is much more effective. It does not carry the same stress as quantifying a writing session does, and in all honesty, most scenes you write will exceed the daily NaNo word count of 1,667 words anyway. Win-win.
Step Five: If Busy, Steal Small Moments to Write
When I knew I would not be able to write in the evening, I wrote during my lunch break at work. When I was too busy at work to steal half an hour for writing, I sacrificed half an hour of TV time in the evening. If you ride public transportation during your commute, write during your commuting time. If you can get up an hour early in the morning, write then. Hell, one paragraph written hastily on your phone while you’re waiting in an elevator is better than nothing at all. (And for the quality police out there, you can edit that crappy paragraph later.)
Step Six: If Inspiration is Slow, Set the Mood
Some writers like to write to music, I am not one of these. I like silence. However, when I felt particularly unexcited about writing or could not get into the right mood, I would listen to a song to unwind from my day and set the tone for my writing session. Top picks for The Cogsmith’s Daughter were: Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy, Kids by MGMT, Heaven Knows by The Pretty Reckless, Lonely Boy by The Black Keys, and The End by My Chemical Romance.
Don’t ask why. There is no method to this madness, only feeling.
Step Seven: Visualize the End Result
Knowing that you have a finished manuscript is pure elation. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Think about what it will be like to have that novel finished. Imagine how you will celebrate, who you will tell first, all of those details. If that does not keep you going, I don’t know what will.
And that’s it. All I did was sit down at the computer every day, maybe listen to a song to frame my writing mood, and then I wrote. I wrote when I felt like a genius, when I felt like a joke, and when I felt just plain crazy. I wrote when I was tired, energized, happy, and sad. I wrote at home, at work, on the couch, at my desk, in a coffee house, and in a doctor’s office. I wrote quickly and slowly, mostly quickly. I wrote with passion and abandon, without a care and with every care.
I wrote for me. And I finished the first draft.
How do you write your first drafts? What tricks or tips would you add for new writers? Pass on your wisdom below!