On April 6, 2021, StoryBlossom wrote, The process for writing second and third drafts is so confusing. Most of what I’ve read says something like: wait some time, read it, and then wing it.

Do you have any suggestions for planning techniques and how to be consistent with planning so you get it done in a timely manner so you can get to the actual writing? What can I do during the first draft that will make writing future drafts easier without stifling my creativity by overplanning? In other words, can you expand upon, “Too much [writing] is better than too little, because it’s easier to cut than add when we revise?” I’m thinking this might mean writing every single scene idea whether it fits or not, but that would probably mean adding more during the revision process as I try to fit everything together cohesively.

That’s the problem I had when I started editing one of my WIPs. I didn’t plan my first draft at all. That didn’t even occur to me. I planned my second draft using the snowflake method, but the story ended a complete mish-mash mess. The plot was in my head and not executed properly. I tried again with my third draft, going up to 60ish pages, but then I got sick of the story because I’ve been working on it for six years. There was still so much to more to write to complete the plot.

I took a break from writing because I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I also think I was focusing too much on keeping up with my writing goal (which was ridiculously high) because I wanted to finish within three months. How long can it realistically take for a beginner to write a book? Finally, I ran my ideas through a randomizer and tried writing that one.

I tried writing non-chronologically, where I just randomly wrote scenes in no particular order, but that felt even messier and I gave up on that. I’ve moved on to yet another story, which I already had a half first draft written. I read the draft, which was based on the same universe from the first WIP I mentioned and had to scrap most of my ideas. I invented a whole new universe and started writing a new draft. But my perfectionism and need for speed is getting in the way. I don’t know why I have such trouble planning– I am a planner in most other respects. I don’t know why I want to write quickly– I hate rushing in all other respects.

Several of you responded:

Katie W.: What occurs to me is that you might want to write quickly because that seems like the sort of thing a “real writer” would do. Three months is almost ridiculously fast to write a book. If you really work at it, you can get a first draft in, but you won’t have time for editing. (And yes, I know NaNoWriMo people are probably laughing at this.) I did it once, 60,000 words in a semester, but I didn’t finish the actual story and I never wanted to look at the thing again in my entire life.

I think really the issue here is that you haven’t figured out your special kind of planning, and as a die-hard, there’s-no-point-in-even-trying-to-plan-this-because-it’ll-go-off-the-rails-anyway pantster, I can’t help you with that. Reading your comment, my thought was “Oh, yeah. Just start over with whatever idea you have now and see where it takes you. It’s supposed to be messy, so you can clean it up.” My advice would be to read every writing book you can get your hands on and see if something clicks.

Christie V Powell: I agree with Katie W., in that it sounds like you need to figure out your own process and what works best for you. I can tell you mine and give you resources. It works for me, and it’s fast–I can publish at least a book a year, start to finish, with my method. But you’ll want to adapt and eventually make your own.

I started to write down my whole process here, but I don’t want to take up a ton of space, and I’m probably repeating myself from other comments I’ve made. I copied it all down to my own blog post instead, so you can check that out if you’d like:

Melissa Mead: FWIW, it took me 14 years to finish my first book. So you don’t need to push yourself TOO hard.

FantasyFan101: My advice for you is just write. Zip. Nada. No more. Just kidding. Often, I find that when I write, I like to just let the ideas flow until my mind is like, whoa, slow down, change this, it’s way better that way. For instance, my current WIP has an MC who still isn’t quite as polished as I’d like, but looking back, her personality and even description fits better into the story. My friend and I also were able to add more details to the world and backstory as the story built up. Now we have not just words on paper, but the seeds of a world. My point is, most of the time your world and story aren’t going to be perfect right away. You’ll get ideas and inspiration the farther along you get. It can help to get to know your world better later in the story. You don’t want to infodump right at the beginning of the story. Things have to start worse before they get better. You have plenty of time. Just relax. Jot down a few ideas. Talk about it with a friend or family member. Have them read it. They might have some eye-opening insight that changes your whole perspective. Readers can have that kind of influence. I wish you luck, from one writer to another.

These are great and helpful. I particularly love Katie W.’s suggestion about reading lots of books on writing. I did that. Books like Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Spider, Spin Me a Web by Lawrence Block, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser, all of which I gobbled up when I was starting out, still stand proud on my shelves. (High school and up.) Every one of these authors is humble about writing and also recognizes that telling a story isn’t as straightforward as following a recipe—because there is no recipe (I wish there was!). Our subconscious always gets involved, creates detours, and wants us to go in unexpected directions. This, I think, is what StoryBlossom is contending with. Has anyone mentioned on this blog that writing is hard?

What helps me is the knowledge that I’ve finished stories a bunch of times, and because of that, I’m relatively, almost entirely confident, that I’ll do it again. I think Christie V Powell has that confidence too and for the same reason. If you follow the link to her blog and read about her method, you’ll see that she welcomes her subconscious in during the daydreaming phase. After that, her tried-and-true method guides her.

But her way won’t work for all of us and probably won’t work entirely or exactly for any of us. It’s like life; even identical twins have paths that diverge, a lot or a little. I looked at the snowflake method, which looks good, but I could follow it only after I finished a book. While I’m writing, I don’t know my characters well enough or see the course they’re going to follow. I find those out during the writing, by showing the details. How will Janey respond to a flat tire? How will Meredith answer a king who asks what she has in her purse? What does she have? Still, I do have an idea of the problem of the book and the ending—or I can’t write it. But some people can.

Knowing the end does keep my first draft from wandering, so that can be a strategy for some writers.

Perfectionism is useful only in the final revision, when plot, setting, and characters are settled. Then we go in and mop up, looking for awkward phrasing, word repetition, typos—like that. Still, we won’t achieve perfection, because, in my opinion, perfection is unattainable. A novel is a long document that has at least one thing wrong with it. As good as we can make it is good enough. Besides, people have different ideas about what we’ve written. A reader may find fault with something that we know is right. Once, a reader wrote to me in considerable distress over the ending of The Two Princesses of Bamarre. She said I had to create a new version that fixed it or write a sequel that fixed it. But the ending was what it should be as far as I was concerned. She said she was losing sleep over it, which was unfortunate for her. It was nice for me, though, that she felt so strongly about my book!

StoryBlossom quotes me about length, but I couldn’t find the spot on the blog, and I wanted to because I’d like to know the context. I’m pretty sure I meant that adding is hard if we get to the end of a story and feel that it isn’t long enough. I doubt I meant that we should pile on scenes. Probably, I was thinking about including enough detail to put the reader inside the action and in the heart and mind of my MC.

Decades ago, I invited some relatives for dinner. No one told me I had to; I wanted to. But then I entirely lost my cool in worry about what might go wrong, from burning the food to no one having anything to say to the toilet stopping up. A wise friend advised me to tape signs in cheerful felt markers in lots of places in our then apartment: For fun! The reminders worked. I sang while I cooked and straightened. I don’t think anything burned or any toilets backed up. For sure, people found things to talk about. I wasn’t drummed out of the family. All of that would have been true if I’d continued to fret, but how nice not to! For anyone who’s worried about their writing, I recommend placing exactly these signs anywhere you’re likely to look. Remember how I end each blog post.

I googled randomizer, and I wouldn’t use it to help me with my plot. That way lies chaos, in my opinion. But I would use it for a poem. In fact, I can’t wait to try it. Thank you, StoryBlossom!

Here are three prompts:

  • Google randomizer and use it to write a poem. Here are some suggestions for what you might put in: three images, like The golden horse weathervane was stationary against a backdrop of scudding clouds (feel free to use this one); a proverb; a fruit or vegetable; a fragment of a memory—and whatever else you like. See, as I’m going to, what the randomizer does with them, but don’t feel obliged to use whatever comes out. Fool with it until you’re satisfied.
  • Going against what I said above, use a randomizer to generate story ideas. Stick in a sentence from ten different fairy tales. See what happens and use what you can.
  • Marco and Juliette are working on a scene together for an acting class. Marco is a perfectionist and Juliette is not. Write the rehearsal. If you feel like it, expand it into a story. If you feel like it, make the story a romcom.

Have FUN!!! FUN!!! And save what you write.

  1. Miss Maddox says:

    I love the idea of putting signs everywhere to remind yourself to just have fun! I’m going to have to try that.

  2. I have a problem with my WIP. I’m trying not to use any conjunctions, because I’m trying to make the world seem more sophisticated, and I want it to sound more old timey – like 1800s – but it just doesn’t sound right.

    • Miss Maddox says:

      You could try using some conjunctions but not as many as you normally would. Even when I read old books, I still find conjunctions, there just aren’t as many. You might also try using different words, ones that are a bit longer and sound a bit more sophisticated. (But I would be careful of overdoing that last one, though — if you use too many unfamiliar or long words, readers might not know what you’re saying or they might get bored!)

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I think you mean contractions, right?

      Meenore, the dragon detective in my two mysteries, A TALE OF TWO CASTLES and STOLEN MAGIC, doesn’t use contractions. It was fun to write, but I suspect one or two slipped in without my noticing. I say, Go for it, and see what you think.

  3. Thanks for this post, Gail! I realized I’ve been trying to write to fast, hoping for a book in a couple of months, but that’s not going to happen with my writing speed. Thanks!

  4. How do I write in a southern accent? I want to write it so that you can see the accent on the page. Does that make any sence?

    • It’s called writing in dialect, if you want to research more.

      In general, you want just a pinch of it–maybe one side character does it (like Hagrid in Harry Potter speaks in dialect, but rarely any other character). If the whole book is that way, it’s tough for the reader to have to sound out every word.

      You can also use phrases and words that those with a southern accent are more likely to use (y’all, for example), and describe things in ways that they would see them–for instance, perhaps likening city lights to lightning bugs.

      • Fleur is another character who speaks in dialect in Harry Potter.
        If you want to study another author who wrote in dialect, you should try out Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, it might be a good exercise to read a few pages, and try to read them aloud with the accent he uses.

    • Southern accents usually have an ah sound in place of the r, for example: dahlin=darling. Also, i-n-g is an in sound, and the books I’ve read have more darlings and sugars. I’d read a book with a southern accent in it to get a feel for it.

    • I follow a Facebook group called It’s a Southern Thing, and they do all kinds of skits/blog posts about life in the South. This is my favorite of their skits.
      I agree that “y’all” and endearments like “sugar,” “darling,” and “sweetheart” are a good way to go, as are having your character call people “Ma’am” and “Sir.” If you really want to go classic, use “bless your heart” in both the heartfelt and sarcastic sense. (Note: These can be combined, as in the sentence “Bless their poor precious little hearts.” It’s a context thing.) Shopping carts are sometimes called “buggies,” good-byes last at least half an hour, and people complain every time the temperature gets below 50 and go on massive grocery shopping sprees when there’s snow in the forecast.

  5. Thanks! I liked the thing about Hagrid. I LOVE Harry Potter! I have seen and read all of them except the seventh one (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
    Also, I’m from Florida, and yes, goodbyes do last at least half an hour with all of my aunts, and everybody starts complaining went the temperature gets to about 55.
    I was thinking about Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, because it has one character with a southern accent, but I wasn’t quite sure how to put it in spelling.
    Thanks for the help!

  6. I have a problem. I’m writing a story for Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’m not even halfway through it, and I’m bored with it and don’t want to write anything. I’ve been skipping around throughout the story, and I planned it out (Both of which was the first time I did it.) but I just don’t want to write. Could it be that my word count is too high? It’s 30,000. I’m trying to stretch the story out for as long as I can, I don’t really describe anything. I tend to try to kind of get “out” of describing things, even though I know that it makes the story worth reading.

    I guess that I needed advice on just powering through it.

    • I can’t help on being stuck, but I can try to help with description. Make sure the details you’re using are important. Imagine the scene you’re trying to write as a movie. What are the first things you notice? How much light is there? How does the place feel? Does your scene need props?

      For example, say your MC was invited over to her friend’s house for dinner. The dining room is very fancy, and your MC feels out of place. A crystal chandelier hangs over the table, sending points of light dancing across the walls. Your MC is watching the light move on the walls and zones out of the conversation while something important is being discussed. In this situation, we don’t need to know much about the rest of the room, only enough to create a feeling of elegance. On the other hand, if, later in the story, a burglar comes in through a window and the MC throws a vase at him, the reader needs to know about the window and the vase ahead of time.
      Hope this helps!

    • Miss Maddox says:

      I don’t have much advice on this, but I will say that I was recently having a similar problem with my Camp story and switching to writing by hand instead of on the computer really helped.

  7. You could be bored of your story because nothing bad is happening. If winning or accomplishing things for your MC is really easy then it might be boring to write. Outside of the main problem you can add smaller problems. Things that aren’t too big of obstacles but still slow down your MC and make accomplishing their task more difficult.
    If you just aren’t motivated to write here are some of my tips:
    Think of an exciting scene that’s coming up. I usually have an exciting scene in my head that’d happen soon and I write a lot to be able to get to it. In my WIP I have a character that’s starting to like another character and I like thinking of cute scenes with them. It can also help to go work on something else. There can be times where I like my story but I just don’t have the motivation to write, so I’ll go work on a short story or do a quick writing prompt. Another thing that could help would be to add a new thing to your story. In my WIP I added some magic and created a whole history for it which helped me figure out why my villain is doing what he’s doing, and helped with some plot holes.
    Hope this helps!

  8. My name is Katie, I viewed this blog for the first time today. I love to write but often struggle with writing the characters how I want them to be written. Usually the characters seem to write themselves instead of me coming up with their personalities. Sometimes it’s fun but at times it’s really annoying. I’m currently writing a story for an after school program I am in and one of my characters (named Wesley) is supposed to be written as a funny, popular kid, at least that’s how I hoped he would be. But how he was written when I started to write the story was the exact opposite. Do you have any advice that might help me with my problem? Usually when I tell people about this they just get confused so if you don’t, no problem.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I’m not confused. Stories and characters come from deep inside us, and often they don’t behave, but they can suggest new ideas that will be interesting and surprising to explore. I generally follow along.

      I’m adding your question to my list, but it will take me a while to get to it. Anyone else?

    • RedTrumpetWriter says:

      I don’t know if this will be helpful, but perhaps this isn’t a problem at all. I have also written stories where characters went in directions I didn’t expect, and I think they’ve always ended up more natural than the characters I tried to control or had to create on my own. I’m stuck on several stories right now because the characters don’t seem to be going anywhere themselves! I think you should lean in to what is happening with Wesley and follow him for a bit. If you still want a funny, popular character, you have at least two options. You can create another character, or you can try to create a character arc where Wesley becomes funnier and more popular. You could also change his sense of humor. Some people are great at jokes, and some people have clever “one-liners” that seem to come out of nowhere. The fact that we don’t necessarily expect them to be so funny can actually add to the effect. If you can think of something else, or if my ideas don’t work for you, that’s fine! You know your story best.

    • Honestly, this probably won’t help, but I agree with everyone else – go with the flow and see where the character takes you! If you really don’t like the path they’re on, you can try to change it, but you might actually end up liking where they lead you.

      For example, in my WIP one of my MCs was supposed to be a thief. When I started writing her, I discovered that she was much kinder, loyal, and family-oriented than I originally imagined. She no longer felt like a thief, and somehow she ended up becoming the owner of a magical inn instead! I liked her new job and her fleshed out personality much better than what I had originally planned.

      Like I said, if it really annoys you, you can probably find a way to change it. But it might be worth seeing what happens. Maybe you could try writing two versions of the story – one where the character goes off-course and one where you make sure they stay true to your vision – and then see which one you prefer?

  9. I want to write novel length stories, but any story that I come up with, just turns itself into a short story. I don’t know how or why it does this, it just does. I was wondering whether or not any if you guys had this problem, and knew what to do about it.

  10. Truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work! Hope you gain more experience with your knowledge; that is why people get more information. Read out more about.
    Rich Backyard

  11. Hey all! I have a question. What do you do if you are co-writing a book with someone who has a bunch of beautiful ideas, but ends up turning them into other stories and starts writing a bunch of WIPS. My friend and I both have the blessing/curse of way too many ideas. However, I’ve pretty much mastered saving my ideas for later, when I’ve finished my WIPs. But my friend starts all her new stories and gets sucked away. This has happened before with other projects, and I end up finishing them on my own. But this time I really feel like I need and want her help. There are several characters that I simply can’t write well, whereas she writes them amazingly. But she’s always so busy with other things. I suppose I just want her to be as attentive as I am. Should I not feel like this? Or should I be more patient? Or maybe just find someone else to help? If anyone has ideas, I would be so grateful.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.