5 Rules for Getting It Written

I wrote the first draft of my work-in-progress (nicknamed le manuscript) in a little over two months. I’m sure it’s not the fastest record on time, but it’s much better than my first manuscript (over a year to complete) and my second (clocking somewhere around eight or nine months). Experience has something to do with it, but for me, it helps to have some rules.

You can do something with assigning word counts to different stages of the plot, like Anne Greenwood Brown describes in her blog post that inspired this one, “Kicking Out a Fast First Draft.” What I did was a slightly-less-insane version of NaNoWriMo, a goal of 1200 words per day. My friend Seven organized it, and we and a few other writers encouraged each other to go, go go!

Not all of us finished our drafts. Part of what helped me was I was already somewhere around 15,000 words ahead, because I’d started drafting le manuscript in February, then gave it up in March when I realized Manuscript Numero Dos needed some serious help (it still does). But I got le manuscript done, and will now be revising it for the next 86.92 years.

Here are some rules that helped me reach my goal:

1. A Writing Schedule Is Your New Best Friend. This was easy at the time, because Z was still taking her naps (this is a blog post for a different day). The rule was: I pick up my blank book and work on that draft, as soon as she goes down for her nap.

2. A Back-Up Writing Schedule Is Your Second Best Friend. If, for some reason, I got distracted by the scrub jays in the back yard, or the way my pinky fingernail desperately needed filing, or how that spot on the wall kinda-sorta resembles an ex-boyfriend’s nose… If I didn’t make 1200 words during Z’s nap, I had to finish them up after she went to sleep that night.

3. Clean Houses Are For People Who Don’t Write. Or who write, and have maids. Or who write, and have older children they can make into their chore slaves. I did whatever household chores I could while Z was awake. She really loves to “help.” That’s right, Z, washing dishes is FUN. Never forget it, ’cause this is just the beginning, baby.

4. Do It On Paper. My Paperblanks journals are the bestest ever. You know why? No wireless internet. No Mahjong Titans or other tempting solitaire games. No wireless internet. No lights to irritate the eyes after prolonged exposure. No wireless internet. I recently read a blog post, How to Get More Done by Pretending You’re on an Airplane. It’s true. The most writing is done distraction -free. Twitter, lately, has been hearkening to me like a sadistic siren, and I don’t even like Twitter. I don’t. There. I said it. Now every time I try to log on they’ll tell me Oops! they’re over capacity.

5. Outline It. I’m way too much of a control freak to just start writing. I also adore lists and bullet points. So I come up with a rough idea of where I want the story to go and how I want it to get there. This doesn’t mean that I know all the major players right away. This doesn’t mean I ignore tempting paths – I take them. Having an outline keeps me going because I don’t have to chew thoughtfully on my pen while deciding what should happen next. One of my critique partners, Jo, has a good post on creating an outline (click here for that), although I get by with a bullet-point synopsis.

Like Anne Greenwood Brown says at the end of her post, there’s no way she’d share her first draft with anyone, not even her mother. I agree. The first one is total trash. If anyone has tips on how to revise a novel in two months, do share. As things are going, I only have about 86.33 years left of revising le manuscript.

There’s probably more, but I’m off to the woods for some mosquito-slapping, bear-dodging, holing-up-in-my-cabin-and-writing adventure. See you Wednesday.


  1. Maggie · July 1, 2011

    Good rules. But I don’t agree with outlining until the second draft. Letting the first draft be free of an outline can usually unleash the most creative writing, at least for me.

    • Beth Hull · July 5, 2011

      Ah, it’s the opposite for me, because once I draft it, I’m reluctant to change things. When I’m brainstorming, it’s easier to keep pushing myself for new ideas. And like I said, even with an outline, there’s room for shiny new ideas, too.

      I know lots of writers for whom the outline kills their creativity, though, so to each her own!

  2. thegracefuldoe · July 2, 2011

    “Clean Houses Are For People Who Don’t Write. Or who write, and have maids. Or who write, and have older children they can make into their chore slaves.”

    So so true! And when I one day become a famous writer with lots of money the first thing I’m going to do is hire a maid.

    • Beth Hull · July 5, 2011

      I want a maid, and a comfy writing couch in the Love Shack (writing studio). Not that I’ve given this any thought, she says modestly. 🙂

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