Color me converted. I didn’t think it could happen. I fought it from the first, but necessity and a deadline forced a change and, ladies and gents, I am here to testify: there just might be a better way. Is it the way? I’m not enough of a evangelist (yet) to make that pronouncement, but I now know that there is another way to write a book. Allow me to share how I finally saw the light and embraced…the discovery draft.
For about eight years and twenty-some books, my writing process has been virtually the same. I have always edited as I’ve written, making substantive changes to completed scenes as the story evolved. If I decided to take a different direction with the character or plot, I went back to the completed scenes that were affected and rewrote them before I moved on. I re-worked every scene to a shine before I started the next one, often ending up rewriting that shiny scene because I changed the story.
This process — the Edit-As-You-Go approach — is painful to me. The constant revision throws me into doubt spirals that make me certain I’m writing The Worst Book Ever. It feels like two steps forward, three steps back, making the trip to The End long and miserable. However, I love revisions. I mean, listen to me: I love revisions.
Therefore, when I first heard the concept of a “discovery draft” all the hairs on my body stood at attention with delight. The discovery draft (aka Book In an Insanely Short Amount of Time) technique is to “vomit” up a first draft quickly, find out who the characters are, what motivates them, what their conflict is, how it is resolved. Then you take this rough draft and spend all of your lovely weeks and months prior to deadline day doing nothing but revising, rewriting, polishing and perfecting. Hear the angels sing. This is heaven.
Seriously, I really don’t know how to tell you how much this concept appealed to me. Like wine on a Friday night at six o’clock. Like a pair of pink suede Stuart Weitzman pumps marked down. Like Daniel Craig almost naked on a beach with a margarita in one hand and me in the other.
But try as I might, I couldn’t do the discovery draft. Something about moving on when a scene isn’t quite right goes utterly against my grain. For me, plot points and dialogue and narrative are two-directional dominoes and if you take the story in one direction, it affects every single scene that comes after it and a whole lot before.
With each manuscript, I tried and failed the discovery draft method, falling back to my old clunky style, believing that my writer’s brain is hardwired that way and listening to those who said “If it works for you, Rocki, don’t change it.” But, honey, I hate it — so is that “working” for me?
And then, three months ago, I started a new book, due on January 15, two days from today. I knew it was going to be a tight squeeze, but I felt pretty confident I could make it. In October, I wrote a little, playing with plot and characters and openings, writing and abandoning several versions to end the month with about 12,000 words. Okay, no panic. Beginnings are tough. Except the same thing happened in November. By December 1st, I had less than 100 pages of a manuscript I’d started and changed so many times I couldn’t remember which version I was writing, and six (OMG — SIX) weeks left. Oh, and did I mention that my publisher moved the book up a month so that I could have back-to-back releases, meaning there’s no give in the deadline?
And, this is DECEMBER, people. I’ve got a family, kids included. They want festive trees, beautifully wrapped gifts, full-house dÃ©cor, frosted gingerbread men (each one unique with their own backstory — hey, it’s our tradition!) and some attention for those twenty-two con–sec–u-tive days they’re not in school. I had no choice this time. I couldn’t edit as I went along, because I needed to figure out the big picture of the story and finish the damn book.
So, I wrote a discovery draft. I never edited, I never looked back. Every once in a while, I knew a scene wasn’t just “off” but it was seriously wrong, I would rewrite it. Many times the story turned, as stories do, and I knew the change would require fixing/editing scenes that were already done, so I started my own page of revision notes, reminding myself what needed to be changed in earlier chapters, but barreling forward. I wrote about 60,000 words in December and finished a draft by January 5th, leaving me ten days to edit and revise.
Revisions would be the real litmus test for this new process. I knew there were cringeworthy scenes in that book. I knew there was a huge element that I had introduced in the last 50 pages that had to be woven in gracefully to the first 300. But I also knew exactly how the story ended and what the theme and conflict of the book actually turned out to be.
Guess what happened, my friends? Revisions turned out to be not just easy, but fun! Possibly the best time I’ve ever had in a chair. Even though about 82,000 of the 93,000 words are completely new, revising and rewriting engages a different part of my brain and, evidently, that’s a happy part.
The book is done, ready to fly to New York on time, on target, on Thursday, January 15. Hallelujah!
So, will I do it again? I sure aim to try. Does your process hurt? Do you want to change it? Is it time to find a better way? Or, have you successfully changed your process of any creative endeavor and lived to tell the tale? Let’s hear about it!
I’m here to tell you that I always suspected that there could be Nirvana in writing, and this time, after going through hell twenty-three times, I found it. Amen to that.