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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fighting the Summer Slow Down with a Fast Draft

I never seemed to outgrow the idea of summer vacation (despite being out of school for more than twenty years.) Something about the month of June makes me want to find a hammock or an Xbox controller or a beach somewhere. Anywhere.

Except, I can’t.

Like many adults, I am neck-deep in the shackles of Real Life, wherein summer vacation only arrives at the whim of my day-job scheduler. My kids might be laying around, losing their battle with gravity, but not me—the yard needs tending, the house needs working, and the books need writing.

Writing has become another job.--a privilege, I believe, but work, nonetheless. And despite the obligations, the contracts and the deadlines, summer vacation is trying to get in the way.
I kind of envy the side of the publishing business that sees a summer slowdown because my summers feel like the exact opposite. In May, I decided upon my deadlines for my current novel WIP: first draft by June 30, second draft and edits over July, manuscript submission to editor on August 1.
Summer slow down? Not here. The only thing that slows down for me is my motivation. This summer, I decided to do something new. If writing was a job, I was going to punch a time card. I joined a buddy write.
Game Plan Fast Draft
Writing may be a solitary endeavor but, sometimes, motivation is a team sport.
At the beginning of June, I was perhaps 30k from a complete first draft, which meant it had to be a thousand-word-per-day kind of June. I also already had two pair of flip-flops dug out of the closet. Self-defeating…who, me?
I am fortunate  to have brilliant writer friends who have similar problems. They also often have brilliant game plans.
At the beginning of June, I received an invitation from my friend, author SK Falls, who wanted to organize a week-long Fast Draft. A Fast Draft is a motivational exercise that uses group participation to get heaps of writing done through the implementation of writing sprints. Each sprint got you closer to your word count goal and therefore closer to your completed draft. We’d communicate through Twitter to organize the sprints and to motivate each other through the process.
Lucky for me, Sandy had the same problem as I did—big word count goals, little time to do it. Like me, she has a rigorous non-writing schedule and trying to find the opportunity to write is difficult.
My personal problem—if I don’t have a five or six hour block that I can designate Writing Time, I don’t often get measurable amounts of work done. If I only have a half-hour, I get distracted on Facebook and Goodreads and my writing time piddles away.
Could I handle a Fast Draft? It seemed absolutely alien to my writing process.

Sandy organized a team of writers who wanted to get the work done but, perhaps, like me, didn’t trust themselves enough to do it alone. The plan involved setting a week aside for the Fast Draft, to write in sprints of 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day, to communicate our goals and progress on Twitter, and to cheer each other on.
This process offers an unspoken implication of accountability, which was exactly what I needed.

I had my goals. I was just unable to trust myself to stick to the plan. Summer vacation and the drone of the cicadas would lull me into non-productive complacency if I was left to myself. I did the smart thing and told Sandy A THOUSAND TIMES, YES. 
Fast Draft offered the motivation I needed to resist Summer Slow Down.
What I Learned from Fast Draft

I WAS WRONG: I had convinced myself I needed huge blocks of time and butt-numbing writing marathons to get work done. In reality, I only needed twenty minutes. Twenty minutes gave me 500 words, minimum—a scene, a set-up, a chunk of dialog. That 500 words served as an anchor and kept me head-writing (the thinking part of writing) in between sprints.
SPRINTS ARE TINY FINITE THINGS: Because of the small time allotment, I had to promise those twenty minutes were for writing alone. The goal is word count—not edits, not perfection. First drafts are meant for raw unrefined wordage and the delete key has no place. With only twenty minutes, I put all my effort in to getting the words out. Perfection could come later.  
SPRINTS AREN’T TINY FINITE THINGS: Sprints lead to sustained writing. Many times, I found myself writing between the sprints because I found an idea that wouldn’t let go. The entire process gave me a sense of forward momentum that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

I CAN EXIST OUTSIDE THE MATRIX: I reduced my goofing off online and focused on writing. The Fast Draft program required Tweeting, but Twitter was the only other app I had open on my tablet. It was Internet enough to keep me from jonesing for online interaction.
Results of Fast Draft

I made my word count goals for every day that week—PLUS. The sprinting enabled me to write ahead to compensate for day-job shifts and family obligations.
The sprints took up the time in between my real life events, time I would have puttered away playing Coin Mania on my phone.
It recalled my very first writing process—when I wrote my first novel in snippets of free time, editing in the car waiting for the kids to get out of school, looking at pages while sitting in waiting rooms, writing for an hour before the kids woke up. Those were the days I let myself be led about by my muse. My most passionate days. Sprint writing reminded me how much fun it was to chase the muse in bursts.

The numbers? Six days of Fast Draft yielded...

  • 15,000 words in my first draft manuscript—that’s one-half my month’s goal

  • Three blog posts

  • One edition of my author newsletter, containing an exclusive short story prequel to my Demimonde series

I also worked a full-time week at the day-job and went to three karate classes. In fact, I didn’t miss a single obligation or chore or task and the husband and I still had time to catch up on the television programs we record.
The best part is the book, though—my draft is not only just about complete, I’ve also managed to knock on the inboxes of my most favorite Beta readers. The Fast Draft’s motivation sustained my writing in the weeks that followed. I even managed to write a short story for my daughter to take with her to camp this week, printing it and binding it and tucking it into her knap sack before I left her in the woods, because that's what moms do.
So, before I grab my espadrilles and head outside with a tall glass of sweet tea to steal another bit of summer vacation, I thought I’d share my best practices for organizing a Fast Draft of your own. Pick a period of time, share your Twitter handles, create a fun hashtag or two, and sprint your way to a complete draft.

TIME FRAME: Too short and you may not have ample opportunity to participate. Real life responsibilities don’t disappear just because you hide behind your monitor. Too long, and you might drift off and abandon your cause. Seven days was perfect—it was like summer camp for me, a manageable amount of time that didn’t threaten to eclipse the rest of my life.

PARTICIPANTS: It’s a buddy write, folks, so you can’t do it alone. Email your friends. Put a call out on your social networks with an open invitation. Get to know new people and create a virtual writers commune. Usually, our #FastDraft team involved six or seven of us—lots of writing partners online throughout the day, yet a list small enough that we could Tweet with all our handles as well as a message in one post.

SPRINTING: Someone would announce a sprint and see who was in for it. “I’m going for 20 min at :10” meant a twenty minute sprint starting at ten past the hour. Sometimes we chatted for a minute or two before the sprint; sometimes we sprinted to refill coffee before the next writing block. The lengths of the sprints went between 15 and 30 minutes most of the time, depending on who was awake and who was around. If I couldn’t write for a sprint, I kept an eye open for the next opportunity.

COMMUNICATION: Let your fellow writers know you are out there. This is the team motivation part. Encourage the ones who write even when you can’t. Announce your word counts at the end of the sprint—did you make goal? Did you edit more than you wrote? Chatter is key because the biggest reason to use a buddy write like Fast Draft is the accountability. We all work harder and better if we think we are being watched.

Most of all, keep up the momentum when your Fast Draft is over.
You have your goals. You have your deadlines. Now all you need is the motivation. Thanks to SK Falls, I found mine with #FastDraft and you might, too. 
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Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press).


Stina said...

I'd be a very happy person if I could write 500 words in 20 minutes. :)

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Oh, but that doesn't count the twenty minutes before the sprint that I spend percolating an idea :) Planning is key!

S.K. Falls said...

What a fabulously complete post about our experience! Great job, Ash. I'm going to share this on Twitter. :D

Stina, I have to agree--planning is key! Have you read Rachel Aaron's post about how she went from 2K to 10K a day? It's pure gold. http://bit.ly/123D0P6

Rosie said...

Awesome output Ash. And don't it make my brown eyes green. . .

Martina Boone said...

I did a fast draft last year, and it did wonders to get me connected to the story that I just sold. The work is in the revision, but the discovery draft is magical. It's amazing what can happen when we let it happen and get out of our own way!

Thanks for sharing this!

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

THANK YOU for the link to that article, Sandy!

I printed out a copy of her 'writing metrics" diagram as a reminder. Sometimes I had accidentally used one or two of her techniques, but I know that if I do those things consistently, I can rock out those word counts.

Thanks again, darling!