Let’s talk about you.

You’ve got an idea for a book. You read a lot and you’re pretty sure it’s a good idea. You may have even started writing it and gotten bogged down by the sheer enormity of finishing it.

But you probably have a real job. On top of that, there’s your family, job, church, kids, hobbies, all sorts of things demanding your time and attention.

It’s not like you can simply drop everything and head for that classical drafty garret to sequester yourself until you finish writing it. (Even if you can find one—garrets aren’t big in architecture these days.) And on top of that, there are the realities of publishing.

The average advance for a novelist is less than five thousand dollars a year. It takes from a year to eighteen months for a manuscript to be published by most major publishers. Most publishers do not want to bring out more than one book each year from a particular writer.

Can you live for a year on five thousand dollars?

So, given those facts, you’ve probably got two problems:

  • That whole real job and real life thing
  • You can’t live on what publishing is going to pay you.

How are you supposed to make a living as a novelist? Is there any way to make your dream come true?

Couple of ways: first, you can work your butt off on PR and sell a lot of books. That’ll result in an increase in your next advance.

You hope. But you have no control over that part of the equation.

Second, you can sell more than one book a year.  Using a few pseudonyms, a different name for each publisher, you can generate enough income to go full time.

I usually write six to seven books a year. Write and sell, or publish through one of the imprints I run. It’s very possible for anyone to do this. Naturally, if you don’t have all the real job/family/kids/dogs stuff, it’s easier. But even a part timer should be able to polish off two manuscripts a year.

In this book, I’m going to show you how to do just that. This isn’t an elegant dissertation on the sheer joy of writing. It’s not a personal essay. It’s the down and dirty of how to write a book in a month.

I should warn you ahead of time that we’ll be spending zero time on your precious inner child.

I know this way works. It’s how I do it. It’s how I teach it.

Think it’s impossible? Let’s do a little math.

 

The Math

How long is a novel? Come on, you’ve got to know this one. If you don’t know, you need to drop back ten yards and do your homework. You’re not ready to write, not by a long shot.

No, do not talk to me about pages. Nobody cares how many pages you’ve typed. Nobody.

WORDS. How many WORDS?

Talking about ms pages (you do know ms is short for manuscript, right?) simply brands you as a novice. So does asking whether headers count. Or page numbers. Or the title.

Just run the danged word count function in your word processor and round it off to the nearest hundred. Or thousand. That’s way close enough for novels.

Let’s assume that novels in your genre run 80,000 words.

Now, how fast can you type? Let’s assume you’re slow for a writer. Call it fifty words a minute.

            80,000 words.  50 words a minute.

            80,000 ÷50 = 1600 minutes

            1600 minutes ÷ 60 = 26.67 hours.

            26.67 hours ÷ 30 (30 days in a month) = .89 hours.

You need to type .89 hours (or 54.3 minutes) each day. That’s how you do a novel a month.

But WAIT. Is that all it is, typing?

           

Sometimes. If you’ve done the hard work up front.

           

Seriously? It’s that easy? So why haven’t I been able to finish my book?

Three possible reasons:

  • You’ve been taught wrong,
  • You’re undisciplined
  • You have no idea how real writers work.

Sorry. That’s reality. See disclaimer above about precious inner children.

You can’t waste time, not if you’re going to generate income. Not if you want to finish a book in a month.

Now, actually, we’re not going to be typing for 30 days. We need a few days up front to do the groundwork. So if you average it out, you will be typing around an hour a day.

The up front work is hard. It’s not always fun. It’s entirely worthwhile. It’s what distinguishes the novice from the pro.

The essence of BAM is getting a first draft done. If you’re relatively new at writing novels, you need somewhere to start and a way to arrange the pieces. That’s what BAM gives you.

Let’s get started. We’re going to do the hard stuff first. It gets nothing but easier from here on out.


BAM Overview

The essence of BAM is planning. It’s not complicated but it is hard, at least at first, and it’s only hard because it isn’t fun. But once you see how easy it makes the actual writing and how the planning frees you up, you’ll love it.

Now, on to your book. (Another aside here, sort of an apology. I keep referring to it as “your book”. It’s really not. It’s your story and it’s going to be your manuscript, but it ain’t a book until it’s published. While we’re on the subject of pet peeves—you don’t publish. You are published by. Unless you’re actually a publisher. Back to your story.)

If you’re really a writer, ideas are the least of your worries. You’ve probably got more potential plot lines than you’ll ever be able to write, yes? Thought so.

Here’s an overview of how I do it and how BAM works. Once I’ve picked out the idea, I:

  • Develop a rough logline, fleshing out my story and protagonist.
  • Work out end-of-act fly-to points.
  • Rework the logline.
  • Set up a Word document outline for the chapters.
  • Draft 48 potential scenes.
  • Write.
  • Rewrite three times.

Used to be, I would write my first drafts very quickly, like in about ten days. I used to write 10-15,000 words a day in first draft, doing massive chunks of prose, working with my plan, and then rest for a couple of days before rewriting.

These days, publishing and running a nonprofit corporation takes up a lot of my time. I’m back down to around 5,000 words a day during rough draft, but that’s still pretty respectable.

I type at least 100 words a minute. That’s fifty minutes a day. Even at my slower rate, I can still do a novel in thirty days.

Now, certainly, sometimes rewrites can extend that time. But honestly, if you have a solid first draft, well-structured and planned, the rewrites are much easier. You don’t waste time flailing about fixing problems that easily could have been avoided.

So let’s get to work. Before we can start on your logline, we need to talk about your story.

      

The Story

Exactly the same, but different. That’s what editors want. They want to buy exactly what they were successful with last time—exactly the same, so nobody will yell at them—but different. Different so that nobody will think they’re buying the same thing. That’s good and that’s bad.

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first: fiction, nonfiction or creative nonfiction?

With nonfiction and creative nonfiction, you don’t need to write the whole thing right up front. You do need to write a proposal. Lots of good books on how to do that. Go to the bookstore and find one.

Fiction is a different matter. If you haven’t been published before, you’re going to have to write the whole ms before you start querying agents and editors.

If you’re a reader, you know that fiction falls into categories. That’s the first thing we need to know about your story.

Go to the bookstore, see which shelf your book would be on. Is it a thriller? A technothriller? Pyschological suspense? Straight mystery? SF or fantasy? Romance or mainstream. If you’re not sure, ask one of the clerks or the managers. Know where it would fit on bookstores shelves.

Caution: Don’t tell me it fits equally well with horror, romance, or thrillers. That’s a crossover. That’s a no-no.

Your first novel should be something you read a lot. Don’t tell me you’re simply going to knock out a few “bodice-rippers” and sell them to the romance genre markets because after all, how hard can THAT be?

Lots harder than you think. Almost all of us have thought that and almost all of us have realized what fools we were. So go ahead, get it out of your system.

Let me digress for a moment: a little warning here. Totally self-serving on my part because I don’t want you telling people you read my book and then trotting out one of the three biggest turnoffs ever uttered in a pitch session.

If you’re writing a novel, never say:

  • It actually happened like that
  • It’s based on my life

Here’s why:

Reality makes poor fiction.

Anytime you’re tempted to fictionalize your own life on the mistaken assumption that everyone will be interested, repeat the above. The only person I know who’s been able to get away with it is Gary Gabelhouse.

Okay, I’m done. Rant off. Back to our subject.

Let’s say you’ve decided to write a thriller. You probably know that they usually run 80-110,000 words or so. Some longer, few shorter. You whip out your calculator, do the math above, and figure you can hack it. After all, you type 100 words a minute.

Here’s what you need to know about thrillers:

  • High concept, bigger than life
  • High stages
  • Exciting locale

That’s what makes a thriller. By definition. Don’t tell me it’s not fair. I don’t make the rules.

If your story doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s probably not a thriller. If it’s not a thriller, but you really think it is, it’s probably suspense. Or action/adventure, sort of the genre version of a thriller.

Mysteries have their own subgenres and conventions, and you should be familiar with those requirements. You’ve got cozy, hardboiled, police procedural, etc., and you need to know which category your story belongs in. Some subcategories pretty much require a body within the first few pages. Others never directly show the body, or focus more on the inner workings of the cops or take on a CSI sort of flavor. The point is that there are different types of mysteries and you do need to know which one you’re writing.

It’s much the same with romance genres except that the requirements and categories are even more explicitly defined. If you’re going to write ROM, you must know the imprint requirements in terms of degree of physical activity and spice, acceptable heroes and heroines and word lengths. It’s absolutely critical. You should have the imprint guidelines surgically implanted in your forebrain before you even start thinking BAM.

This isn’t to say that you can never break genre rules. But your odds of selling your manuscript are much higher if you give the editor what he or she is looking for.

So really, the first step in BAM is knowing what sort of story you’re writing. You want to know the following things:

  • Where your story would be shelved in a bookstore
  • Word length requirements
  • Genre requirements

With those in mind, let’s move on to the most critical element of BAM: the logline.

 

The Logline

BAM starts with a logline. A log line is one sentence that summarizes your story. (Your story, not your plot. We’ll get to plot later.)

Think of a logline as what you’d read in TV Guide. It contains all three acts of your story. It is the centerpiece of your outline and of all your planning.

A log line is structured like this:

When (Act I inciting incident), the hero (name, identifiers) must overcome (Act II) in order to (Act III).”

Here are some examples:

When a serial killer strikes terror into the heart of Atlanta, Detective Fairfield Hamm must face his fear of traffic lights and overcome crippling gas pains in order to track down the killer before the killer strikes again.

When an impossibly-ancient monk steals holy relics, the Pope and the Dali Lama must overcome their differences and work together to prevent the death of religion in the world.

When a Russian submarine captain decides to defect, he must simultaneously elude his own naval forces while alerting the Americans to his intentions in order to survive.

Take a shot at it. Your log line:

 

When a _______________________________, the hero __________________ must overcome __________________________________in order to _________________________________.

 

Stuck? Don’t worry, we’re coming back to this again and again. You’ll refine it as you go along. And you’ll memorize it. This is what you reflexively spew when you’re on an elevator—a fast elevator—with an illustrious agent who says, “So tell me about your book.”

Try this. Your book is “About a guy who….” If you can get a solid it’s-about-a-guy-who statement, your story is more likely to be character driven. (I stole this from Doug Clegg.)

Loglines are tough. Take a couple of shots at it. Remember to identify your protagonist with a tag of some sort and specify what the happy ending is.

Okay, that’s enough. It’s probably not quite right yet, but let’s move on and talk about conflict and three act structure. That’ll help you quite a bit in smoothing up your logline. Before we return to loglines, we’re also going to venture into outlining, which is the key to writing quickly. All the way through this, I want you thinking about your logline.

Like I said– the hard stuff right up front.

 

Conflict

There are four types of conflicts. Maybe five, depending on your particular bent. I don’t care how you categorize conflict. The important thing is to recognize that there are different types. Here’s how I break them out: 

  • Spiritual
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Intellectual

Think about the story you have planned. Does it involve at least three different types of conflict? It should have at least two. The more levels of conflict, the richer the story and the more the characters will come alive.

What types of conflict are there in your story? Can you sketch them out? Be very simplistic here. Just spell it out.

The key to tension and pacing is that those conflicts keep escalating throughout Act II.  For instance, the first level of conflict might be that there’s a terrorist on an airplane. Escalate it, and the terrorist has a bomb. Escalate that, and the bomb is nuclear. Again. The aircraft is flying over Washington, DC. Again. And every member of Congress is there for an important vote. (Okay, easy with the humor.)

See? Things get worse and worse. The consequences of failure get higher and higher.

Suppose the protagonist is injured early on. That’s a physical conflict, right? At first he’s just wounded. Then he starts getting weaker. The wound gets infected. He’s feverish. He’s delirious. He dies. (There goes your sequel.)

Physical is probably the easiest sort of conflict to escalate, but you can do the same thing with spiritual, emotional and intellectual as well. It might go something like this.

Spiritual: God doesn’t come through. God allows something unthinkable to happen. Perhaps God does not exist. I am alone in the universe and unconnected to anything greater than myself.

Emotional: The perfect mate shows a slight flaw that results in a misunderstanding. And then again. And then perhaps everything that originally attracted the protagonist appears to be untrue. The supposedly perfect mate is actually everything the protagonist despises. The millionaire is an impoverished cabana boy. Crisis, crisis, crisis. By the way, I have to tell you—RWA, Romance Writers of America, is a top notch place to learn how to write emotional conflict. I don’t care what you’re writing, you can learn quite a bit by going to RWA meetings. They have a number of handy schemas for outlining emotional conflicts.

Intellectual: A puzzle at first looks easy to solve. But wait—there are other levels to it. The obvious answer has to be ruled out, and then the second most obvious answer—and the puzzle gets more and more intricate and perhaps dangerous.

When you’re planning any of these escalations, you might try thinking about what that perfect world looks like. What’s good in it, in terms of the subject of the conflict. Now, very slowly and deliberately and in some detail, smash that world.

Speaking of smashing things: try to let the physics do the work for you. Describe what happens, let the readers draw their own conclusions. Present evidence, not conclusions.

How bad is bad enough? Well, if you need somewhere to start, try escalating each conflict three times. In the end, might be more, might be less, but aiming at three gives you somewhere to start.

Figure this out. Write it out.

I told you it was hard.

Conflict 1.

a.

b.

c.

Conflict 2.

a.

b.

c.

Conflict 3.

a.

b.

c.

Now let’s see how that works with three act structure.

 

Three act structure

Three act structure—know it, love it, live by it. If you hose it up, editors will notice. I promise.

First, learn this.

  • Act I ¼ of book
  • Act II ½ of book
  • Act III ¼ of book
  • Act IV What?  Now wait a second, we’re already up to 4/4. How can there be an Act IV? Short answer: Scripts and such may appear to have four acts because the writers have to make room for the commercials.

Now learn this: what the acts do.

 

Act I:  Set up scenario. Introduce characters and scene.

Act II:  Pits hero’s weaknesses against antagonists’ strengths, with increasing consequences of failure.

Act III: Reversal: pits hero’s strengths against antagonist’s weaknesses. Ideally, the hero’s weaknesses become strengths. Resolve all the levels of conflict and consequences. Set up sequel.

 

For our purposes, what’s important is how the act ends. I say again—what’s important to me in my planning is how the act ends. That’s because I use fly-to points when I outline. We’ll cover those in the next chapter.

First, a few words about plot versus story. Story is the heart of the matter. Story is, “It’s about a guy who….” Story is what you use in your logline.

Plot is how story happens. It’s the specifics. The action. How the story unfolds. Plot is what we focus on in the outline and in the fly-to points.

Examples:

The story is about an orphan who comes of age in a small Southern town.

The logline: When Kerry James’ parents are killed in a freak blimp accident, the budding musician must overcome a fear of horsehair and the tyranny of a harsh maestro to survive puberty and make the high school orchestra.

The logline and story don’t tell us HOW he overcomes his weaknesses and the antagonist’s strengths. It doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow of his fight for first-chair violin.

The plot will be HOW he does all that. Story is what. Plot is how.

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Outlining

So what’s a fly-to point?

It’s a term that comes from my days in the Navy. When we wanted a pilot to lay a pattern of sonobuoys, we’d give him a series of fly-to points. Along that line, the sonobuoys would be placed at a particular interval. All the pilot needed to know was where to go next.

In their generic simple forms, the fly-to points for each act are:

  • Act I: Hero forced to act
  • Act II: Things are hopeless.
  • Act III: The good guys win.

Now, generic isn’t good enough. We need to make these specific and we’ll do that now. Figure those out now.

But before you do that: another digression.  A few words to folks who want the characters to take over and write the book. That’s not their job. They’re your characters—they do what you want them to. We don’t have time for the whole precious artist routine, do we? After all, we’ve only got thirty days to finish this.

Back to work. Let’s think about how each act ends. Let me talk a bit more about that.

I really like The Writer’s Journey by Vogler. It’s mentioned in the list at the end. He gives an intriguing way of thinking about the hero’s journey in mythic terms and talks about the hero’s approach on the entrance to the cave. It’s worth reading.

The essence of heroes is that they have a choice. A choice to act, a choice to walk away. Even reluctant heroes at some point make that heroic choice.

That’s how act I ends: the hero has to act. It may not be for a high moral principle. It may be to save his or her own skin, to rescue his child, to avenge a death, to make a killing in the stock market, or any number of reasons. Whatever his or her reason, that’s the fly-to point of Act I. At the end of act I, the hero responds to something or other—what I usually call the inciting incident—and chooses to be involve, to go on the quest.

The Act II fly-to point is even more straightforward.  Everything has to be hopeless. Your three conflicts have escalated and escalated and at the end of act II, they’re all coming to a head. Converging. The world is doomed.

Now, for continuity reasons, you may save one conflict escalation for act III, but you need to escalated that pretty danged early in Act III, because you’ve only got ¼ of the book left in which to wrap everything up.

The fly-to point for Act III is simply this: a happy ending.

Write them out. It doesn’t count if you just have them in your mind.

Fly-to points:

 

 

 

Act I:

Act II:

Act III:

Twist/sequel teaser?

 

Now, let’s take another shot at the logline, now that we’re certain how the acts are going to end. Here’s the magic to it all:

THE LOGLINE ENCOMPASSES THOSE FLY TO POINTS.

Remember how the log line is structured? Let me rephrase it a bit.

When (Act I inciting incident that leads to fly-to point), the hero (name, identifiers) must overcome (Act II, his weaknesses and antagonist’s strengths) in order to (Act III happy ending).

Try it now. Here, I’ll leave you a spot to scribble in:

When______________________________________________, the hero

______________________________________________ must overcome________________________________________________ and

__________________________________________________in order to

__________________________________________________________.

Making progress? Let’s expand a bit on what happens in each of the acts and see if that helps even more.

Act I

 

  • Set up scenario.
  • Introduce characters and scene.
  • Fly-to point: hero is forced to act.

 

Act II

 

  • Pits hero’s weaknesses against antagonists’ strengths.
  • Increasing consequences of failure.
  • Conflict takes place on many levels.
  • Change of locale in middle of Act II is often helpful.
  • Fly-to point: things are hopeless.

 

Act III

  • Pits hero’s strengths against antagonist’s weaknesses.
  • Resolve all the levels of conflict and consequences.

With that expanded explanation in mind, let’s move on to developing the guts of the book—the chapters and the scenes.

Chapters

I usually plan on 13-16 chapters. That’s because I used to dictate my first drafts into microcassettes for transcription. I dictate around 6,000 words per microcassette, front and back, slow speed. That range gives me 78-96,000 words. That’s 13-16 tapes. Not saying this is a hard and fast rule. That’s just the way that I do it and it’s a good place to start.

Personally, I like a first draft that’s a little short. I find it faster to add than to cut.

Hints: If you have a prologue, you should have an epilogue.

Backstory. Dribble in as adjectives or subordinate clauses or make clear in context. Do not do, “As you know, Admiral, this missile has a 1,000 yard range and is painted yellow.” Do this: The yellow missile arced from the ship. The target was 900 yards away, almost out of range.

I like to start with four chapters in Act I, eight in Act II, four in Act III. That’s just a place to start.

My chapters usually look like the outline on the next page. Take a look at this model and then we’ll talk about scenes.

Sample Chapter Themes

 


 

Chapter                          What happens

 

ACT I

  1. Explosion
  2. Introduce villain
  3. Aftermath of inciting incident
  4. Hero’s decision to act

YOUR FLY-TO POINT:

ACT II

  1. Hero acts. Encounters his weaknesses
  2. Villain acts
  3. Crisis
  4. Set stage for next crisis
  5. Hero hopeless or determined?
  6. Escalating stakes
  7. Escalation
  8. BIG CRISIS. Things look hopeless.

YOUR FLY-TO POINT:

ACT III

  1. Hero finds strength/villain runs into weakness. Ray of hope.
  2. Big fight
  3. Hero wins

YOUR FLY-TO POINT:

  1. Set up sequel, wrap up a minor details, twist something minor.

Now that you’ve got some chapters, it’d be nice to have some scenes in them, doncha think?

 

Scenes

In a way, scenes are very much like small stories. Each one has a beginning, a middle and an end, an Act I, II and III. While it’s not an exact parallel, scenes should feel a bit like three act structure.

Look up Mandelbrot sets. It’s like that. Act-chapter-scene-paragraph-sentence. Think about that sequence as a Mandelbrot set. (I already told you—look it up.)

The key to pacing with scenes is: arrive late, leave early. Stay there only long enough to accomplish what you need.

Now, heck, this is the sort of advice you can get in a million writing books. Let’s talk about BAM and scenes.

Remember, we decided to plan for 16 chapters. We like that because it’s divisible by four and works out right with our microcassette work and gives us the right word count. But you can start with 12 chapters, if you like. Just pick a nice number divisible by four. The chapter police will not come to your house with a warrant if you don’t have 16. This is simply a place to start.

I start with three scenes per chapter.   16 x 3 = 48.

I’m going to start with 48 scenes. I write them down.

This really is the tough part. Some people think that this takes all the fun out of writing, that you’ve in essence already written the story by outlining it so thoroughly.

That’s just not true. Outlining frees you up to write. Okay, so perhaps you’re not on an artistic high the entire time, but that’s how the writing life is. Remember, the whole point of this is to be able to get your first draft done and be able to write more than one book per year.

If you just want to have fun, learn to ski. Or play bridge. Or take karate lessons. That’s what fun is about. BAM is about writing the professional way.

So here’s the BAM take on scenes:

  • Start with three scenes per chapter. Structure each scene like you structured your acts.
  • Ask why the scene is there.
  • What does it do to move the story forward?

Still writing everything on your legal pad or scribbling in this book? Let’s do the sensible thing now and move to your computer.

 

The Mechanics of it all

If you’re not familiar with the outline function of Word or whatever word processing program you’re using, spend some time messing around with it. Or, if you like specialized software, check out Power Writer from write-brain.com. Cool trial version. My friend Ken wrote it all and it has some great structuring options, including the whole Vogler mythic model thing.

Got outlining figured out? Good.

Now do four HEADING 1’s.  Call them (big surprise):

  • Act I
  • Act II
  • Act III
  • Teaser/sequel

Put in four chapters in Act I as Heading 2.

Eight in Act II.

Four in Act III.

Put your fly-to points as Heading 2 at the end of each act. So, for Act I, you should have five lines that are Heading 2.

Now put your scenes in the appropriate places. Those will be Heading 3.

Now write. This is how you do it.

  • Apply butt to chair.
  • Turn computer on.
  • Open the document.
  • Begin at the beginning. I say this, but the beginning is actually one of the last things you’ll rewrite.

Open the outline. Write the first scene under the appropriate heading.  When you finish the scene, put an asterisk in front of that number.

Write each scene as a stand alone, not worrying much about continuity and connection. You’ll pick that up in the third rewrite.

As you type, leave yourself notes. If you find something is not flowing or needs a better setup early on, leave a note to yourself, one that starts with **. That will make it easy to search later on when you go back to edit.

Alternatively, if you truly do understand Word, use the comment function in Track Changes. You should get familiar with Track Changes anyway, if you’re not already. Many editors and larger publishing houses are now using Track Changes for edits and copy edits.

           

Staying on Track

We had a saying in the Navy: you get what you inspect. What it means is that people tend to prepare for what they know they’ll be judged on.

For this reason, you MUST track your progress. Come up with a form or format that works for you.

Personally, I started off with a big wall chart. I did a crosshatch on it to make 16 big blocks, each one a chapter. In the left upper corner, I put the chapter number. The right upper corner was reserved for that chapter’s word count. The right lower corner was for cumulative word count. The left lower corner got a big X in it when that chapter was done.

I was a little bit compulsive early on, yes?

These days, I settle for keeping track with my outline in Word. I’ll do a word count occasionally, but it’s not really necessary. After writing lots of novels, I know pretty much how it’s going as I write.

Now, a lot of writers have a wall that they hit at certain spots in the manuscript. For me, it’s the second half of the second act. All at once, I feel like I’m writing in molasses. The book will NEVER be done. I’ll be writing it when I’m eligible for Social Security.

Whenever I start feeling that way, I check my word count. Yep, around 50,000 words or so. It’s the wall. The only way through it is to write through it. If I just keep plugging along, in about 9,000 words or so, I’ll start to love the story again. Very normal and I’ll be surprised if you don’t have something similar, your own personal wall.

Once you’re ready to write, I suggest taking three days to develop your logline, fly-to points, outline and scenes. See my sample month schedule later on.

As you write, you may find you’ve hosed things up, that it’s not going to work out the way you’d planned. That’s okay. We just want to get a rough draft down. Do the ** and leave yourself a note to correct things. Then continue on as though you’d done it the way you will go back and do it.

I usually plan a rough draft around 90% of final length. Doing this quickly, you’ll need to go back and add in some transitions, etc. BAM does not include rewrites, but you can schedule them the same way.

So. Get your calculator out again.

  • Take the final desired length and multiply by 0.9. That will be your first draft word length.
  • Divide that by 27 to figure out how many words you must write each day to stay on track.

IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT.

 

Sample monthly schedule

Start Date: _____________   Day 30: ______________

Day      Task                            Accomplishment         % done

1          Logline

2          Fly-to points

3          Outline and scenes

4          Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

5          Write 3000 words        Actual Words: 

6          Write 3000 words        Actual Words: 

7          Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

8          Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

9          Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

10        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

11        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

12        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

13        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

14        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

15        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

16        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

17        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

18        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

19        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

20        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

21        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

22        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

23        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

24        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

25        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

26        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

27        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

28        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

29        Write 3000 words        Actual Words:

You’re done. Now it’s time for Rewrites!

 

 

The Rewrites

 

The First Rewrite

 The first rewrite is to clean up the ** you put in the first draft. I’m not being rude. Remember, I told you to type ** in your draft when you wanted to come back and change something.

 

The Second Rewrite

The second rewrite is for continuity. This is a longer day.  Do it this way. It will hurt but it’s the absolute best way.

  • Print it all out.
  • Sit down with the printout on your lap or on the desk in front of you. Have a legal pad handy.
  • Go through it. Read in one sitting, stopping only for bathroom breaks, snacks, and to jot down issues.

Your notes should start with the page number followed by a clear description of what’s wrong. Put down too much detail. You’re seeing it all at once, working like this, but you have to make sure that you’ll understand what you said before when it’s not all in front of you.

You should have pages and pages of notes.

Now go to the computer, and starting at the END, begin fixing those issues. You start at the end because the pages numbers change as you add stuff. If you started at the beginning, all the page numbers after the first few corrections would change, making it much more difficult to find what you meant to fix. If you start at the end, it’s easier.

Do not go to the computer until you’ve been all the way through the manuscript and made all your notes.

Repeat, if necessary. Not a bad idea to do this twice, especially when you’re starting out.

           

The Third Rewrite

You may do words now. Worry about what sounds good and writerly. Lots of good books on this.

You’re done when you’d rather run your car into a telephone pole than look at the ms one more time.

I want you to be aware that many people get depressed after they’ve finished a manuscript and mailed it off somewhere. This is normal. You live intensely with a book and when it goes off to prove its worth in the marketplace, it’s an anxious time.

There are a few things that will help:

  • Start the next book
  • Change your goal from selling it to putting it in the mail. The former you have no control over. The latter you do. Change your mindset, change your goals to things that are within your control, change your life.
  • Get medication or work out a lot, if necessary.

Just don’t let the post-partum depression surprise you.

You should probably read my book on query letters about now.

 

The End

So. Did it work? It did if you worked it, and if you did, you now have a fairly decent ms. It’s well-structured and flows and was pretty painless to actually get done.

Well, painless except for the logline, outline and scene structuring. But do you see how useful all that up front work is? Aren’t you further along than you thought you’d be?

That’s what works. That’s BAM.

The Echo Technique

 

Flow. It’s the key to writing a story that keeps your readers turning pages late into the night. It should come naturally, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Here’s one technique you can use to create that ‘one more page’ feeling.  I call it echoing, and it’s a very simple technique to add to your arsenal.

Whenever you feel you need to smooth over a transition, pick up a word, color, scent or detail from the previous scene. Use it in the next paragraph or so. That creates a connection that can bridge changes in scene or POV or a major shift.

Echoing is very similar to using a motif, but on a smaller scale. It’s a short term theme or concept that adds to the cohesion of your work.

What does that look like?

Something like this.

 

Last paragraph in a chapter or section:

Red blood seeped from the wound, tracing it’s way down her arm until it circled her elbow. She slumped to the deck, her eyes flooding, as she reached for the capstan.

 Then the first paragraph of the NEXT chapter or section:

“Captain! The bow compartment is flooding!”

 

See the echo? This is an obvious one, more so than it should be, just for illustration.  You can be more subtle with the word you choose and you can place it a paragraph or two down. The technique will still work.

But don’t overuse it. If you do, your copy editor’s going to mark it up as overuse of that particular word.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

Tech Stack for Dictating

Learn to dictate to save time

I've been dictating first drafts for years. If you learn how to do it, it'll save you a ton of time on first drafts. More on the "how" later, but let's talk about the tech stack first. 

Here's my sequence:  Windows 10 voice recorder --> M4a to MP4 converted --> DragonDictate transcriber --> Word document.

I've found that the voice recorder on Windows 10 on a PC is just excellent. Great high quality, transcribes great. I dictate fifteen minute chunks, not much more than that.  I finish, give it a meaninful name, e.g. <title> 19 may 2016 number 1, and save it. Four fifteen-minute chunks is usually around 5-6K words.

Windows 10 produces an .m4a file. Dragon can't transcribe that directly, but there's a free converter you can download HERE that works great. Or use this link: http://download.cnet.com/Free-M4a-to-MP3-Converter/3000-2140_4-187723.html

One the fine is converted to an MP4, I have Dragon transcribe it into Dragonpad. I don't go directly into Word because Dragon does not do well with long documents and you run the risk of wiping out a bunch of stuff if Dragon misinterprets something. In Dragonpad, I fix any errors, then cut and paste into my Word document.

I should mention that I'm always working off a structural outline. I may not follow it, but I have always thought the story out ahead of time. That's a very painful and completely necessary part of writing well quickly.