Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A new routine, and the importance of the SFD

What happened to May???  Maybe it’s being away on holiday for part of it, but this month seems to have gone before it has even started, and I feel quite panicky at the thought that it will be June tomorrow.  Since my return from Turkey, I have been trying to get into a new routine.  The first four months of the year were a frenzy of deadlines, but the payoff now is that all I have to do until the end of September is to finish the ‘time slip’.  This sold on the first 50,000 words, which was very exciting, but I sort of wish I’d sold a complete novel, as the task of finishing it after not looking at it for a year is a daunting one. 

So daunting, in fact, that whenever I thought about it, I was terrified.  The word length isn’t set in stone, but I’ve envisaged about 150,000 words, with two intertwined stories, both set in York, one in the present and one in the 16th-century.  It is partly a historical novel, partly a ghost story, partly a romance, and partly a psychological thriller (sort of).  Picture me way out of my comfort zone!

It all seemed too much to deal with at first, and I had that awful rabbit-stuck-in-headlights feeling for a while but I did eventually get a grip and wrote myself a time plan until the end of June.  I also remembered the concept of the ‘shitty first draft’, from Anne Lamott’s wonderful article of the same name in her book about writing, Bird by Bird. ‘Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it’, Anne says.  The shitty first draft is when you give yourself permission to write rubbish: ‘let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place’. 

You don’t show anyone your SFD.  It is just for you and I certainly find that once I let go of feeling that I have to write ‘properly’, it frees everything up.  I just fill the screen with words and because it doesn’t matter and I’m not trying to control it, that’s when the characters start to come alive and the story takes on a momentum of its own.  So I’ll realise writing one scene that the previous one doesn’t make any sense at all, and that her relationship with her sister has to be completely different, say.  I don't go back and change it at this stage, though. I just keep on writing.  

In one way, most of the SFD is wasted words, that I throw away at the end and never look at again, but in another, I find that it’s a vital part of understanding the story.  No matter how stupid it is, the SFD gives me something to work with, and if nothing else it saves me from the terror of the blank screen.

So my time plan for June allows for a 40,000 word  rough draft of the remainder of the story.  I’ve broken that down into much smaller targets of between 1000 and 2000 words a day, which is much easier to contemplate than 100,000.  And within each day, I break that down again.  My new routine involves waking at 6.30 (a huge effort for me as I’m a night owl), and writing 300 words before I do anything else.  Because it’s a shitty first draft and it doesn’t matter what I write, it doesn’t take long, and sometimes it’s not even that shitty.  

Then I have my shower or whatever, and write another 300, and so on through the day.  It’s amazing how quickly the words mount up when you’re just doing a little at a time, and I have already done 12,000 words and am two days ahead of my schedule, so feeling very pleased with myself.  Of course, when the SFD is done, I will have to start writing properly, and it will be a very different story then, but that’s a crisis for July. For now, I’m just thinking 300 words at a time …


  1. Love the SFD theory and I can visualise how writing 300 words at a time could write quite well. Really wish I could do this first thing in the morning but I'd have to get up at 4.30am to beat my two year old. Still... maybe it's that kind of dedication I need :)

  2. I am currently working to a word count of around 1000 words a day for the 80 day 80k word challenge. It is definitely achievable and ensures my wip moves on much faster than before. I now need a challenge to help me edit it when it is written! Good luck with yours - it sounds like my kind of book! Mx

  3. I don't know how you can even *consider* writing with a two-year-old, Rachael. You should be proud of ANYTHING you can write!

    And Morton, 1000 words a day is much easier to think about than 80,000 words, isn't it? Don't know why I don't try this system when I write a romance too. Maybe I will next time ...

  4. LOL! That makes me feel better then. I have a two year old, a four year old AND a six year old... ALL boys!

  5. Three small boys? Good grief, Rachael! Forget being proud of writing anything. I'd feel triumphant at just getting through each day! You must be so committed to writing. I feel positively humble now!