Starting From Scratch, Part II

This is an ongoing series on my process of writing a new story from start to finish. 
You'll soon see that my process is a complete mess. But it is what it is. I am working on a novella, Christmas in Stilettos (Book 4 in my Red Stilettos series) that will be part of Passionate Kisses 3: Under the Mistletoe, a boxed set with nine other authors. It will release in October.


I am two weeks into the month, and I'm supposed to have this novella written (the first draft anyway) by August 1. I took the first week to plot and plan as much as a nonplotter and nonplanner can. I tried to figure out who my characters are, what they want, what the main conflict(s) will be. I thought about the setting, what my characters look like, who they are, where they live. 

Finally, four days ago, I started to put down words... and soon learned that everything I plotted and planned means jack shit.

I'm about 4500 words into what I expect will be a 20-25,000 word novella. And it totally sucks so far. I'm so not kidding.

Here's my problem (well, one of many): As hard as I try to figure out who my characters are and where the plot is going beforehand, I can't figure those things out until I actually start writing.This is super frustrating to me, because I know I'd finish projects much faster if I could figure things out in advance. I can actually write a pretty fast first draft, but it's always such a mess, it takes forever to clean up and polish.

I've been fighting my process for years, reading every plotting book out there, attending any plotting/planning workshop I could find. I've learned a lot. If my brain actually worked like a plotter, I'd be set. But it doesn't. Yet I keep hoping. I keep trying to plot and outline before hand, hoping with one of these projects, it'll magically come together for me.

Here's how my process usually goes (despite any attempts to
tweak it): I will crank out a really, really shitty first draft (note: if you haven't read Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird where she talks about shitty first drafts, you must. In fact, click that link now and go get it. Seriously. I'll wait.). I've realized that whether I write my first draft really slowly and agonize over every word, or whip that puppy out as fast as I can, it will suck in equal measures. So I might as well write that suckage quickly, eh? [Check out these 10 Rules for Writing First Drafts]

So that's what I'm doing right now. I'm just cranking out the words. I call my first draft my discovery draft, because it's really more like a crappily written outline than a tangible first draft. I'm discovering new things about my characters and story every time I sit down to write. In fact, I often talk to myself on the page. I turn the font color red and just start "talking to myself" until I figure out what to write next. If I write total gibberish (like below), I'll just delete it when I'm done with my writing session. But if I actually come up with something useful, I cut and paste that snippet into another file to look at later during revisions.For instance, here's a snippet of Chapter One:

She shrugged and her blush deepened. Really need to figure out where home is, etc. For each of them. Where is "home" for her. Colorado? Nevada? Some small town. He grew up in Seattle. I think. #@% I just flipping can't figure out who these people are! This is so stupid. What the hell comes next. what is she thinking right now? I don't care, which means my readers won't care which means I'd rather eat chocolate than write this shit.

He knew why she hadn’t called them. It would’ve been awkward. Because she thought his family knew about their situation. “Yeah, about that…” He cleared his throat. "They assume you're coming with us.”

Anyway...that's where I am now. I just reached the first turning point of the story where everything changes. The draft is total and utter crap at this point. But I'll keep going and eventually--I hope and pray--I'll start to figure out who the characters are and what their story is. 

Until next time... keep writing!


  1. Love that idea about simply changing the font color to be able to do the "talking to myself" stuff in the draft stages! Will definitely start using that.

  2. Love that idea about simply changing the font color to be able to do the "talking to myself" stuff in the draft stages! Will definitely start using that.