Friday, February 13, 2009

How Fast is Your First Draft?

Okay, that blog entry title stank. I'm not good at titles, as my editor would happily tell you. But my topic today is first drafts, a subject much on my mind at the moment, since I finished my first draft of the book currently known as COWBOY JUSTICE.

First, I guess I need to address the fact that, yes, I did write a second cowboy book. Kinda. Riley Patterson isn't a rancher or anything, although his father was. He's another cowboy cop like Joe Garrison in my book COWBOY ALIBI. In fact, Riley is Joe's right hand man at the Canyon Creek, Wyoming, Police Department. And if you read Cowboy Alibi, you should know that Riley has a tragic past to overcome—his beloved wife Emily was murdered three years earlier.

Riley definitely wanted his own story, but I had already started thinking about a series revolving around a family of six brothers and one sister named the Coopers. So I sort of put Riley on the back burner while I developed the ideas for the Cooper brothers. But when I got to the Cooper sister, Hannah, it occurred to me that she just might like herself a cowboy. So COWBOY JUSTICE was born.

The idea came to me back in the late fall. I turned in the proposal to my editor well after the first two Cooper book ideas I proposed, but it turned out to be one of the two she chose for my upcoming contract. It was also a really fast write for me—44 days of total writing, although there was a fairly large break between the first 11 days and the other 33 while I waited to hear from my editor on the proposal.

It was a pretty brutal writing schedule, especially since for most of that time, I was working a pretty brutal schedule in my day job as well. I made time to write in the mornings, during my lunch breaks, in the evenings, and on weekends. I made myself write when I was fighting off colds and when my arthritic knees were flaring up. I wanted to get the book done so I could get it in for 2009. While that didn't happen, I did finish the book well before my editor expected I would. I met my own deadline and I have until March 1st to turn it in.

So now we're down to the nuts and bolts of writing—the first draft revisions. This is where I re-read the book, pen in hand, and edit out the junk, retool the sentence structure to make things flow more easily, ruthlessly replace cliched turns of phrase with wording that's more imaginative, descriptive and true to the characters and situation. Some of this stuff I could have done in the writing phase, had I been writing more slowly. But I find it easier to finish at a dead run and then go back to edit, rather than linger and risk missing my deadlines.

Also, by writing at a clip this way, it makes the revisions easier for me, because as I'm re-reading the manuscript, I find that there's a lot in it that I don't consciously remember writing. That comes from being "in the zone," as I call it, while writing the first draft. When I'm in the zone. the words just flow right from my brain to my fingers, and they seem to bypass parts of my memory. So sometimes I'll read a scene in the edit stage and I don't really remember writing it. It's a weird sensation, but I find that my best writing happens in the zone, so I don't complain much.

So, that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about my writing process. But I just thought I'd share.

1 comment:

LindaC said...

Love your books, Paula. I really enjoy reading about other writer's processes, too. Writing at a dead run shuts down the internal editor, but then you can give him his turn during the rewrite stage. Don't get it right, get it written is definitely my mantra.