Author Advice · New Author · The Process · Writing

Alesha’s Secret Sauce: Recipe for a Rough Draft

Ingredients:

  • One intriguing idea
  • A healthy heap of excitement
  • A daily dose of writing
  • A dash of direction
  • *Warning: Turn OFF the editing brain. It is not yet time to bake.

Instructions:

Begin with one intriguing idea. Ideas are flourishing everywhere, ripe for the picking, if you know where to look for them. They are hanging in your dreams, growing from life experiences or events, sprouting from words, fairytales or tropes, blossoming from an image, story or show. The places may vary for each individual. However, they cannot be found if you are not looking for them. Rarely do ideas fall out of nowhere and hit you in the head, like the proverbial apple. Unless you’ve already opened your eyes to them. In which case, you may be trying to avoid paying attention to the over-abundance of ideas popping up everywhere you look. Unfortunately, you cannot harvest all of them at once. Thankfully, you can combine some of them making for an even tastier draft! You can also pick your favorites and write them down to save for later.

For those of you struggling to hold on to just one. Never fear. One is all you need. Also please note that looking for the perfect idea may prove difficult, if not impossible. No idea is perfect in its infancy, you must see its potential. That is what you are here for, dear writer, to help bake it into the fabulous story it has the potential to become! Now that you have selected the idea you want to work with, you can begin mixing your rough draft.

Whip your idea with a healthy heap of excitement. If you aren’t feeling excited about it, then no one else will. Everything flows so much better when you are delighted with your idea, trust me. Perhaps it has been a while since you last looked at this particular idea and you find yourself feeling a lack of that former enthusiasm. Perhaps you have been writing this idea for far too long and the flavor has become stale or even sour. Calm down. The idea isn’t necessarily bad—you just need to freshen it up. It might need more time to ripen or you might need a break.

This could be a good time to put it aside and work on something else. Spend a day writing an idea that has sparked your interest, work on fun prompts or even a bit of world building, before returning. Perhaps you need a much longer break. I finally allowed myself a five-year brake from a story that had become particularly sour. This allowed me to finally focus on a new idea and finish what would become my first fully baked novel.

When sludging through your writing and feelings of enthusiasm have waned, consider stirring in another heap of excitement to get you whisking along once more. Renew that passion by building a playlist that reminds you of your book or compile images that resonate with your world. Repeat positive affirmations. Tell yourself how awesome your idea is. Ask yourself why you are such a speedy writer. Remember why you wanted to bake this intriguing idea into a novel. Reread your favorite parts. Remind yourself why you love writing.

Review all the things you originally loved about your idea through journaling—as a friend of mine recently suggested. As you journal you may discover something is missing. Originally you were super stoked about your villain but now the villain isn’t living up to your dream. Good thing this is your rough draft. Keep working the batter. Shift things around and regain that spark that originally drove you! Dive into the scene that has been on your mind or you are feeling stoked about. If you are a linear writer, consider summarizing the scenes you don’t want to write to get to the fun part. You can always fill in the missing parts later.

It is important to note, as you are folding in excitement, that nothing will happen if you are not putting in your daily dose of writing. You must give your idea substance to work with or you will have nothing to bake into a novel. Start off small to make writing a habit. Like other good habits it will become easier with time. Try to schedule a daily writing time—it doesn’t have to be long just regular. If this is not possible with your current schedule, don’t panic! Squeeze writing in at various times during the day, during breaks, during nap time, during those moments you have to yourself before bed or in the morning. The most important thing is to write frequently. Even when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.

Train your brain to write by using the same writing space. Give yourself goals to work toward. You can do word count goals, page goals, time goals, or even weekly writing goals. Any writing will do, it is not meant to be beautiful. This is your rough draft. It is meant to be fun and messy. Ingredients get spilled on the counter. Pieces get discarded. Flavoring is added at the end. You will clean up the mess later. Putting things away before you are finished with them can create a lot of extra work. The goal is to take your idea and unravel it—until it begins to resemble the story you imagined.

Throughout this process keep in mind my warning. Now is NOT the time for editing! This is a rough draft. It is not ready to bake. No matter how tempting, you must resist. Turn OFF your editing brain. It is exceedingly difficult to fix something half-baked. It is equally difficult to figure out all the ingredients you want to mix in before you know exactly what you are making. You can add spice, flowery words and motifs later. It is unnecessary and nearly impossible to do all of it at once.

Personally, I find it difficult to turn off the editing brain while typing on a computer. It is fine for short papers and blogs, but to complete a whole book, I needed to find a way to stop the perfectionist syndrome and roll the story out. There are a variety of techniques to help. Some authors chose to use various writing programs or platforms, others dictate, using speech to text. I discovered notebook writing. I write my rough draft by hand on a notebook I cut in half. I carry this notebook wherever I go and jot down ideas whenever they strike me. This also allows me to be messy.

I advise you not to delete parts that aren’t working. The wording you use there may help you in your next draft. If you are using a computer, consider striking through or highlighting unwanted sections rather than deleting them. Don’t try and edit or rework them at this time. Simply add a note or start the section anew. In my notebook, I put a bracket around the chunk that went amiss and begin the scene over adding various notes in the margins when necessary. I needn’t figure it out now. I simply make a note and move forward. Forward momentum will move your toward completing your recipe!

As you get going, remember to dust your idea with a dash of direction. When and how much, is up to you. However, it is very difficult to get anything accomplished if you don’t have a general idea of how you want your final product to turn out. There are hundreds of ways this idea could go. Things could get unwieldy. Gently beat it into submission. Whether you are a recipe follower or improv baker, direction is needed. As an improv baker myself, I start with a main idea and a bit of direction then jump right in. When things get tough, I pause to sift in some more direction by creating an informal sort of outline. If I do this, things tend to go much smoother.

There are a myriad of ways to mix an outline—formal or informal. You can create a long, detailed summary of the whole book called a snap-draft. You can form a table or chart, having each box represent a chapter or time frame and add in the corresponding scenes at specific points in the novel. You can do a mind dump, writing down everything you know about the story before organizing it to your liking. You can get to know your characters and world by creating charts, timelines, or family trees. You can storyboard using movable notecards containing all the scenes you know need to happen. Start off with the bigger picture, and fill in the details along the way, or start off with the small details or scenes and built your story out.

Personally, I like to summarize the story using succinct bullet points starting at the beginning and moving from point to point as far as I can, in a linear fashion. When I find myself uncertain what course a character will take, I do what I like to call the A/B scenario—journaling different paths that the characters can take and what will happen if they take each one. Often, I’ll find my answer based on the path that leads to the most thoughts or the outcome that gets me closer to my next plot point. I constantly take notes or talk with friends to slice through and analyze various ideas. This keeps the juices flowing and the excitement levels up.

Chose or combine any of these processes or create your own. Learn from master story bakers. Discover what works best for you. Take the time to find the direction your mind has been searching for. Remember, this is your story. You get to choose how it will go. There may be times when characters do things seemingly of their own accord; however, you can work with that because you are becoming a seasoned story baker, you are now equipped with the secret sauce.

Keep in mind that each writer is different. This can be both frustrating and freeing. Frustrating as you struggle to determine how you work best and freeing when you realize you don’t have to write in a certain way to be successful! However, these key ingredients seem to be universal. An intriguing idea whipped with a healthy heap of excitement, given a daily dose of writing, all dusted with a dash of direction will help you complete your recipe for a rough draft, moving you closer to baking up the novel you’ve been dreaming of.

Happy writing!