This is a post for all you writers out there with stories waiting to be written. (I know who you are.) Lately, some friends of mine have remarked on how quickly I can get a draft of a book on paper. (I just finished a draft in 5 weeks, and I’m a homeschool mom of two, so I wasn’t overwhelmed with quiet, consecutive hours in which to pursue my muse. I’m no different than any other writer out there. I don’t have magic powers. And please don’t ask me how to find readers or sell books or win critical acclaim. I’m stumped on all three. This isn’t about long-term success or even about quality. It’s about bridging the massive gulf fixed between a word count of zero and a word count of, well, one.)
I stumbled onto the concept of Seizure Drafting (and I’m not trying to be offensive, here…it’s just the best way I’ve found to describe the experience) when I was working on my second book. I had my world. I knew my characters. What remained was to write a story combining the two. If you’ve written anything, you know there is nothing more terrifying, more paralyzing, than sitting down in front of a blank screen. You can stare at a blinking cursor for ages, wondering where to begin. You can labor over every word, grinding out maybe one solid phrase an hour. Trying to get the creative muscles limbered, to discover a comfortable narrative voice, to find your rhythm-it can seem like an impossible task.
This is where speed is your friend, where Seizure Drafting can serve you. I’ve thrown together a few rules to get you going. (You can do this! You can do this! You can write a book!)
Rule #1 of Seizure Drafting: Write fast. Really fast. Write like the hounds of hell are nipping at your heels. Run, run, run for the finish line. If there is some gap in information, some legitimate question that you don’t have an answer for, leave a blank in the manuscript. You can answer the question later. If you come to a fork in the plot road and you’re not sure which way to turn, take a deep breath and pick one. If it doesn’t work out, you can always change it later. (Little tip, though: there are LOTS of ways a story can work, not just one.)
Rule #2 of Seizure Drafting: Do not edit. Writing and editing are completely separate endeavors, and you can only do one of them well at any given time. For practical purposes this means that, whenever possible, you must not read the words you just wrote. Keep your eyes on the cursor. It’s waiting for direction. No looking back, no matter how atrocious the previous line.
Rule #3 of Seizure Drafting: Do not worry. You’re going to be sneaky with this, writers. You’re going to say you’re not editing while you privately obsess about the poor quality of the sentence you just wrote or the blatant contradiction you just made or the lame line of dialogue you just typed. Stop it. You can fix it when you edit and rewrite. For now, you need raw material! You will never finish a novel unless you first put a horrific draft on paper. No one writes brilliant first drafts. No one.
Rule #4 of Seizure Drafting: Give yourself a lifeline. Before you close a writing session, push yourself to write another word, phrase, or sentence that tells where you plan to go next. It could be the name of a character who needs to enter, an event that’s approaching, a detail that needs to be mentioned, a plan for how to wrap up this scene. It can be anything, of any length, so long as you know what it means. When you return to the manuscript, you won’t have to spend half an hour deciding how to begin. You’ve left a dangling rope. Grab the lifeline and jump.
Rule #5 of Seizure Drafting: When you get to the end, walk away. You need time (I’d recommend at least 6 weeks) and distance to be able to make fair judgments about your work. Don’t look at the manuscript now. Don’t think about the story. Write something else. Take a nap. Watch movies. Most importantly, read great books, all kinds of books. Immerse yourself in language and story so that your skills are sharpened for your next go. You’ll be amazed at what you see when you begin the editing process.
No more rules. I embarked on the road of Seizure Drafting in the hopes that I would outrun my fear. I knew that if I sat with my uncertainty and self-doubt, they would eat me alive. I’d never get a single word on the page. But as I moved along, I learned that Seizure Drafting is unbelievably freeing. I’ve become more at ease with the writing process, more at home with myself. I’ve learned not to waste so much time worrying how others will judge me.
Writers, your first draft is for you. No one ever has to see it. So challenge yourself. Enjoy yourself. Discover plot twists and character quirks you never knew were there. It’s intense. It’s exhausting. And it’s an absolute blast.