Our Book Club Friday author today is mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig. Elizabeth writes the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink, and as Riley Adams, she writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin. Her latest book is , which releases July 6, 2010: When a food scout from a cable cooking channel is murdered, it's only natural for restaurant owner Lulu Taylor to take it personally. After all, her barbeque restaurant served the scout's last meal. But danger lurks as Lulu investigates the crime. Will she clear the restaurant's name, or is she next to be skewered?
Elizabeth can be found blogging daily at http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com, named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010. You can read more about her at her website and follow her on Twitter: @elizabethscraig. -- AP
CREATING A FIRST DRAFT AND REVISING
One reason I enjoy the online writing community is discovering all the different ways that writers create a first draft and how they approach the revision process. Each person has their own individual method.
What works for me (the first draft):
I do an initial brainstorming on paper for ideas.
I set up a Word folder with the working title of the manuscript. In that folder, I have a character file, a file for random ideas, a title idea file, a file with the ideas I brainstormed, and the manuscript itself.
I have a One Note notebook for the manuscript. (Microsoft’s One Note that came with my Office 2007.) It’s good for listing things I need to research, character descriptions, setting descriptions, my clues and red herrings, etc. It’s basically my reference for information I need to access quickly (without searching through my manuscript.)
I have a storytelling voice, so I treat the draft as if I were transcribing a story that I’m telling someone. It’s conversational. The story unfolds in an easier way that way. I ask myself “what if” as I go along.
Sometimes, as I write, I’m not happy with the direction I’m taking the story in. I start taking the story in a new direction at that point and flag the point where the storyline changes so that I can come back and fix the text before that point during the second draft.
I mentioned that I have a “random” file in my manuscript folder in Word. Occasionally I’ll get ideas for the story, or bits of dialogue that would be for a different part of the story. I put these ideas in the random file.
I don’t like big outlines, but I do like small ones. I’ll sketch out what I want to accomplish for the next page. It’s got to take the plot somewhere.
When I finish my writing for the day, I make a note of where I need to pick up the next day. I never read the text I wrote the day before. It completely messes me up—it not only makes me feel insecure about the project, but it slows me down.
What keeps me going during a first draft?
I’ve learned to write anywhere and with any noise level. This helps tremendously since some days I’m doing my writing on the go. The ability to adapt to any environment I’m in makes the writing go faster.
Also—I think it’s really, really important to set an attainable goal for yourself. If that’s a page a day, then that’s what you need to make. I think meeting our goals really motivates us to keep moving forward.
I write every day—even on weekends. Otherwise, it’s too hard for me to jump back into the project.
I read the whole manuscript from start to finish. I used to do this on paper, but now I do it on the computer—which saves me a lot of time. I use Word’s Track Changes feature (click on “review” at the top of a page and then turn on Track Changes) to make comments to myself.
I look for big errors first, then I do a search for smaller mistakes. If I happen to see typos, etc, I’ll change them as I go. Otherwise, I’ll just worry about them later. So for the first sweep, I’m usually looking for scenes that are out of order, continuity errors, boring scenes or rambling dialogue, weak characters, pacing problems, lack of description, etc. When I find these issues, I make a comment in the margin with Track Changes. Usually I’ll either open a new Word document and write a separate correction for the problem scene (without referring again to the original document…which seems to make my rewrite too similar to the original), or I’ll rewrite the scene on paper and type it back in later.
I’m more nitpicky on my next pass through the document. I look for phrase repetition, word repetition, poor choice of words, unvarying sentence structure or dialogue structure—and I fix it. I know the favorite words I like to use, and I do a “find” for them in the manuscript and replace the words with other words, or reorder the sentence.
Then I read the manuscript again (usually out loud.) And then…I read it again (a few more times.) With each pass, I make changes.
Finally, I put in the chapter breaks and put a header with my name, a suggested title (or not…sometimes I just say something like “Memphis Barbeque 2”), and the page number.
This is what works for me. But I’m very curious about other writers’ methods and always consider adapting my method to make it more efficient or more organized. If there are any writers reading this blog, what works for you?
Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m sure many of our readers found it fascinating to get into the head of an author and see how you work. -- AP