Wednesday, August 8

Guest Author Corinne Duyvis: Fast Drafting, Fast Editing

By Corinne Duyvis, @corinneduyvis

I'd like to welcome Corinne Duyvis to the blog today to chat with us about something I'd been trying to do more of: write first drafts faster.

Corinne is an author of SF/F young adult novels--light, dark, and anywhere in-between. In theory, she's also a portrait artist, but in practice she spends her free time nerding out over superheroes and TV series. Her cat makes her happy, kyriarchy makes her grouchy, and hairbrushes make her very confused. She lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

She's a graduate of Clarion West 2011 and has short stories published in Strange Horizons and Dagan Books' upcoming FISH anthology. She's currently between agents. Find her at her website, blog, or Twitter.

Take it away Corinne...

Just like there's a split between plotters and pantsers, there's a split between authors who love drafting and those who love editing.

I count myself as one of the former: I live for drafting. There's no pressure for your work to be perfect, you finally get to give shape to all those characters and scenes that have been floating around your mind, and it's full of surprises.

Most of all, I love how fast it can go. I can squeeze out a draft in anywhere from ten to thirty days.

My trick: I spend forever brainstorming my novels in advance. By the time I start writing a book, I know all the major plot points and every detail of the ending. When surprises come up, I'll just re-brainstorm my outline and pick up where I left off.

Every waking moment, I'm thinking about how the next scene will go, how my character will feel, how this event will lead into the next scene and the one after that. When I finally sit down at the computer, the words flow, eager to take shape.

It doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me, and I love it.

The downside is that editing is painful. That's the part where I actually have to pay attention, and for someone with zero attention span like yours truly, that's tough. Editing is slo-o-ow. I lose focus. I lose motivation. There's no way to track my daily progress, no editing high to take advantage of. For a long time, I edited very, very slowly. I'd skip back and forth in the book, floundering, tweaking parts here, scrapping parts there, and feeling monumentally dissatisfied at how much I had left to do.

A lightbulb finally went off about a year and a half ago. So here's my new trick: I approach editing the exact same way as I approach drafting.

(I am a little slow at times.)

I brainstorm, I outline, and after a few weeks of intensive note-taking, I get down to business without worrying about perfection. Instead, I focus on getting things done. If I outline my exact changes in advance, there's no reason for a rewritten scene to take longer to write than a brand-new scene would. If I know exactly what to emphasize in a scene, it doesn't take more than one or two read-throughs of the scene to squeak that in.

This way, I'll work down my checklist list one edit at a time. Big rewrites first. Smaller edits later.

At this point, the MS is a mess--but it's a mess with all the puzzle pieces in the right place. The shape is there. The lines between the pieces still need to be smoothed over; subtler aspects of characterization and world-building need to be weaved in.

That's the part that can't be rushed. Thankfully, at that point, I'm so close to the end that it's hard to get too discouraged. I'll have a read-through--involving a lot of skipping back and forth--to fix anything that jars, then another read on paper for a thorough line-edit.

I still don't love editing.

But with this approach, I don't dread it anywhere near as much, either.


  1. I do the exact same thing! Great article. =)

  2. Awesome post. Great tips - thanks.

  3. Good advice. Anything to speed up editing is a good thing.

  4. I looked up kiarchy. I'd be grouchy too.

    Excellent post. I like all your tips and techniques. IDK, fancied myself a pantster until I started writing that current wip. I've brainstormed myself into mass confusion.

    Ever been there? Any suggestions?

  5. I think I started out the slow editing way, well, not slow, dread might be a better word. I've started to use a method similar to what you describe and picked up a couple of ideas to tweak that method from your post. Thanks - Excellent post!

  6. Delilah: Hi! It's always good to know I'm not the only one so obsessive about this...

    BJ and Chicory: I hope it's helpful to you! There are no shortcuts in writing, but I figure there's no harm in looking for them anyway ;)

    Joanna: I can't say I've ever been exactly there, since I've *always* been a plotter. Usually, though, when my outline ends up a tangled mess, I take a step back and do one or more of the following:

    1. Write a query for the book in question, or reread it if I've already written one (which I usually have). This reminds me of the overarching plot--of the core of the book.
    2. Simplify where possible. Toy with various plotlines: combine, cut, streamline, push.
    3. Pinpoint where exactly I went wrong. Write down the problems. See if they can somehow be combined into a solution. (I wrote a blog post about that a few months ago:
    4. Rewrite the outline from scratch. Make sure I know exactly how event A leads into event B. The moment I find a problem, I brainstorm solutions to fix it--don't continue the outline thinking it'll sort itself out. Later problems might build on ones that exist early in the manuscript.

    Without knowing your exact problem, it's hard to say more than that--and even then, every writer is so different that it's hard to offer straight-up solutions. I hope these thought-starters help a little, though! Good luck!

    Gene: You're welcome! I hope it helps. I love seeing how writing methods evolve with every book.

  7. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't like revisions (and nerds out over superheroes and tv series, especially tv series with superheroes...). I'm totally going to try your method when I finish the draft of my WIP. Thanks for the post!

  8. Thanks, Corrine. Thought #4 might be what I need most. I have some rough ideas that I've written in an outline form based on PJ Reece's thoughts in Heart of the Story. Guess I tangle myself up by not sticking with one possibility. Every thought I jot down leads to a ______/_______ situation.

    I'll check out your blog post on the topic. Thanks again.

    BTW, I happen to love revision.

  9. I used Scrivener with one of my current WIPs, a 3 pt. historical novella. I 'outlined' using the index cards & corkboard in Scrivener and added notes about events within each scene. When I started the actual writing, it went much more quickly than anything else I've ever written. It was a mess, but I finished that 1st draft and am working my way through revisions.

  10. This is fine advice, Corinne--the point being to maximise how productive the keyboard time is rather than spinning one's wheels thinking and planning when one's sat in front of it. Brilliant. I'd been groping my way towards this same truth with regard to first draft, but you've applied it far more widely, and wisely. Thank you.


  11. I have a very vocal inner-editor, so I must admit the drafting part is much harder for me. I find I need to plan meticulously or it all grinds to a frustrating halt. However your tips on brainstorming are really timely. I've been stuck at a major transition scene and have finally had to start brainstorming my way out of it. All of a sudden the ideas started flowing, and the drafting process is looking a little less daunting. Thanks for sharing your advice!