Doubt-Proof Writing

We are thrilled to welcome a new contributor Kathryn Purdie!

I am one of those writers who enjoy revising more than drafting. Maybe it’s because it took me 1 1/2 years to draft my first manuscript. Since then, I’ve gotten faster at drafting and found ways to make it more enjoyable. The biggest obstacle for me is self-doubt. Am I writing the best or worst story in the world? Will it sell? Will anyone else like it but me?

A lot of writing is a mind game. While drafting, you have to psych yourself into believing your story is the best in the world. While revising, on the other hand, you need to switch gears and be willing to accept that it needs a lot of work.

I recently finished writing another manuscript, and this time I can honestly say I LOVED drafting it. I rarely doubted myself. I’ve tried to analyze how that happened and concluded that I surrounded myself by things to keep me inspired, while at the same time slamming and padlocking the door to things that had a long history of dragging me into the mire of self-doubt. Here are some things that made an essential difference:

• KEEPING IT SECRET. This was the #1 most important thing I did. Nothing can kill the joy of an idea faster than having a lackluster response from those you share it with. Besides collaborating on the idea with my agent, who was a huge cheerleader and also steered me away from unnecessary subplots and characters, I didn’t say much about it to anyone else. In the past I shared snippets on a regular basis with my critique group, and while those ladies are wonderful and supportive, I found sharing my unfinished work only made me paranoid. Everyone is different, but I’ve discovered I’m a much happier writer when my story can be just mine for a time.

• MAPPING OUT THE STORY. In the past I’ve written from both the hip and also heavily outlined, and I’ve found I need a middle ground, though I’m now more of an outliner. The method I enjoy best is “beating out the story.” I’ve used Blake Snyder’s “Beat Sheet” from SAVE THE CAT for my last three manuscripts, and this time I also added James Scott Bell’s “14 Signpost Scenes” from his excellent book, PLOT & STRUCTURE, which helps more with the main character’s arc. I prefer this over the chapter-by-chapter outlining method because it still leaves room for discovery while writing. Additionally, I write a synopsis and an elevator pitch before drafting. Together, these things help me keep on track so I never write myself in a corner or don’t understand where my plot is going and what road sign is next (all killers of writing confidence).

• RESEARCH. I always devote a significant period of time to researching before drafting. All stories, no matter the genre, require research, and while some research during drafting is still necessary, researching beforehand is an amazing tool for fleshing out your plot. You’ll inevitably come across a few gems that spark fun story line threads. Plus, having to set aside drafting to research some tidbit of information for a or two days is incredibly frustrating when you’re thick in the jive of writing.

• CASTING CHARACTERS. Before I draft, I cast my characters with famous actors. I spend an embarrassing amount of time researching who would be just right for the roles, and then I make a collage of images for all the characters that I print and keep in my research binder. This is a fabulous tool for characterization. It helps me add nuances to my characters as I imagine how a certain actor would portray them. The pictures come in handy as I concoct unique ways to describe each person.

• COMPILING A SOUNDTRACK. I can only listen to instrumental music while I write, or else all I do is sing! So when I draft, I usually listen to a movie soundtrack station on Pandora with some of my favorite composers. This time, however, I researched instrumental music that would be appropriate for the time period and culture my novel is set in and downloaded several songs to create a soundtrack for my story. Since I sing and play guitar, I also have a tradition of composing an original song with lyrics that express my main character’s inner journey. If you want to hear my latest song, go to my blog. 🙂 Writing a poem is also a great tool to distill a character’s inner arc.

• PINTERESTING MY STORY. This was a first for me with this story. Before drafting, I went to town creating a Pinterest board with tons of pictures that helped me stay inspired about my novel, not to mention helped me with research. I have hundreds of pins with costumes, architecture, food, furniture, etc.

• MOVIE RESEARCH. I always watch a slew of movies that are in a similar vein as my story, whether it’s the time period or type of fantasy, romance, or mystery, and jot down notes on the plot structure. I rarely refer back to these notes, so I think the main thing I take away from doing this is a strong feel for the mood and tone, something visceral I can refer back to later while I draft.

• CONSISTENT WRITING. Once I actually start drafting, I keep going! I wrote the first draft of my latest manuscript in four months, which is very fast for me. Since I tend to overwrite, drafting fast helps me with my pacing and to not get caught up in flowery writing. I’m being loose with my definition of “fast” here. The truth is I write slowly, averaging about 500 words an hour. But I made a goal of writing at least 10,000 words a week (my definition of fast). Some days I’d only get in 700 words, some days 3000. But hitting that consistent 10k a week mark kept me on fire about my story and helped me push through the more difficult parts.

Everyone has their own methods for psyching themselves into being a self-confident writer. You don’t have to try all of my tricks, but I hope at least some are helpful if you find yourself caught in the snares of self-doubt. Here’s to finding joy in your craft!

——————-

Kathryn Purdie’s love of storytelling began as a young girl when her dad told her about Boo Radley while they listened to the film score of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her own attempts at storytelling usually involved home video productions featuring her younger sister as a nerd or writing plays to perform with the neighborhood kids. In high school and college, she focused on acting, composing sappy poetry, singing folk ballads on her guitar, and completing at least ten pages in her journal every night. When she was in recovery from donating a kidney to her brother, inspiration for her first novel struck. She’s been writing darkly fantastical stories ever since. Kathryn is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

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