Today I welcome Sarah Ettritch to the blog to share her first draft process with us. I personally like how she gets to watch Netflix for the stories. I certainly gorge on box sets the same way. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway!
Sarah writes science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories featuring female main characters. She loves stories, so when she isn’t writing, she’s usually reading stories, playing computer role-playing games (for the stories), or watching Netflix (for the stories!). Sarah lives in Toronto, Canada.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
When I say to myself, “Yes, this story idea is a go,” I’ll either gather research material, or open a Word file and begin. The story will have been percolating in my subconscious for a while.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
Not really. I’m (usually) a pantser, so I don’t write a detailed outline, but I do write a line or two about any scenes I know about. I use Microsoft OneNote to record everything. Each scene gets its own page, which makes it easy to rearrange scenes as I progress through the first draft and more scenes come to me.
Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?
Straight to the keyboard. My handwriting is so bad that even I can’t always read it!
How important is research to you?
It depends on the book. Sometimes I don’t have to do any research. For books that require it, I like to do the bulk of the research before I start to write. Of course, as I’m writing, questions will come up, but if I have to learn more about a topic because it’s essential to the story, I’ll have done the research up front.
How do you go about researching?
I use the Internet and read books. For example, when I wrote UNSEEN BONDS, I read a couple of books about modern-day slavery and human trafficking. I also searched for relevant articles and news stories on the Net.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
When reading books, I take notes using a pen and paper. When I’m searching the Net, I’ll bookmark anything I’ll want to refer to later on. I also copy/paste information into OneNote. Each project has its own tab in my stories notebook.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
Since I’m a pantser, I write linearly. To start a story, I need the following: the main character(s), the first scene, a vague idea of how the story will end (which often changes), and a couple of key plot points. Sometimes I’ll know more, but I need at least those four things to start.
I write the first scene and then ask myself, “What happens next?” I write the next scene and ask, “What happens next?” As I progress through the first draft, later scenes come at me in a rush. At some point, I feel as if my brain will explode, so I pause and quickly outline all the scenes I know about. That clears my head so I can continue writing. Not all the scenes will make it into the story.
Occasionally I’ll get most of a story up front. When that happens, I write a rough outline before I start the story, but I still write linearly. I always deviate from the outline.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
I prefer to write in the morning. Other than that, I don’t have any rituals or required items.
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world exists. There are certainly times when I’m in the groove and my surroundings and time melt away, but I take a regimented approach when it comes to writing. I have other passions (and people) that demand my attention.
What does your workspace look like?
Here’s a photo of my workspace.
And here’s the keyboard in that photo. As you can see, I’d done so much typing on it that I’d rubbed the lettering off several keys. I finally replaced it a couple of months ago.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
I edit as I go. I’ve tried the “let yourself write crap and fix it later” approach, but it doesn’t work for me.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
Nothing fancy. I use Word’s word count as an indicator of how many words I’ve written. On most days, I’ll write 750-1000 words.
I use a little trick with myself. I commit to writing at least 500 words/day, which is lower than the number of words I usually write per day. Doing so takes the pressure off. On days when I’d rather have a root canal than write, it lets me quit as soon as I hit 500 words, without feeling as if I’ve failed. On an average day, I’ll surpass the target and consider it a job well done. On the rare day that I write more than 1000 words, I’ll crush it and feel fabulous!
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
How long it took will depend on the length of the project (I write short stories, novellas, and novels). Over the course of a project, I’ll average 750-1000 words/day. I rarely write on weekends.
My first draft is in pretty good shape. In addition to doing some editing as I go, I also work out all the story problems. There’s still work to be done to whip the draft into shape, but the story will pretty much stand as it’s written. I won’t have any major revisions to do.
In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?
I always read it through on the computer.
What happens now that first draft is done?
I do my first round of editing. I’ll have minor revisions to do based on notes I made as I wrote the draft. I’ll also tighten up the writing and fix obvious errors. After that, I hand the story over to my beta reader(s).
While I’m waiting for feedback, I do what I call an audio edit. I have the computer read the story to me. I deliberately choose a robotic voice, rather than a human-sounding one. Hearing the words with no inflection at all makes any flat dialogue obvious. It also tells me where I’ve done well. For example, if I still chuckle at a humorous line when the computer reads it to me, I know it’s funny.
I listen for areas that make me think, “Huh?” If I don’t understand something I’ve written, a reader will definitely be confused. An audio edit is also great for picking up on missing words.
When I’ve received feedback from my beta(s), I’ll do one more round of editing. After that, it’s ready for my editor. I’ll do a final edit based on her suggestions, and then the story is finished.
Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.
Thanks for inviting me to tell you about my first draft process. It’s been fun.
Book 3 in the Deiform Fellowship Series (a supernatural mystery/urban fantasy series).
Jillian and Sam investigate one of Roberta’s visions and discover a dark secret lurking behind an affluent neighbourhood’s closed doors. Roberta senses a situation requiring the Fellowship’s intervention, but her vision offers few clues for Jillian and Sam to go on. While the two Deiforms search for the troubled church in Roberta’s vision, Jillian experiences frightening breaks from reality. Ropes and chains aren’t required to bind people together. Some bonds must be broken. Some bonds can’t be broken. In Unseen Bonds, Jillian and Sam must break one bond and come to terms with another.
If you’re interested in taking part in the First Drafts series then please do get in touch with me.