Shop Talk: Drafting CAST OFF (Peridot Shift Book Three)
Hi! It's been a while since I've done a Shop Talk video, it's been almost a year and golly, what a year, am I right? I'm not going to go into everything that's happened and everything I've worked on, but I did want to do a retrospective of my first draft of Cast Off because this is the first novel in the Peridot Shift series that I've written since selling the Peridot Shift series. And that was complicated. Flotsam, I wrote in one month, just about, early 2016, and then later in 2016 for NaNoWriMo, I drafted Salvage in 25 days. So I was under complete and absolute assuredness that I could draft Cast Off in a month. And I did have an outline to go off of. And the nice thing was that I could work with my editor at Parvus Press on this outline. But it wasn't the same experience in the slightest as drafting a novel before I'd sold anything, because there were other things going on with regard to publishing the books that were already done.
There were revisions coming back. There were, you know, copy edits to do. And all of this meant that I didn't just ever have a month that I could decide what I wanted to do. There was always going to be something, whether it was promotional for Flotsam, at that point, or Preparatory for salvage, which was coming out in 2019. And so I finally started drafting Cast Off in March of 2019. And that was with the expectation that I would finish it in a month and hand that into Parvus on May 1st, because that's what my contract said we were going to do. But then three weeks into March, I got a round of revisions back, the last revisions on Salvage before we were going to, you know, send it off for copy editing and production. And that process was behind schedule because there are so many moving pieces. And so I had to stop working on Cast Off, which meant that Parvus had to give me a deadline extension on Cast Off because, you know, they were the reason I wasn't finishing it. And it was just a lot going on.
So what ended up happening was that yes, I would poke at the Cast Off draft every now and then, but I also had self-publishing books that were coming out and other things that I wanted to draft for, you know, future career stuff. There's always gotta be something going on. And the problem is that you can't just start something and know that you can finish it without interruption, once you are in the publishing phase of your career. So just poking at Cast Off for the next 12 months, I did get into the story. I wrote another 50,000 words between the interruption of Salvage's revision and saying, "wait a minute, how am I ever going to finish this?" I was at 80,000 words at the end of August of 2020. And I said, "I need to finish this. And I need to figure out how I'm going to create the time every day to work on things" because 2020 being what it was and working from home, like so many people have been, I had destroyed, absolutely destroyed my work-life balance.
And it was destroying my ability to get anywhere on this draft because every time I returned to it, I didn't remember what was going on in the book. I had to reread so much of it and that took time. And that took time that could have been writing. Whereas if I'd been working on it the day before, I would just pick up where I'd left off and keep going. So, at the beginning of September, I said, all right, I need to get back to my foundational morning writing ritual, even if it's not 2000 words a day. Because at this point I was not writing 2000 words a day. I'd been so interrupted so many times that my confidence was shaken. And so every word I chose was struggling against my lack of focus, because 2020, but also against my confidence slipping because it had taken me so long to get this far.
And so here's the thing that I learned. Two things. For me, and this isn't true for everybody, writing every day and making these videos that I put up on YouTube really seems to make a difference. Having a sense of accountability and a way to define my writing time, put boundaries around it, really made a difference. Also, I believe, making it the first thing I do every day so that whatever else happens that day I have written. And then number two, I stopped looking at word count for my metric, for my progress for each day. I started looking instead at what is this scene going to take to finish? These three things are supposed to happen according to my outline, but if I'm just working on word count, I can put those off. I'll get to 'em. Eventually here I am enjoying describing this thing or this person's thoughts or whatever.
And this is all gonna get cut later because it's not important to the scene. It's not in the outline that that's that critical, but I would spend all this time on it because it was creating words. But when I shifted not only to returning to my daily writing habit, but to measuring my progress by how many scenes I'd written, instead of focusing on 2000 words a day, if I could do it, I was focusing on two scenes a day, which meant that each scene could be a thousand words, which is fine for a first draft. I might need to expand things later. Some scenes might get combined. Maybe those things can happen at the same time. And the point is to get through the draft so you can look back and see what it needs, not to guess what it will need ahead of time.
So what goes into the first draft doesn't matter as much as we think it does. Just matters that we create it. So I'm probably going to have to learn these lessons over and over and over again, because that's how humanity works. We learn things. And then we promptly act not in our best interest, even given the knowledge that we have now. And I will continue to try and remember this trick. And I'm—right now, now that the draft of Cast Off is done—I am working on revising something and I've found focusing on the scene count, especially now that I have a word count and adding to it doesn't mean anything and subtracting to it doesn't necessarily mean anything. So going scene by scene and saying, "how many scenes do I want to finish in order to finish this on my self-imposed deadline" is way more useful than just focusing on word count because the word count is constantly fluctuating, both the total words and where I am in it.
So this has been hugely useful to me. And I don't know if it would have shortened the year and a half that it took to write Cast Off. And I don't know if it would make a draft that needs more or less revisions than the draft that I'm going to start with, but it definitely felt like it was worth commenting on. That we focus so much on word count as writers, and especially those of us who were sort of like brought up as writers in this NaNoWriMo atmosphere where it's "50,000 words, makes a novel and that's 1,667 words a day. And so how many are you writing each day? How many do you have total? Are you there yet?" But the number of words in the story, doesn't tell you whether you're there yet, because the story needs more than just words. It needs, you know, action, it needs resolution, it needs, you know, fluctuations and changes, in tension and word count doesn't tell you if you have those.
Now, does scene count, tell you if you have those? No, but I plan those things in my outline. And if I go scene by scene and I get those things in there, then I can play around with the words that might, you know, help the pacing or the words that might increase the tension. But to see if the story works, just getting the right number of words may not mean I'm at the end of the story. So that has been a lesson that maybe I've even learned before, and I've forgotten. Maybe I will have to learn again, but it has been hugely helpful. And as has setting up a strict writing time with boundaries every day. And I know writing every day doesn't work for everybody, but I keep discovering again and again, that that's what works for me.
So those are my lessons from Cast Off, draft one. And the next time I do a shop talk, I might be talking about revising the draft that I'm working on, of a different novel, or I might talk about revising Cast Off for NaNoWriMo, or I might talk about all these things plus the editor that will go over Cast Off with me in December. Hopefully. So um look for that, I guess. If you have any questions about this process or other questions, you can leave them below, or you can tweet me at bittybittyzap on Twitter, and I will talk to you for the next Shop Talk. Thanks for watching everyone take care and happy writing.