Monday, January 19, 2015

Shoveling Sand: Book In A Week (or Two)

by Susanne Dietze

First drafts, according to author Shannon Hale (Austenland, The Princess Academy), are about dumping sand in a sandbox. Later, during editing, you can build a castle out of it. But first, you've got to get the raw material into the box.

Build a Sandbox
Shovel sand into the box with me! (This one's from Lowe's.)
I found myself in a position of needing to shovel as much sand into the box of my novel as fast as possible. Dump truck style. Not pretty, not clean, but done. So I decided to try something other romance novelists have tried and even love: BIAW (Book in a Week). Except I expanded it to two weeks--Book in a Fortnight, if you will.

BIAW, the act of writing the first draft of a novel in seven days, is intimidating (if not downright crazy). I've tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and committed to write 50,000 words--1667 words a day--during the month of November before, and it was HARD.

But 50K words in a week (or two)? Does it sound doable? Impossible?

I think it's both, depending on the day. It takes some intense prep work, but that leaves an author time to do nothing (supposedly) but write over the course of the commitment.

I just finished shoveling sand into the sandbox for a novel--and I survived!

Now I can get on to editing what I've written into something prettier, smoother, and richer. But if you're interested in writing a quick first draft by trying BIAW (or BIAF or even NaNo), these tips worked for me. Perhaps a variation of them might help you with your first draft, adapted to your personal schedule and preferences.
  1. Pray for discipline and diligence. And grace and creativity, too. God has given you this story to tell, and He alone knows the plans He has for it. Maybe publication, maybe not. But if we write to honor Him, He'll be glorified in what we accomplish.
  2. Prep your non-writing life in advance. Plan easy dinners, choose a week without appointments or events, and figure out what sort of time frame is best for your work/family schedule.
  3. Prep your story in advance. I have a synopsis, a Pinterest story board, character worksheets with goal/motivation/conflict etc, and an excel spreadsheet broken down by chapter and scene, all ready to go before I sit down to write. Then when I camp out at my computer, I consult my excel chart and see what happens in what scene, and in whose Point of View I think I it should be. This helps guide my writing.
  4. Get a hot mug of coffee or tea, a snack, and a blanket so you have anything you might need at hand. Also have something to take notes with: either a Word document or a pen and notepaper/scratch pad .
  5. Set a timer for 45 minutes (or whatever works for you: I tend to listen to an album on my phone that lasts about 45-60 minutes). Write nonstop during that time, and then when the timer goes off or your album ends, take a break. Your body needs to do something other than sit all day (and your brain needs a break, too). Use the restroom, fold laundry, walk around your house, do some jumping jacks, brew more tea, add veggies to the stew in your crockpot.
  6. Take notes if something changes as you write. This happens to me a lot. As I write, I realize a character has a dog or a friend--or would never do what I have neatly written in my excel sheet that she does. No biggie. Jot down the info for reference.
  7. If I'm stumped by something happening in the story or need to do additional research, I make a note in the text (I use ***), add a note to myself on my scratch pad (ie "figure out if John does X and why") and then skip ahead to something easier to write. I go back later.
  8. I just said it but it bears repeating: Do not do research online. Or check email or Facebook or Twitter. This is time to get words on a page. To Dump Sand Into The Sandbox.
  9. In the same vein, this isn't the time to fuss over adjectives, syntax, or imagery, either. If it's not flowing, leave it to fix in rewrites, which are far easier for me than first drafts anyway. Sometimes, this means flat writing. "She wore a white cloak and bonnet." "He wanted to kiss her." etc. Just spit out what the action is and (wait for it) Come back to it later. (I just skipped an entire chapter because things weren't flowing, but the next chapter's fight scene was calling me ahead. It's OK!)
  10. The crock pot is your friend. Dump food in it in the morning. Family is happy at dinnertime. This takes some pre-planning, but I've got a recipe below to get you started.
  11. Some days you will get not meet your goal. That's ok. You may not even finish the whole book in your week/fortnight/month. That's ok too, unless you're on a publisher's deadline. But assuming you're not, just start again tomorrow and remember Life happens
  12. BIAW/F is an extraordinary thing, not the norm. At least not for me, as my physical and emotional health seem to suffer a bit from the isolation, prolonged sitting, etc. However, some people might thrive under this sort of self-imposed deadline. Either way, BIAW/F can be an effective tool to shovel sand into the box. Throughout it all, I tried to stay mindful of how it affected me and what tools I can adapt to my non BIAW/F-writing schedule.
Anyone else have any good tips?

Meanwhile, I'm happy to report this week I'm building a castle out of all that sand I dumped into the sandbox. I love the fine-tuning, the layering, the edits. Will it turn out to be pretty? I sure hope so. I'll let you know.

I like the details!
In the meantime, here's something I throw into the crockpot on heavy writing days. You can fancy it up when you're not in a big hurry, but on busy days, it's easy to make with pre-packaged shredded cheese, pre-cooked rice, a salad kit, packaged guacamole, etc.

1 pound chicken breasts or stew meat or pork roast
1 cup salsa, from a jar or fresh/deli style
dash vinegar (to make the meat shred easier)
Chopped tomato, onion, etc, if you have the time
Add above ingredients to the crockpot. Set the crockpot on low if you start it in the morning or high if you make it at lunchtime. At dinnertime, shred the meat and serve with:
grated cheese
the rest of the salsa
sour cream & guacamole
chopped veggies and anything else you like 
Served with a can of refried beans, rice, and a salad (kit! This is BIAW, after all), you've got a complete meal.
Susanne Dietze's novella, Love's Reward, is part of The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection, coming in May, 2015. She will probably do BIAW/F again, once she's recovered from this round. You can visit her on her website,


  1. Yay, Susie! I love these tips. I did a similar thing, only it had to be after work, so it took six weeks. But it was great, and rewarding. Oh, but no crock pots were involved since I don't cook.

    1. Way to go, Suzie! I'm proud of you for getting your manuscript done in six weeks. After a full day of work...That's amazing!

      It's an effective way to get something finished, that's for sure. Now I'm so happy to get on to editing, which I like much better!

  2. Hmm...I wonder if you could toss the rice in that crock pot with extra water?

    1. Absolutely, but I wouldn't put it in for the whole time. The last hour or so, maybe?

    2. Yes, I would say, Susie. It may depend too on whether you are using pre-cooked, long grain, brown or wild rice.

      The pre-cooked/Minute rice cooks so fast that I've heard it popping soon after adding it to my crockpot while I was still stirring it in.

      I've since switched to the long grained and more flavorful rice varieties.

  3. That's great advice, Susie!

    I already do some of it (like skipping the parts I don't know yet, usually with a [something here] sort of note. Some of it I need to start doing so I can make my deadlines.

    Thanks! :)

    1. Glad to know I'm not the only "skipper" out there. I still have a chapter that was driving me nuts that I need to write out now that I'm editing. Ah, these deadlines... (weak laugh). We can do it, DeAnna. Go, girl, go!

  4. I so need to do this. I have book that's itching at me, and I need to write it and get it OUT... then I can tend to all it's details. Oh dear, that makes it sound more like a chick than a baby. Or an alien... :)

  5. Great recipe, Susie! Since my cave is in our converted garage, I can't leave things simmering on the stove while I'm working. And I hesitate using the oven for long stretches of time when I can use an energy-efficient crockpot.

    And we love burritos! So thank you very much. :)


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