How #1000WordsofSummer Improved My Draft

Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer writing challenge ended on Sunday, and in those two weeks I added 14,013 words to the novel draft I am currently calling A Coincidence of Doors.

I’ll be realllll up-front about it: not all of those words were great. Some of the 1000-word writing sessions helped me understand my characters better, others helped me clarify elements of the plot, and others… um… well, they felt like I was typing words for the sake of typing words.

Like, I knew that I needed to add more description to the conversation my characters were having, but I couldn’t come up with anything and the time I’d set aside for writing was running out, so I’d revert to cliches or type “HE SMILED” for the way-too-manyth time.

At one point, I literally (pun intended) wrote the following:

“And the luggage,” Grace said, still assuming she had a role to play.

“We don’t have a door large enough,” Mya said, playing her opposing role.

But I also wrote some stuff I’m really happy with, and I got the draft to a place where—well, it’s not quite a finished first draft, I still have to write the ending and a few short scenes in the middle, but I’m going to go ahead and move the project into what I’ll call Second Draft Stage.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to begin going over A Coincidence of Doors section by section, looking at everything from worldbuilding to word choices. I’m also going to examine the arcs I currently have written into the book: where does the conflict intensify, and where does it release? How do the smaller conflicts get resolved, and how do they relate to the larger conflict at the center of the story? Does every action have an equal and opposite reaction?

I still have a lot of work to do on this book, especially in the second half when our characters find themselves on the other side of the titular door (this is not a spoiler, you can’t write a portal fantasy without having the characters go through the portal at some point).

The first half feels like the stuff I do really well: close-range, intimate family moments in a realistic setting and a specific time period.*

The second half feels like WAIT DID I REALLY MEAN TO WRITE A BOOK WHERE I HAD TO CREATE AN ENTIRE WORLD FROM SCRATCH, WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA, OH DEAR.

But I figure I’ll learn something from writing this regardless of what happens, and I hope what I learn will be good enough to share with the rest of you. ❤️

*I did realize, during the Democratic Debates, that if I don’t get this book into the world quickly enough I might have to rework the whole thing, the same way I had to rework The Biographies of Ordinary People after the 2016 election. Like, this story would be very different if we had a better healthcare system. However, in the long run I’d rather have better healthcare for everyone than the current draft of my book, sooooooo LET’S MAKE THAT HAPPEN, OKAY?

What I’ve Learned From #1000WordsofSummer (So Far)

The most interesting aspect of Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer project, in which writers are invited to write 1000 words every day for two weeks, is the way it immediately quantifies how long 1000 words takes.

For me, it’s 90 minutes minimum.

That’s if I want 1000 words of any caliber, and over the past few days, I’ve watched the words in my NEXT BOOK draft decrease in caliber somewhat.

Here’s an example of the kind of draft I write when I take my time:

Robin had taken a step forward and Ellen had stopped walking and now they stood, nearly eye-to-eye, Ellen a few inches taller.

Here’s an example of the kind of draft I write when I want to hit a fixed word count and have a limited amount of time in which to do it:

“Ellen!” he said. “What a pleasure!” He rushed to her; she had still not moved.

It’s the same character and the same action (Robin is moving towards Ellen, who is standing still for METAPHORICAL AND THEMATIC REASONS), but the #1000WordsofSummer version feels weaker. Thinner. Rushed, to borrow the word I already used.

And sure, I could go back and rework it all, and I’ll probably have to, but one thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that I’m not that much of a rewriter. I do a lot of the prep work in my head and in a separate notes document, and then I put it all together on the page.

Plus, my freelancing work has taught me that whatever I write is probably going to be published as-is, for the whole world to see, in, like, an hour—so I’ve learned how to churn out publication-ready drafts.

The stuff I’m writing now is not publication-ready. I’m tempted to give up on the word count goal so I won’t have to rework everything later, but I’m also tempted to just keep following the #1000WordsofSummer plan for the next 10 days, because it only lasts until July 1, and see what happens.

Because… why not? Maybe I’ll learn something new. ❤️