Hopscotch, Cut-and-Paste, Panic, and Ellipses: How I REALLY Write First Drafts.

So people talk/ask a lot about process, and I generally give the simplest, shortest answer possible because the long version makes almost no sense.

But here’s how I REALLY write.

1. Almost never in order.
2. With brackets.
3. With highlighted “…” <–ellipses that show I have no idea how to continue the sentence/idea.
4. With panic.
5. In whatever order I feel like.

Let’s have an example. Examples are fun, yes?

[Start with MC just after the death, lying on the floor of empty house] <–brackets show up all over my drafts

Which then becomes:

Iā€™d rather stay. Stay and become part of the house, just let myself seep into it, become part of the floor, or a wall, or maybe sink into the very bones of it.
Aside from the pale blue walls, it seems so blissfully bare. Hollow. I slide to the carpet amid the little dents that furniture leaves behind, and let my fingers wander over the depressions… <–uh oh, ellipsis V does not know where to go from here! Hopefully she will figure that out!!

So let’s say I panic and decide to skip ahead because it’s a first draft and I am allowed to do that!

Maybe the next scene I want to write comes several chapters later, and I don’t know what I want to write in between! So I will make a vague shot list of things I know need to happen…

1. MC#1 gets up, leaves house with family
2. Cut to MC#2 intro
3. MC#2 flashback sad <–yes I’ve written things like that, but *I* know what is supposed to go there :p…hopefully.
5. Back to MC#1 at new house

Oh oh oh, #5 is the one I want to write. So I stop and open a new document and start drafting.

NOTE: I don’t let myself skip too many scenes at once, so I will force myself to go back, figure out, and write #2-4 before I get to play PLOT HOPSCOTCH with #6-10 etc etc.

Make any sense?

Well, I suppose this is all to say that drafting isn’t always clean! My first drafts involve FRIGHTENING numbers of open word documents, and a kind of patchwork that I then have to go back and smooth out.

I envy the people who write in simple, linear order, but it’s not for me. Because the WAY things are written is so important to me, it’s better for me to write snippets of scenes–lines where I am happy with the rhythm, the cadence–even if they don’t come next.

You have to do whatever works for you.


21 thoughts on “Hopscotch, Cut-and-Paste, Panic, and Ellipses: How I REALLY Write First Drafts.

  1. Vincent Kale says:

    I wish I could write in the hop-scotch method. That works for me when dreaming up the scenes that will happen throughout the overall story. But even my tame level of OCD won’t let me jump around from place to place once I settle down to write.

    I do a once-through with pen & paper, jotting little notes in the margins, headers and footers, sometimes post-it notes for that little bit of extra space. I probably have as many cross-outs and arrows as you have brackets. Some of the “in-between scenes” tend to get a little rushed with this method since I get anxious to write the really fun stuff. But this way, when I type it up and do my first round of revisions, I have something to work on rather than creating it from scratch.

    I also start with a skeletal outline of the story to help me keep major plot points consistent and have some sense of order. However, it usually gets pretty beat up once I dig in further.

    • veschwab says:

      Haha what’s funny is I’m also pretty OCD, so I try to impose order on my chaotic methods. One of the ways I do that is to open fresh word docs, to make everything seem “in its place” and what I end up with are 14 word docs :ppp

      The big difference is that I CAN’T write sections if I’m not feeling them. I can’t write filler text, even if I KNOW it’s filler, because then I get depressed.

      I do a skeletal outline too, and then as I reach a section, I do a much more thorough outline of that section, bringing it into sharper focus.

  2. Mia says:

    LOL That is actually quite similar to how I write. I’m a big fan of lists of what needs to happen between scenes.

    I also make great use of different colored fonts and highlights. Most of my WIPs look like double rainbow vomit.

    • veschwab says:

      I’m a big fan of lists in general :p

      Hahaha I love the rainbow vomit draft. I don’t mix colors because I’d confuse myself!

  3. I keep my draft contained in one doc, but my process is similar to yours. I write scenes as they come to me, no matter where they fall in the manuscript, or even if I can see how they will eventually fit in.

    I’m huge on mind movie as I write, so I tend to let the scenes flow, even when I know I’ll end up cutting a lot later.

    But my first draft is a lot of chaos. I don’t even put in chapter numbers for a while. Once I do, though, I start sending chapters to a crit partner, and then more chaos.

    • veschwab says:

      Oh if only I could contain my writing to one document, it would make things MUCH easier :p

      And I am a BIG proponent of writing scenes as they come to you, especially early on in the drafting.

      Mind movies! YES. I do this. I also try to visualize everything and approach scenes as shots. Those lists I make are often shot lists.

  4. Valerie says:

    Your drafting process looks a lot like mine except… more organized…

    Or well, more organized than mine before I got Scrivener. I make lists of scenes that I know are going to be in the book and then write the ones I feel like writing. I find it helps sometimes to skip ahead and write a scene I know I want to happen because usually it will help me figure out how I got there. So skipping ahead helps me figure out my plot.

    Now that I have scrivener I make index cards for each scene and put a little descriptive note about what it will be about.

    I try not to do the bracketing and instead write everything within a scene at once just so it’s cohesive. I used to make comments in Word to show myself where I couldn’t figure out what to say but now I highlight and make notes in scrivener for each scene where that happens.

    The most important thing I do is keep going. If I can’t find the right words for something I skip it and keep writing the scene. I find it helps so much in getting the draft done and making me feel like I’m accomplishing something!

    • veschwab says:

      I have Scrivner, and will admit it’s definitely helped make my disorder look like order :p

      The reason I don’t write everything in a scene if I’m not feeling it is that for me the wording has to be perfect. Syllable structure and flow is really important to me, so I can’t force it. I need the right lines. I try not to bracket too much in any section, but would rather bracket than write filler. I guess brackets are my equiv. of filler.

      And yes! The most important thing anyone can do is keep going.

  5. SM Schmidt says:

    I wrote this way with my first novel, tried to break that habit with the second one because someone said it’s a bad habit. I just realized this is how I write best, thanks for reminding me there isn’t one set way to write!

    • veschwab says:

      Hah, it’s clearly a habit I haven’t broken, but it works for me, and I’ve had to embrace that. I think embracing what works for you is one of those things you learn–even if it seems unprofessional or amateur, as long as it works for YOU, then that’s that. It’s been my philosophy, anyway.

  6. Bill Cameron says:

    Except for the fact I use StoryMill and not Word, this is like me. What I hope is I haven’t forgotten to resolve any of those brackets and ellipses before I send the alleged submission draft to Janet.

  7. Dude, you need Scrivener!!!

  8. Raven says:

    For the longest time, I don’t know, I just felt writing out of order was the wrong way to do write a book. Even though I know that there isn’t really a wrong way, it just made me feel like “OH if I keep writing this book out of order, I’m never going to finish it” Which then leads to me feeling so insecure about my novel, which then leads to me hating the novel altogether.

    My thought processes when writing are weird.

    So the Hopscotch, Cut-and-Paste, Panic, and Ellipses Method? It’s good to know it has a name. Lol.

    And YES. I envy people who can write scene 1 to scene 2 and so on and so forth. It just seems like writing a book would be easier that way, especially during the editing process.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who writes out of order though. šŸ™‚

    • veschwab says:

      It might be the wrong way, for all I know. I think it’s definitely a LONGER way for most, because of the time it then takes to put everything together and smooth the intersections. But I have tried writing in order, and it makes me a sad, unmotivated V :p

  9. lesli says:

    Beatiful writing.
    Instant fan.
    Following now.
    Buying the book asap.


    • veschwab says:

      Aw, why thank you! My first book, THE NEAR WITCH, comes out next year, and while this snippet is from another project, I like the think the writing is even stronger in NW. I hope you enjoy when it’s available!

  10. Oh the brackets. I love them. I have them all over my first draft, and I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

    I’ve been known to add little gems like:

    [insert cute and funny remark here] or [vague foreshadowing dream needs to go here]

    Yeah, they’re fun. I’ve found that sometimes I know what needs to go where but I just can’t think to write the “what” I need to place there.

  11. LiLi says:

    Heads up! Totally going to steal that beautiful piece of rhyming poetic brilliance: “You have to do whatever works for you.” Do not be surprised when it is quoted by famous people!

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