Dirty Drafting: 11 Quick Tips from Jill Sorenson

We have a special treat for the authors and aspiring authors among our followers today, a guest post by Jill Sorenson, who writes gritty, action packed, sexy romantic suspense. I love Jill’s books, so I’m thrilled to gain some insight into her process. She has some terrific tips here that I intend to try.


Dirty Drafting: 11 Quick Tips

Hello Kiss & Thrill! Thanks so much for having me back.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. I’ve never participated in this event because writing an entire novel in one month sounds like a nightmare to me. Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. Why would I want to stress out and rush the most enjoyable step?

Writing fast is practically a requirement for romance authors, but the key for me is writing steady and delivering a quality manuscript. If you hammer out an incoherent mess in a month and it takes you six months to edit, you’re not getting to the finish line any faster than someone who works at a less frenetic pace.

rdirty-647x1024I wrote my latest novel in three months, most of it while my kids were home on summer break. That’s pretty fast for me. Some authors write a lot faster. I follow people on twitter who do “1k in 1hr” sprints, 5k days, even 10k days. I don’t know how they do it, so I’ll just tell you how I do what I do. If drafting is painful for you and you can’t wait to tinker/revise, try NaNo. If you prefer editing as you go and writing a clean first draft, read on.

There is no one true way, just different ways that work better for different people. I’ve heard fast authors say that anyone can learn to be fast, and I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone can improve their speed, but we all have physical and mental limitations. If you’re a genius, your brain might be supersonic. Or you might be a slow genius. I’m not any type of genius. I’m more of an Emma Stone in Easy A than a Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I want to be a commercial success, not a critics’ darling. I don’t have the natural ability to write 5k every day or the luxury to write slow.

So here are my tips for steady drafting.

1. Edit as you go (if you prefer) but always keep moving. Your first paragraph or chapter might make no sense by the time you get to the end. Characters change and develop over the course of a novel. Do what feels right in order to move forward, but don’t get bogged down by small details. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect.

2. Outline before you start. This is an important one for me. I research and do a detailed outline several weeks in advance. I’m constantly plotting, reworking and looking things up as I go, too. Stay flexible, but have a plan. An outline is a solid foundation that you can build on. You can also throw it out if you have to. Having plan makes it easier to move full steam ahead and avoid painting yourself into a corner.

3. Write every day, or almost every day. Taking long breaks will steal your momentum. Steady, daily progress is good.

4. Know where you’re going. Even if you’re not a big plotter, you can jot down notes every day before you start. Just a few minutes of concentration can make the difference between flying over the keys and staring at a blank page.

5. Don’t stop for the day at the end of a scene or chapter. Some authors stop mid-sentence. It trains your brain to keep thinking about the next sentence/scene/chapter, rather than closing the mental doors when you close the screen.

6. Take notes after you’re “done” for the day. This is my favorite tip for increasing speed and productivity. I love writing freehand notes. I remember things I forgot to do, continually reassess plot points, and jot down ideas for the next scene.

7. Get enough sleep. This is a challenge for me. Sleep well and your brain will function better, faster.

8. Beware of children. They require a lot of attention and feeding. If a childless person tells me that anyone can write 5k per day if they just try hard, I will twist her nose off and feed it to my child.

9. Exercise! I run almost every day, and I believe this has helped my output tremendously. It also helps keep me sane. If you spend too much time indoors, living with the imaginary people inside your head, you might end up with cabin fever, wielding a rubber mallet. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

10. Don’t force it. Sometimes you have to sit your ass in the chair and get it done. Sometimes you have to do the opposite. When you’re pulling your hair out, rewriting the same sentence fifty times, just leave it alone. Go do some laundry, get a snack. Switch to a notebook. Changing scenery can jog you in a new direction.

11. Keep a cuts file. I do this for every book, and it helps me when a scene isn’t working. I’ll save a copy of the problem section in my cuts file. Then I can delete and rearrange dialogue or paragraphs without worrying about losing any important bits. It’s a quick, efficient way to get unstuck and move forward.

So there you have it. 11 quick-n-dirty tips for those who prefer clean first drafts! As always, do what works for you, be passionate about your writing, and try to have fun. Remember that a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Find your own pace.

Are you a writer? Do you plan to attempt NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you’d like to share or thoughts on Jill’s tips? Share them. We haven’t had a craft conversation at K&T in a long time, and I LOVE talking craft.


Jill SorensonJill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic suspense novels, including the Aftershock series by HQN. She lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, twitter and reality TV. Jogging keeps her sane. Riding Dirty is her first erotic suspense novel.

You can find her at www.jillsorenson.com.

About Rachel Grant

Archaeologist Rachel Grant writes romantic suspense where archaeology, politics, and war collide.

Posted on October 16, 2014, in Guest blog, Rachel Grant, Writing Craft and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Welcome, Jill!
    Raises hand. Yes, I’m a writer! Yes, I’m working on a draft and not writing fast enough. Yes, I’m still struggling to learn how to meet deadlines. So thanks so much for this post. I especially love tip #5 and I’ve never tried that. It feels like I’ve tried every way to write a book and I still don’t know how. My first book – a different story. Every scene was written, critiqued, rewritten, re-critiqued, rewritten. I travelled to Vegas with my critique partners to brainstorm and sort out all the difficult pieces. Boy, those were the days. Now we all have contracts and no one has time for any of that. Jill, thanks so much for sharing your experiences, and for giving us permission to exercise. Exercise is something I gave up to hit deadlines. I’ve missed it. Love this post!

  2. Wait, did I just complain about having a contract? Let me be clear that is an awesome problem to have, and I’m incredibly grateful for that pesky contract.

  3. Thanks Carey! I remember Eloisa James saying that writing gets harder with every book. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but some are definitely more challenging than others. Always trying new things is good! And I don’t think any of us feel like we’ve got this figured out. 😉

    • I recently read an interview with Ian McEwan (who I think is a brilliant writer) and he said that every time he starts a new project, he thinks, “Can I do this?” That made me feel so much better about my own struggles to write that first draft. I love your advice, especially since I’m in the mid-section of a new WIP.

      I would love to hear more about how you outline your story. Do you do it by scenes? Acts?

      Congrats on the new series!

  4. Hi Krista! I outline using a synopsis first. Mine are about 2-5 pages. Then I write chapter outlines. Some chapters have more than one scene. I try to figure out things like POV ahead of time but none of it is set in stone. I’m constantly tinkering with the outline as I go. Some of the best details just happen in the moment of writing a scene, and then I have to adjust my story outline accordingly. I do my outlines over & over & over…it’s pretty neurotic I guess!

  5. All great suggestions, Jill! And always good to be reminded that everybody’s process is unique! Thank you!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your drafting tips with us, Jill! #8 is soooo true. Although mine are finally reaching an age where I can ignore them and write for a good portion of the time. Plus I’ve started demanding they feed me, and so they’re learning how to cook.

  7. This is perfect timing (although I’m a day late!) as I’m fast drafting right now. #8, 9, and !0 are my favorite because they are so true!!!
    Thank you Rachel and Jill!!!

  8. Very nice post Jill. Lots of great advice. Thank you so much for being here with us today. I don’t have kids but I love what you said about writing with them. I think people need to be kind and reasonable with themselves while pushing forward and not making (lame) excuses. And I suspect I’ve been queen of the lame lately. LOL.

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