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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 22: Allison K. Williams

Allison K. Williams is a writer, editor, and coach, and is the author of Seven Drafts, a book about self-editing.

Allison K. Williams is a writer, editor, and coach, and is the author of Seven Drafts, a book about self-editing. Seven Drafts helps writers get from the messy first draft to final draft.

Show notes:

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Allison K. Williams is a writer, editor, and coach, and is the author of Seven Drafts, a book about self-editing. Seven Drafts helps writers get from the messy first draft to final draft.

Allison’s book Seven Drafts helps writers get from the messy first draft to final draft. “I wrote Seven Drafts because I was noticing how so many authors have the same problems, we all run into the same speed bumps, in the same ways. When we are first learning to write, we all make the same story mistakes. I think a lot of people need more than seven drafts, but if I called it 17 drafts, no one would buy the book.”

She considers that the seven drafts are seven stages of writing a book, but not necessarily discrete stages. “I think they overlap a lot. And quite often some of the drafts are more than one draft. But I think it’s very helpful to separate your attention and work on one thing at a time.”

The first draft is the vomit draft. “I call it the vomit draft because I think you should, as much as you can write without hindering or second-guessing yourself. But people write in so many different ways. I used to think, Oh, I’m not a real writer, because a real writer would write every single day. That’s not how I work. I am a binge writer, I like to check into a hotel and write 8,000 words in four days, because I work better when I have one steady, deep-focus time to do my work.”

The second one is the story draft, “That’s where you make sure that the story all hangs together, that there are setups and payoffs and that there are real obstacles.” Then comes the character draft, where you want to make sure that your characters are realistic, and that you’ve created your characters with all the information that you need for them to be functional characters in the story. “Characters need clear motivations, they need clear dialogue where each character sounds like themselves and not like anybody else. And I also encourage people to tackle their villains in this draft, because every villain is the hero of their own story.”

The technical draft is the one where you weed out the small issues of grammar, such as eliminating passive verbs. “And these are the kinds of tasks that you can do in Scrivener, when you are not feeling particularly inspired, when you just want to make your writing a little bit better.”

The personal copy edit “is the ‘be kind to your beta readers draft.’ This is where you clean it up as much as you possibly can, before inflicting it on your friends who have graciously agreed to read your book and give you feedback. And it’s also something that you can do before you send in your work to be workshopped for your writing group. It removes the speed bumps that your readers might trip over and get distracted by.”

The next section of the book is the intermission, and one subsection is Know When to Quit. “What I specifically talk about is, how do you know when it’s as good as you can get it? But also, how do you know when as good as you can get it isn’t good enough? The first memoir that I wrote, I got a wonderful agent, she shopped it around to some wonderful publishers; people either loved the story and hated the voice, or loved the voice and hated the story. About a year later, when we were still trying to sell it, I was looking through for something to read from the manuscript for a reading night. I looked through and I thought, ‘Boring, boring, boring, not reading that.’ And I realized it’s not good enough. It hasn’t sold because it wasn’t good enough.”

The friend read is when you have a friend who can give you good criticism read of your book. But it’s hard to find people to give honest criticism. “A lot of getting a good friend read is by making deposits in the bank of generosity a long time before you need to make a withdrawal. Your best friend reads are going to be from people who are not necessarily your closest friends, but people who you know because you’re in the same writers group on Facebook. And when they were looking for a reader last year, you said, ‘I would love to read your book,’ and you gave them quality feedback.”

Allison has been using Scrivener since 2008, for both fiction and non-fiction. “I adore it. I am neither a plotter nor a pantser. When I am writing fiction, I write the beginning of the book, I write the end of the book, then I write some random scenes in the middle. And then I outline and fill in what needs to be there to support what I already wrote.” She used Scrivener to write Seven Drafts. “ I started by importing everything I had ever written where I talked about writing - essays, blogs, long Facebook comments - and I stuck it all in there and divided it up into the drafts that were the categories. I would say using Scrivener to write Seven Drafts took probably four or five months, and actually writing the whole book - and mind you some of this was revising and not writing from scratch - was two weeks, I checked into a hotel, I wrote 40,000 words in six days, I checked into the hotel again about two weeks later, and I wrote another 40,000 words.”

Writing in a hotel might not be for everyone, but Allison finds it allows her to pay full attention to her writing with no distractions. “It is really worth it to honor your words and honor your story by taking that time and granting it to your creativity.”

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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