Thursday, November 6, 2008

Notes on Writing - Karen Wiesner


by Karen Wiesner

A lot of authors ask me how I'm able to accomplish so much in a year. As the author of First Draft In 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel (A Writer's Guide to Cohesive Story Building) from Writer's Digest Books, all my secrets are to be had by all – with step-by-step instructions on how to use my methods yourself. But there's a simple answer (which is short in comparison to my two books, lol) that I love to share with everyone who asks me.

The way I see it, there are several, very distinct stages in writing a book. They include:

1) Brainstorming
2) Outlining
3) Setting the outline aside
4) Writing the story
5) Setting the novel aside
6) Editing and polishing the story

I believe a book is best if you give it time to "breathe" between these stages. Allowing your outlines to sit for a couple of weeks—or even months—before writing the first draft is absolutely essential. The next time you pick up your outline, you’ll have a fresh perspective and will be able to evaluate if it really isas solid as you believed it was when you finished it. Same story after you’ve written the first draft. You can set the book aside for as long as possible, and you’ll have fresh perspective when it’s time to revise. You’ll also see more of those connections that make your story infinitely cohesive. All writers get too close to their outlines or manuscripts to really see them objectively. Distance gives you that objectivity and the ability to read your own work like you’ve never seen it before.

Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers always reach a point where their motivation runs out, and they may simply want to get away from the story as fast as they can. With every single book, I get to rock bottom and I’m convinced that if I ever see the manuscript again, I’ll tear it to shreds. Setting it aside between the various stages the project goes through really gives me back my motivation (and love!) for it in spades. I’m always amazed at how much better I can face the project again when I haven’t seen it for a week or even a month or two. I fall in love with it again. The next stage in the process becomes easier, too, and that helps my writing to be much better.

Also, the more books I have contracted, the more I seem to need these breaks in-between stages. I need breaks even when I feel a project isn’t working. If I put it on a back burner for an extended period of time (as long as I can possibly allow and still meet my deadlines), amazing things happen over the low flame. By the time I return to it, I find myself bursting with new ways to fix the problems I couldn’t resolve when I was too close to, and sick of, the project.

From First Draft To Finished Novel (A Writer's Guide To Cohesive Story Building) goes in-depth about this process, but this is covered in lesser degree in First Draft In 30 Days, too. First Draft has a step-by-step plan for setting project goals and career goals that keep the momentum in your career going indefinitely.

I complete what I need to for each step, and only then move on to something else (whatever's on my annual to-do-list currently available here:

So, for instance, if you look at my WIP page, you’ll see that I've accomplished a considerable amount this year, working in stages, and that I have a lot of other things planned for the rest of the year. I never work on these stages back to back because that would kill my enthusiasm for the project. I love that I’m never doing the same thing, nor am I always working on the same project. I move from one outline, to a different revision, to writing something all together—within a matter of months. I’m always fresh, always enthusiastic, always eager to add another layer to complete a project that I know will be solid and ready to be sent to editors.

I'm extremely disciplined. Everything is planned well in advance, and I keep tweaking my schedule to make it as productive as it possibly can be. For my novels, once a story has been brewing for a considerable amount of time and I've amassed the necessary research, I start with an extremely detailed outline, which is, in essence, the first draft of the book. The outline can take anywhere from a day to a week to work out, depending on the complexity of the book. Because of the way I've worked my schedule, I'm able to set my completed outline aside for a month or more, then come back to it and make sure it's as solid as I thought before I set it aside.

As soon as I’ve let that sit for as long as I possibly can, I can begin writing. In general, I'll write two scene per day (regardless of how long or short - this and the outline itself inevitably prevent burnout and/or writer's block).

My annual goal sheet can then include accurate timetables for researching, writing, and revising outlines and novels. I also use project goal sheets, so I can know down to the day how long it'll take to finish a book. Completing a 100,000 book generally takes me two weeks to a month, usually considerably less.

Once the writing of the book is completed, I again set it aside for a month or so before I begin revisions. Depending on the project, revision amounts to minor editing and polishing. It takes me under a week to complete this.

Not including the setting aside stages between outlining, writing and revising, I can complete a book in about a month.

In this way, I alternate my time between novels in various stages of completion, and I can write at least five novels and quite a few novellas per year. My WIP page really shows you how well this works and how I’m able to juggle all of these stages for multiple projects—and progress steadily. Best of all, with this system, I can always be working at least a year ahead of releases (and, at this time, I am working a year ahead of my releases!). That’s especially helpful is a story doesn’t come as easily as I’d like.

Most people think that I must work 24 hours a day based on my productivity. That's the really amazing part of this whole method. I don't. I don't have to.

Even if you had only 1-2 hours per day to work, with the First Draft method of productivity, you would always be progressing because you're working from a full, scene-by-scene outline. You will never sit down at your computer and not have a clue what to write. You'll have that outline with every single scene detailed and you can start writing immediately. Conceivably, you could finish a novel from outline to revised final draft in 1-2 months. That makes it more than possible for you to write many novels per year and, if you're published, maybe even get about a year ahead of your releases. Talk about never-ending momentum!

Karen Wiesner is an accomplished author with 55 books published in the past 10 years, which have been nominated for and/or won 73 awards, and 15 more titles under contract. Karen’s books cover such genres as women’s fiction, romance, mystery/police procedural/cozy, suspense, paranormal, futuristic, gothic, inspirational, thriller, horror and action/adventure. She also writes children’s books, poetry, and writing reference titles such as First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel (A Writer’s Guide to Cohesive Story Building), available from Writer’s Digest Books. For more information about Karen and her work, visit her Web sites at,, and If you would like to receive Karen’s free e-mail newsletter, Karen’s Quill, and become eligible to win her monthly book giveaways, visit or send a blank e-mail to


Mayra Calvani said...

Great article! Karen's productivity is inspiring!

Delia Latham said...

Thanks for stopping by, Mayra! Karen certainly provides some excellent advice, and knowing how productive she is makes it all the more welcome.