Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Tag: Snowflake method

First Draft: Done

Well, friends, this morning I finished the last remaining scene of the novel I’ve been working on since some time in January. (I don’t know offhand how long this took, but based on this blog post I’d guess I started around mid-January, and was definitely at work outlining the novel by then. Four to four-and-a-half months is pretty good, in my experience.)

I’m very lucky to be leaving, later today, for a long period of travel: Germany, then Italy, then Las Vegas. Lucky to be going at all, of course, but in particular I’m lucky to have a natural break come up, to not even have the option of peeking at this draft for almost two weeks. Further, I won’t be able to do more than some intermittent, notebook-in-coffee-shop(-or-beer-hall, as the case may be) writing during this time; in the past I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by starting other stuff during my “cooling off” period just after finishing a draft, and coming back to these messy drafts a little less interested and enthusiastic.

In terms of interest and enthusiasm, I’m still excited about the novel’s potential. It’s way too long (it’s somewhere around 115,000 words, which comes out to something like 400–450 pages), and a lot of the scenes will need to be made more scene-like. It’s full of places where I wrote notes in brackets like “[what is friend’s name?]” or “[confirm this later].” Sometimes I thought I had a great handle on the characters, they surprised me, and at others I felt I’d completely lost the thread.

But that’s the nature of writing a novel. Even if you hate Ernest Hemingway’s work, if you’re a writer you should appreciate his two semi-famous quotes (i.e., famous among writers and writing students) on first drafts: “The first draft of anything is shit”; and “The important thing about a first draft is finishing the damn thing.”

Apologies for the noodling, barely-veiled-triumphalist feel to this blog post (especially as it’s likely to be the last one for a while). One further note, towards making this post interesting and useful to anyone else, is that (as mentioned here, at the outset of the novel) I used Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” of novel outlining, and it was really pretty helpful. The chronic problems of aimlessness and compulsory-feeling workdays didn’t disappear, but they were contained within each scene: I could make a character stare out a window, thinking, for a few paragraphs, but I knew that eventually he had to start walking again and proceed to point B. That was a big help in limiting the number of scenes that are themselves completely gratuitous and static (though given the length of this draft, I’m sure there are some of those, too). I had my reservations towards the Snowflake Method going in, but I found the questions it raised useful, and I expect a lot of the materials I generated—character sketches, brief and less-brief distillations of the novel’s overall trajectory—will be useful to refer back to, and probably amend, as I begin the long process of revision.


I wanted to share a novel-writing resource I’ve found useful over the last few weeks, as I’ve changed course while working on my novel. As usual, I’ve gone on at length in the run-up to sharing this valuable resource, Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” for outlining a novel, so I’ll link to it here in case you’d rather not wade through the waist-high verbiage below.

In a nutshell, I became frustrated with the increasing aimlessness of my novel. I had what I thought was a good idea of where it was going, what the various threads were, and so forth. But each scene seemed inessential, even dull. I felt like I was writing only for the purpose of getting that day’s word count in. I could all too easily see to the end of this process, when I’d have a first draft I didn’t care to revise, and would be faced with re-writing the entire thing.

I thought, “What will I do before the second draft to make this less of a mess?” The best answer was that I’d look through, see what I had, and rigorously plot out the second draft based on the storylines and characters I’d worked out. This satisfied me for about thirty seconds before the obvious occurred to me: why not plot it out beforehand?

I’ve never worked that way before. I’m not ideological about it, though; I just think it’s fun to free write, catch a hint of where this thing is going, and then follow it there. I think Stephen King, in his surprisingly great On Writing, describes this method as something like finding dinosaur bones in the ground and then just following the process of excavating them. I’ve found that solid . . . but it’s never worked for me for the novel. Part of what gave me pause as my novel went along in its bumbling fashion was that I’ve been here before. I’ve written two novels, and each one I wrote more than once. That thing I said about getting to the end of a first draft and not caring to revise it? Yeah, I was very much speaking from experience on that one. (I would argue that my first novel is more like three novels, since each one shifted focus quite a bit.)

So I was left with the alternative: to plot. (I should stop and confess this is hardly a new dilemma for a writer to face; so much so, the website for National Novel Writing Month has at least one forum thread dedicated to the “Plotters versus Panters” (i.e., by the seat of your pants) schools of thought, and there are over 70,000 Google results for that search phrase. (Interestingly, “Plotters versus Panthers” turns up about eight times more results. Go figure.))

I looked around the internet for resources or advice on outlining a novel. Read the rest of this entry »