My Writing Process #1: The Deadline Phase – Three “Ds” that nailed my first draft

Yes, it’s finally done! My 300+ page memoir.

Oh, wait! I mean the first messy draft. The first ‘shitty’ draft. The first ‘vomit’ draft.

Sorry.

But hey, it’s a first nonetheless so excuse me while I gloat for all of 5 seconds.

“1,000. 2,000. 3,000. 4,000. 5,000.”

Okay done. I’m over it now.

But as I was patting myself on the back, I thought why not chronicle my unfinished journey with memoir writing too? Make it a real-time road trip record of sorts, one that tracks my learning as it happens, allows me to share what I’ve gained, and also a reminder that this trip is far from over.

In pursuing my writing project, I’ve come to relearn writing as a process, and one which has, for me, a few key stages.

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Now that I’ve completed it, let me put on record here my first stage.

I call it ‘The Deadline Phase‘.

From it, I’ve derived what I refer to as my ‘3Ds’ for embarking on a writing project.

Let’s start with my first ‘D’ – Decision.

1. Decision

I started my writer’s journey with a Decision that I would write on a topic I’ve some ‘expertise’ in, namely my experience as a stay at home dad of two boys, one with autism. It’s what I am still learning and discovering everyday of course, but I see no reason to wait until it’s all learned, done, and dusted before I embark on this writing.

[And besides, are matters like family really ever done and dusted?!]

In any case, the desire to write has always been there for me, having journaled quite a bit in my early 30s. This time though, I was specifically motivated by a couple of books I read last year, namely Simply Tuesday and The Memoir Project. Though neither were about parenting and autism, both books gave me the idea, inspiration, and incentive to get started.

[The power of reading to drive Life-Pivoting Decisions – never underestimate it!]

Now, while I knew that’s WHAT I wanted to write about, I didn’t really know HOW I should best go about doing it.

Which brings me to my second ‘D’ – Design.

2. Design

It would have probably been easy just to journal daily my experiences being a stay home dad, and how I dealt with autism. However, I reckoned there wasn’t all that much different to say from day to day, or even week to week.

It would also have ended up becoming no more than another diary; great for private reading but not much else. Not that I have any foreseeable plans to make it public either (something I’m still considering).

But having said that, I thought if one day I do go public with my memoir, then it’ll probably save me time now if I wrote it with that end in mind. Instead of hiding it under lock and key for the rest of my life.

And while a diary typically only has an audience of one (the diarist!), I wanted my words to sit on pages that (at the very least) my wife and kids could read someday.

So, I set about finding out HOW best to write. For that, full credit goes to my memoir coach Marion Roach Smith, who incidentally also wrote that second book I mentioned above. She wrote it with such panache that I was completely hooked, and wasted no time putting her tips into practice!

Once I learned the secret of the HOW, I embarked on her prescribed Design. It took me three months (Oct to Dec 2019), but in the end, I had my book pretty much mapped out, including the different scenes of my life that would go into the different chapters. And how the chapters would be sequenced to form three major acts, all of which would add up to my book-length memoir.

But simply having a plan was pointless, unless the plan was executed. Which brings me to my third and final ‘D’ for this first phase of my writing process – Discipline.

3. Discipline

When 2020 started, I committed to writing everyday, five days a week, 750 words each time. The goal was straightforward – complete writing approximately 100,000 words in six months, or approximately 300 pages (Times New Roman, font size 12, double-line spacing).

Initially, I would do it in the morning, shortly after sending my son to school. Then, when Covid-19 hit and our country went into lockdown, I used the time at night after the kids had gone to bed to do my writing.

The Discipline involved was mind-numbingly hard, but I decided that there would be no exceptions, no breaks. I would stick to the 5-days a week schedule no matter what. And each time I wrote, I made sure to hit my target of 750 words. As of 2 July, I hit approximately 100,000 words, the equivalent of approximately 300+ pages of text.

[Incidentally, that day was also my 50th birthday, a coincidence not lost on me as a significant marker of my humble writing accomplishment!]

The whole process from conception to execution took nine months and two days.

Whew! Now I can finally ‘put my pen down’ and rest. For a bit.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so Disciplined when it came to writing for anything other than a university thesis. And that was something I did eons ago!

But as many creatives would testify, it is Discipline that undergirds every creative endeavor, and not just some brilliant idea or notion. Without it, little ever gets done.

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So while it’s still a ‘vomit’ of a draft (with all the attending nasty soundtrack that accompanies any awful retching!), the important thing is that I now at least have the tools to work with – those 100,000 words.

And I did it – on Deadline!

(Sorry, but I’m going to take another 5 seconds now to gloat!….okay, done.)

Now to Phase #2 – The Rewrite Phase. Easily another six to nine months!

But as my writing coach, Marion Roach Smith said to me: “Onward!”

3 thoughts on “My Writing Process #1: The Deadline Phase – Three “Ds” that nailed my first draft

      1. I’m a pantser, and I write fiction, which is a whole other world when compared to memoirs, but I tend to regret pantsing and I always promise myself to outline everything for my next project.

        Maybe you could start by writing out the bare bones of how you want the book to flow before actually editing so you won’t veer off-course during the rewriting phase?

        It’s all anecdotal though, so take this advice with a grain of salt, lol.

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