The Rapid Prototype Model of Drafting

masonry(Image credit:

When most people think of “editing,” they think of reclining on the couch with a printout, red pen in hand, making tiny, gentle corrections in the space of an afternoon.  Probably followed by a cookie and a well-earned nap.

With a novel-length work, though, editing is a complicated slog.  You take out extraneous words, and collapse chapters.  You add words where they’re lacking, and split chapters.  You say, “holy crap, this character would NEVER do/say that!”  You rediscover plot details you totally meant to weave into the larger work, but never did.

Whatever changes you make, you have to ensure everything preceding and following is consistent.  For instance, if I decide my character doesn’t curse after all, I have to review all of her dialogue, across hundreds of pages, to take out every errant naughty word.

These changes snowball until the chapters toward the end have no relation to the chapters you’ve already gone over.  They might as well be from another book, or alternate plane of existence.  With the entire back third of my novel in progress, I haven’t been editing- I’ve been writing from scratch!  (It’s for the best, trust me.)

I’m still mostly adhering to my one chapter a week “editing” schedule, though.  How?  Here’s my process:

  1. Outline the chapter at a very high level- the scenes it will contain and the big events that will happen.  (ex.  Vlad the Decimator reaches the Hall of Math, saves it from destruction.)
  2. Write a terse draft.  Expand/collapse the outline at will- anything goes- but I only let myself work on this draft for a few days.  It’s absolutely not richly detailed or nicely worded by the time I’m done.  It’s more a suggestion of where I could go with it.
  3. Get feedback from my spouse.  Is this a good approach, or should I try something else?  What should there be more/less of?  Are the characters’ actions consistent and reasonable for the situation/state of mind they’re in?
  4. Spend a few days expanding and refining the draft with the suggested changes.

It’s similar to the rapid prototype model of software development, wherein you hack out a rudimentary program to start, then hone it with continual rounds of user testing and feedback.  You don’t spend too much time on the prototype, because you don’t know what might get the bum’s rush.

I don’t have time for zillions of feedback rounds at this point, or making the prose beautiful.  I’m more concerned with solidifying the big plot and character events.  In September, I’ll be working with a professional editor to give the manuscript some real spit-polish.

Is this the way all first-drafting should work?  Absolutely not!  As with software development, different design methods work best for different situations. I find this method good for:

  • Times when you can get fast, reliable feedback
  • Times when you’re having trouble figuring out where to be wordy, and where to be concise
  • Adhering to a strict schedule
  • Short, “easy” pieces (ex. my Daily WTF articles)

How do you prefer to draft when there are time constraints involved?  Drop me a line and let me know!

My Firefly Break


The view out my front door is ever-changing.  A developer has torn out a high school that used to be there to put in apartment buildings, offices, and townhouses over the next several years.  Presently, a mountain chain of excavated dirt stares me in the face.  On its right lies a lovely new bike and pedestrian path that, once open, will provide a shortcut to a major street, a park, and our groceries.


On its left is a patch of overgrown weeds- some taller than me at this point- and the one tree they spared when demolishing the school.  It used to be a lot greener and shadier over here, which is a shame, but we’ve been assured this will be a green space after construction.

Fortunately, fireflies still like to congregate here.  (However, they don’t like posing for my camera.)

As a kid with allergies, afraid of most insects, fireflies were one of my few connections with Nature.  The bugs are friendly and fascinating, their annual visit all too brief.

Now that I’m my own boss, I work (write) in two shifts: from breakfast to lunch, then after dinner until bed.  During my evening shift, I take a break around 9 PM to step out and visit with the fireflies.  It’s good to get away from the computer and talk out loud to myself about difficult parts of my rewrites.  (I’m sure my neighbors think I’m nuts.)

Mostly though, I watch for the little glowing tails of light, wishing they could last all year.  I catch a few bugs in my hands, but let them fly away at their leisure- no more jars with holes poked in the top.  Visitors happen by sometimes, like the lady who walks her German shepherd around the same time of day- and this little guy, who makes me wish I’d remembered my digital camera rather than my spouse’s old smartphone.

bunny01See him?

bunny02How about now?

I look forward to my firefly break all day long.  :)

Do you have a favorite time of day/break ritual?  Let me know in the comments!

The Easiest Way to Back Up Your Files, Right Now

timemachineQuick, let’s go back and save fourteen year-old me!

When I was a middle-school teenager, back in the era of one computer per household, my dad got mad at me for something- I don’t recall what.  Shortly thereafter, I logged into the family computer, and discovered my personal folder on the hard drive- the repository for everything I did- missing.  Not in the trash, not in a different folder, just gone like it never existed.

“You must’ve downloaded a virus,” Dad told me, matter-of-fact.

I wasn’t studying Computer Science yet, but even then I knew that was bullshit.  Nothing else on the computer was missing, no programs were acting up.  The computer was fine.  As revenge for whatever I’d done, Dad had deleted my personal folder and emptied the trash.

I’d never backed up any of my stuff.  Homework assignments, stories, pictures, music, personal website- gone.  I cried, for days.  Dad continued to maintain it was my own fault… while quietly ordering a disk recovery program out of guilt.

I don’t know if disk recovery programs suck now, but they sure sucked back then.  All I retrieved were a few sentences here and there from works in progress, littered with garbage symbols.

The approach was malicious and immature, but ultimately, Dad taught me the important lesson of taking computer backups seriously.  Back then it meant hiding boxes of 3.5″ floppies in my bedroom closet, but I didn’t care.  Many years later, a total hard drive failure on my school computer proved no big deal at all.

Most people never consider making backups until they lose something important.  Granted, most people never have to worry about someone in their own household erasing their data and then lying about it- but if you store anything of importance on your machine, don’t wait for a harsh lesson.  Don’t wait ’til you read more about the best methods, or save up for new hardware, or any of that.

Log into your personal email.  Right now.  Compose a new message- subject and body don’t matter.  Attach whatever files you’d die without, as the max file limit allows.  (For me, that’s my manuscript.)  Put your own email address in the To bar, then click Send.


Voila- a backup now lives in your inbox.  Huge peace of mind for only a few seconds of effort!  This method doesn’t work for everything- only items small enough to fit in an email- but if you’ve never done any backing up at all, this is a good start!

Here are some other ways I back up important files, all much less clunky than having to track and inventory 50 floppies (hooray for the future!).  The hardware mentioned below is easily found on Amazon, and gets cheaper all the time:

  • Copy files to USB thumb sticks.
  • Copy files to a USB external hard drive, which is stored within a fire-proof safe.
  • Store notes/small pieces of text in Simplenote, which has the added advantage of being accessible anywhere with an Internet connection.
  • Use Time Machine on my Mac to store whole-computer backups on the hard drive built into my wifi router.  Time Machine performs the backups automatically.  Set this up once, and you never have to worry about it again.

There are also utilities like Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote, and a slew of others for the types of things listed above, but I don’t have personal experience with those.  Most of them involve storing data “in the cloud” – in other words, on someone else’s servers.  This is also true of our simple email example, and of Simplenote.  The advantage is you can access your files from anywhere, and don’t necessarily have to store them on your own computer.  The potential disadvantages: trusting a third party to hold sensitive info for you; the possibility of said third party going out of business, having server downtime, or getting hacked and having their data stolen.

It’s also important for me to back up this very blog, should something happen to the server it’s hosted on.  Since my blog is powered by WordPress, I use their recommended procedure.

One recommendation I have with saving text files: along with saving copies in whatever proprietary file format you use (ex. DOCX for Microsoft Word), save rich-text or plain-text versions as well (file extensions RTF or TXT respectively).  Copying/pasting your text into Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac) and saving it out of there is usually sufficient.  Just in case something bad happens to the proprietary software/format you’re using, or that file gets corrupted somehow, you’ll have a “clean” version of the text you can easily import into a different program.

Are there other backup methods you swear by?  Drop me a line in the comments and let me know!