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First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer's System for Building A Complete and Cohesive Manuscript

by Karen Wiesner

Writer's Digest Books

216 Pages

Reviewed by Beth Morrow

Copyright 2006 - All Rights Reserved


As a perpetual dieter and unorganized fiction writer, there are two things of which I am most skeptical: quick weight-loss schemes and programs that claim to help scattered writing souls like myself compose fiction from an outline. While I still haven't found anything to help my waistline more than following the good, old-fashioned adage of eat-less-exercise-more, I dare say Karen Wiesner's First Draft in 30 Days has me reconsidering--and almost excited about--the value of outlining prior to writing.

Like diet programs, I've tried every plotting/structure/organizing plan for writers known to mankind. From books to index cards to computer programs and everything in between, I accepted long ago that I'm a pantser (as opposed to the neat and orderly plotter) and that to try and organize my fiction writing process was an exercise in futility. While I write from outline in my nonfiction pieces, the impulsive, dynamic nature of fiction made me believe it almost impossible to reign in on the direction of my stories in advance.

Until Wiesner's book. Though I read with an open mind, the skeptic in the back of my mind continued reminding me of the similarities between the first few worksheets in the book and other methods that haven't worked for me. I've done the character, setting and plot sketches before only to leave them behind (Days 1-6). I've composed lengthy lists of information I need to research for inclusion in my second drafts (Days 7-13). I've even tried writing fiction from an elaborately created outline nearly half the length of the final book (Days 16-30). What I hadn't done is consider my story sections (beginning, middle and end) with the 30 Days' Story Evolution Worksheet and information (Days 14-15).

Part Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, part your own application, the Story Evolution information was just what my non-structured brain needed to take those necessary baby steps to get me from the point of idea/concept/writing to a solid, workable, sensible outline I could use to get me to my final draft. In fact, after reading the story evolution chapters, I proceeded to head to bed after a long day of teaching, but the impact of those chapters, the possibilities of their being able to truly change the way I approached my writing excited me so much I had to get up and try for myself. In a matter of minutes, I recreated the worksheets on my laptop, printed them off and in an hour had the entire first third of my story outlined. I don't recall being so excited by brainstorming and outlining in a long time. Ok, quite possibly never--which illustrates my point.

In addition to the schedules, worksheets and goal sheets in the book, there are also sections on how to use the 30 Day Method if you have a work in progress, how to keep track of romance, mystery and suspense/thriller plotlines if that's your genre and even suggestions and plans on how to outline your career path as a writer.

While it's true each writer approaches their craft in a unique way, there is a great deal of information to be learned from Karen Wiesner's First Draft in 30 Days. Even if you don't use her structure, thinking of the elements of story before you're knee-deep in plot, scene and structure couldn't hurt. Then again, neither would an extra jog on the treadmill…. 

About the author: Beth Morrow is a nationally published freelance writer who wishes chocolate were considered part of the vegetable food group. At the moment, she's researching male and female speech patterns for an article coming this fall to a writer's magazine near you and can't wait to get back to her outlining her current work-in-progress.


         Last updated: February 19, 2007