How 12 Different Authors Write a First Draft.

I have an AMAZING post for you today! Since there was such a huge response to my “How Did You Write a Book” post, I started to wonder how my experience differs from other writers. I was lucky enough to pick the brains of some incredible authors to find out how they write their first drafts. Writing a first draft is the first and MOST important step to becoming a published author and it can also the hardest.

The questions each author was asked:

  1. How long does it take you to write a first draft?
  2. What does your first draft writing process look like?
  3. What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

The authors answering these burning questions are: Lane Heymont, Becket, Kristen Strassel, Summer Wier, Brenda Drake, Greg Wilkey, Jamie Grey, Melody Winter, Kat Ellis, Julie Hutchings, Mark Mathews and Louise D. Gornall.

They come from different backgrounds, write in different genres, and as you will see, have their own unique way of approaching a first draft; no two ways are the same. So whether you’re just trying to finish your first novel, or you’re a seasoned author crying coffee-streaked tears over your latest manuscript, remember—it’s different for everyone.

Lane Heymont

@LaneHeymont

 Lane

Lane is a literary assistant at The Seymour agency. He is also the author of The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff published by Sunbury Press.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

Writing a first draft, for me, is always a unique experience. Depending on the book and the amount of research needed to portray the world as realistic as possible a first draft could take me from two months to six months.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

I didn’t outline my first book and overall found it to be a gigantic pain in the rear end. Not to mention it took longer to write than I’d like to admit. So, after that experience I outlined everything from character appearance to minute conversations. It worked well for me, and my second book was done in two months. Amazing, really. As for research, I don’t usually do any until I actually start writing. I find it easier to research something once I get to the point where I need to know, and then I dive into my dozens of books (already bought) to answer even the smallest question.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

It’s funny that I struggled to answer this question. I thought about it for a long time, and then finally decided. ADD. I swear I have it, because I write for a few hours, and then start thinking how the sunlight glistens off the street outside my office window. I sit there for twenty minutes, thinking about those pine trees out there and how funny my Maltese looks as he stares at the same tree. You can see even now I’m rambling on, thus my stumbling block. How do I overcome it? Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. I recently discovered Starbucks’ blonde brew, which is hyper-loaded with caffeine. That sets me straight for hours. Also, if Starbucks would like me to promote them I would gladly do so. *smiles wickedly*

Becket

@iBecket

Becket2

Becket is the personal assistant to international bestselling author Anne Rice. Becket is also the indie-author of the popular YA series, The Blood Vivicanti, and his children’s book series, Key the Steampunk Vampire Girl.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

The length of time it takes to write the first draft of my novels depends on two goals: (1) a long-term word count goal, and (2) a short-term word count goal.

My long-term word count goal is the length that I would like the book to be by the end of the first draft. That word count always changes when the novel is finally finished. But by the end of my first draft, I make it my long-term goal to write a set amount of words.

My short-term word count goal is how many words I would like to write in a day. This can vary from day-to-day, sometimes I hit the mark on the head, sometimes I’m shy of it, and sometimes I write twice as much as I set out. But as long as I can come close to achieving my short-term word count goal, then I come even nearer to achieving my long-term word count goal.

I must stress that these two goals must be realistic so that they can be achievable. For instance, if I set out to write my own version of In Search of Lost Time in six months, while also writing 10,000 words a day, then I’ve set two highly unrealistic goals for myself. I must set a long term word count goal that I know I can achieve while at the same time also setting a short-term word count goal. Once these are set, then I start writing.

So to answer the question: If my long-term goal is 30,000 words, and my short-term goal is 1000 words a day, I would write the first draft in a month’s time. This happens often, and usually I’m finished writing a first draft of that length before 30 days.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

Before I set my two goals – long term and short term – I usually have an idea for a novel.  Once I know what I want to write – whether it is a short story, a novella, or a novel – then I set my two goals.

To set my long-term word count goal, I look at novels that I like, and that are similar to the idea I’m planning to write. For instance, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is roughly 25,000 words; and the word count for James and the Giant Peach is similar. If I am planning to write a children’s story, I make the long-term goal of my first draft similar to the word count of those two stories.

To set my short-term goal, I base it on my daily ability to write a set amount of words. To do that, I must know myself, what I’m capable and incapable of in any situation, whether I’m feeling well or ill.

For a first time writer, it might be best to set a simple goal. Try writing 100 words a day; see where that takes you. If you can write more, do it. If you need to write fewer words, do that too, and without shame, because writing is an exercise; and the muscles for writing – typing, thinking, and trusting yourself – need to be built up too.

Once I set my two goals, I start writing the story every day according to my short-term goal so that my long-term goal can be achieved.

Lastly, I write my first draft organically. I know roughly where I want the story to go and I know who my characters are because I’ll take the time to write little histories of each. Then I let things happen on the page that entertain me because (and I’ll explain this further in my response to the next question) the first draft is for me; it is for no one else. I write the first draft, and let it flow from me naturally, letting the characters do and say things that I want them to do and say, things that entertain me, every word, sentence, every scene.

If I am bored writing the first draft, then there’s no point in writing. If there are holes in the story and mistakes on the page, that’s all right – I let it happen. I let my first draft be as wild and sloppy as I like. It will get cleaned up, disciplined, and intelligible to others when I edit the story in subsequent drafts.

The whole point is to write, have fun, and meet my goals every day because I want to do what I love and love what I do.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

The main threat to every first draft is that menacing question: “What will people think of my novel, or this scene, or this character?” Asking such a question in the first draft is the undermining of the whole enterprise. The novel will never get written if I allow this question to pester me. Naturally it will arise. However, I put this question out of my head by telling myself the same mantra, it never fails: “This first draft is for you, and you alone, and no one else is going to read it.”

You see, the whole purpose of a first draft is not for someone else to see what I’m doing, but for me to see where I’m going, what I’m saying, and how I’m expressing my idea(s) in the novel.  So I must have and maintain the discipline not to show my first draft to anyone. It won’t make sense to them, especially if the first draft is unfinished.

The purpose of all subsequent drafts is to refine my story, discipline the characters, edit out things that do not help the narrative, and make it an easy and enjoyable read for my readers as well as myself.

Kristen Strassel

@KristenStrassel

Kristen 2

Kristen is the author of the steamy vampire romance novel Because The Night, its YA prequel, Seasons in the Sun, and the soon to be released Night Moves, published by Forward Literary.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

I try to get ‘er done in no more than 3 months. With the book I’m currently working on, I’m trying to trim that down to 2. It’s tough.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

For my more recent projects, I’ve had an idea in my head that won’t leave me alone. I write out a rough synopsis, and work on my characters. When the story is speaking to me, I just write whatever it tells me to. Then, I make a list of things that need to happen, or problems that need to be solved. I let the characters drive the story, so it doesn’t always go where I intended for it to. But that’s the fun of it!

For past books, I pulled heavily from life experience, so I didn’t have to do a ton of research. Now I’m branching out, and I tend to research mid draft. That way I can stay specific to what I need, or else I’ll be researching forever.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve written myself into a corner, so I’ll have to go back and zig where I had previously zagged to get out of it. Also, making the characters come alive in the first draft is a challenge. We’re just getting to know each other, so I don’t always have a good feel for them.

Summer Wier

@SummerWier

Me small

Three of Summer’s short stories are soon to appear in a Grimm’s Fairy Tale anthology by Reuts Publishing, and her YA sci-fi manuscript The Shadow of Light is currently making the query rounds.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

This was kind of a tricky question to answer since I don’t get uninterrupted writing time very often. I work from home and my clients are in different time zones, so some days I’m taking calls, sorting through emails, and putting out fires from the minute I wake up until I go to bed. There are also different times of year that allow me to write more than others (April and May are my most productive writing months because tax season is over and my children are still in school).  I utilize nights and weekends as much as possible, without totally ignoring my family, but have yet to nail down a tried and true schedule.  That being said, I can complete a first draft in about three months.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

Chaos. Pure chaos. Sometimes I’m a pantser, sometimes I’m a plotter. When I have an idea, I just start writing, and not necessarily at the beginning.  As I mentioned above, sometimes my day is filled with interruptions, but I keep mulling that idea over in my head. Expanding it. Developing it. As I’m doing other things, ideas come to me and I email them to myself.  When I sit down to write, it’s easier to move forward because I’ve already worked the scene out in my head.

With the MS I just finished, I started with one idea and then did a complete 180 after seeing a NASA YouTube video. Incorporating its elements into my MS required a lot of research because I wanted to be as accurate as possible so I could warp the idea in a very realistic way. Even after I worked the science into my story, I still researched frequently as I was writing descriptions for the world I created.

I don’t do much revising while I’m creating a first draft. I’m a picky writer. I’m a slow writer. I sit, think, and work on each sentence as I go. I’m a little OCD, so I can’t just throw word vomit on a page and move on. It drives me nuts.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

Anyone that knows me even a little bit knows that WORD COUNTS will be the death of me. I can thank my business degree for teaching how to organize data and list facts. Clear. Concise. Short, sweet and to the point.  Sure, I know how to spruce things up a bit, paint a pretty picture with flowery words and heavenly scents, but I always end up on the low side of the count. I recently tried my hand at short stories, and even then, I really had to push myself to hit a 2,000 word goal. Now that’s not all bad.  It’s my style. It makes me, well me.  And thankfully, I have some amazing CPs and a rocking DE that work with me to beef up sparse areas. More than anything, I think I psych myself out about it. It’s this thing that hangs over me, traps me, inhibits me. Every page I write, every chapter I finish brings a huge sense of accomplishment.  Because holy crap, I made more words.  Going forward, I’m trying to ignore it. Write what I write, knowing that I can go back and add to it. Spruce my story up a bit. And come out with something pretty darn awesome.

Brenda Drake

@BrendaDrake

Brenda Drake Author Photo1

Brenda Drake is the well known creator of the twitter pitch wars and contests. She is also the YA author of Library Jumpers, coming 2014.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

I’m such a slow reader and writer. It takes me about six weeks to get a draft done. I’m not a messy draft writer. I kind of edit as I go along. I can’t jump around and do other things. Once I start a draft, I can’t stop until I get to the end. It’s too hard for me to stop, doing something else, then return to the draft. This goes with my personality in other things, as well. If I start to paint the house, I don’t rest until it’s finished.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

I do a plot graph and work from it. While I’m drafting, I will stop to research things that need to be accurate for the story. I usually have character descriptions to work from for each character, except when new ones invite themselves into the story while I’m drafting, then I’ll sketch them quickly and move on. I do a lot of research of the setting for the book upfront, but everything else happens when I get to something I must research. Setting is important to me, it really gets me into the story, which I have to be careful to not write in too many details. I love to use fun and unique places, like beautiful libraries, for my settings.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

I think just making time to write. I do have more time than others, since I’m a stay-at-home mom with kids that are basically ghosts, but I have the contests and other things pulling me from my goals. So I have to say no to things I’d love to do, but I can do once I’m done. I tend to want to do all the things, so I have to stop myself and put the writing first.

Greg Wilkey

@GWilkey

GregW

Greg is the YA indie-author behind the very popular Mortimer Drake series.

How long does it take you to write your first draft?

The first draft takes me about 6 months if I stick to my schedule. If I get distracted or too busy, it can take longer.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

I outline and map out certain scenes that I want to happen. I spend a lot of time doing research. I love the research. I can get lost in that step if I am not careful. I do not map out the entire book. I only decide on the beginning and the end. I do not revise until the whole draft is finished. Then I go back and flesh it out. I have learned over the years that I just have to get the story out of my head and onto the page. Once that’s finished, I can really work some magic.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

I want to stop and edit and revise as I go. I also have to stick to a schedule due to my lack of writing time. I really have to discipline myself to stay on my schedule or else the writing won’t happen.

Jamie Grey

@JamieGrey

Jamie4

Jamie is the indie-author behind Ultraviolet Catastrophe and her soon to be released NA novel The Star Thief.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

Most of my first drafts take 4-6 weeks. I’m a huge fan of fast drafting so I try to get a first draft down as quickly as possible. It may be a mess, but at least it’s something to start with!

What does your first draft writing process look like?

For a first draft, I’ll start out with a rough outline or beat sheet so I have a roadmap of what’s going to happen. If I can give my subconscious a starting point, it fills in the gaps for me most of the time as I write. Usually a first draft for me is just getting it down, so I leave all research until after it’s finished, unless it’s absolutely necessary. That means I leave a lot of notes behind that will say “insert cool sciencey-stuff here.” I also start out with a few basic character names, but as new characters come up, I don’t worry about stopping to find the perfect name and just leave myself a note for later. I love names and I could get lost for hours searching for the perfect one! As for revising, usually I don’t do any until the first draft is completely written. I’ll go back and read a few pages or a chapter from the day before to get me back on track, but I don’t let myself fix anything.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

My first draft stumbling blocks usually have to do with plot. If I find that I’m stuck or feeling like the words won’t come, I can usually trace it to a plot problem or hole, or that I’ve taken the story in the wrong direction. I those cases I’ll go back and brainstorm the plot a little more deeply, or play the what-if game with my CPs to see if can get unstuck. I also don’t get as deep as I’d like into my characters during the first draft, it’s kind of like a first date in that most of our interactions are kind of superficial, so I do a lot of work during revising to make sure I fully flesh them out.

Melody Winter

@MelodyWinter

MW summer coast

Melody has a short story soon to appear in the Grimm’s Fairy Tale Anthology by Reuts Publishing and her NA Romantic Fantasy, Sachael Dreams is making the query rounds.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

My first drafts take about 4 – 6 months. My writing time is limited to evenings when the kids have gone to bed, and Fridays. The weekend days are a no-no for me as my husband insists that I leave the laptop alone. Although, on many occasions I have scribbled down notes or ideas that come into my head. It’s a crazy place in my mind at the best of times, so like Dumbledore and his Pensieve, I get rid of the thoughts!

What does your first draft writing process look like?

When I first started writing ‘Sachael Dreams’ – my first full MS – I planned, plotted and researched for 3 months. ‘Sachael Dreams’ is the first in a series of 4, so I had to be quite thorough in my plans – writing a rough outline of each book. The books are quite intrinsically linked, so my research and how the plot unfolded had to be in place. I couldn’t have written this without any idea of where I was going.

None of this means that I’ve stuck rigidly to the original plans. I’m writing the third book at the moment, and since ‘Sachael Dreams’ isn’t published yet, I’m still able to go back and tweak areas that I feel need a bit less, or bit more, input to run smoothly with what I am writing now.

I have pictures, Wikipedia definitions printed out, links to websites, songs lists, character profiles and hand draw family trees, as well as a very subject specific category of new research books on anything to do with water or sea creatures!

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

Because I’m a planner, I tend not to have too many stumbling blocks, But if I do hit a problem it’s usually with how to get something to happen so that I can write it through my characters POV. I write in 1st person and many times there are conversations that she needs to hear, but she’d not in the scene. I’m also a nightmare for using unnecessary words, ‘dead words’, as you will probably be able to see from this post. And, even though I plan what’s going to happen, my characters frequently take over and lead me astray. Pulling them back to where I want them to be can prove difficult. If I’m ever really stuck with things I iron, with my ipod earbuds in. Music never fails to inspire me.

Kat Ellis

@el_Kat

Kat2

Kat’s debut YA novel, Blackfin Sky will be released in 2014 by Firefly Press and Running Press Kids.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

I take around 3-4 months to write a dirty first draft, and that will be something hideous, full of plot holes and missing words and typos. The kind of draft I wouldn’t show to ANYBODY.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

I am usually a serious plotter (I say ‘usually’ because there are times when I break my own rules).

Depending on the kind of story I’m writing, I might research a lot or only a little bit before I begin mapping out the story on paper. Then I get down to business and write out the details of what happens, chapter by chapter, from the start of the novel right to the end. This will normally just be a sentence or two summarising each chapter. I use this outline as a guide, and add to it and change it as I’m writing. Sometimes the plot will take a different turn than the one I’d originally planned, and that’s fine – I just revise the outline so I still have a clear idea of where I’m going.

I start a new notebook for each new manuscript, and note down anything I might want to pick up on later – a funny line of dialogue, an outline for a particular scene, a note about a character’s tics – things like that. My notebook stays with me, and is added to, right the way through the drafting and editing and polishing, until my manuscript is all shiny and ready for my beta readers.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

For me, my biggest obstacle in the first draft phase is time. I’m not the kind of writer who can steal twenty minutes here or half an hour there to write; I need a good chunk of time to be able to sit down and really get my head into drafting-mode. I work full time, so it’s not always easy to do this, and I can end up going for days without writing anything. Then the draft is harder to get back into, and I sometimes start to feel really detached from it and a bit quitty. Luckily, my stubbornness usually outweighs my quittiness, and if all else fails I take a few days off work to really get stuck into it.

Julie Hutchings

@HutchingsJulie

Julie2

Julie is the author of the dazzling vampire thriller, Running Home and its coming sequel, Running Away published by Books of the Dead Press.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

I stick to a 1000 word a day diet, giving me about 3 months to complete a first draft without getting worn out on it.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

I’m such a pantser. I outline in bits and pieces as I go along, just to remind myself what I wanted to do next. But quite honestly, I start by sitting down and free writing. I have little idea what’s going to happen at the bottom of the page, let alone the end of the book. The one thing I really work my ass of at is figuring out what the last line of the book will be. Once I know the feeling I want it to end on, the words that I want to resonate with the reader, the final thing I want my character to say, I write fast and furious. I tend to write sparsely and go back to fill in later with expansions on plotlines, character development, and extended research if necessary. I do the bare bones of research to begin with so I don’t slow myself down or get too immersed in a lot of information that I didn’t need. That’s a classic move of mine and then I’m suddenly an expert on like, 18th century pottery and the soles of Dutch clogs or something. I strictly do not revise until my second and third drafts because I never know what’s happening next, and who knows? Maybe that thing I just said will work out.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

When I don’t outline formally, the only stumbling block I happen upon is what the hell do I do now? I’ve created this whole world and I have no idea what to do with it. Getting out of that takes a lot of forms, but the only one that always works is to write through it. I may end up with CRAP. But I can edit crap. I can’t edit what doesn’t exist.

Mark Matthews

@Matthews_Mark

Mark

Mark is the author of Stray, The Jade Rabbit, and his most recent horror novel, On the Lips of Children, published by Books of the Dead Press.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

My last novel took about 8 months, but it came and went in sprints and dashes followed by long pauses of inactivity. I do my best work when obsession takes over a bit and I binge write. During these moments, I dream of my characters and write first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep at night. Nothing I have ever accomplished hasn’t been done without a bit of madness involved.

What does your first draft writing process look like?

Start with characters that are a little messed up on the inside and throw life circumstances at them to squeeze the insides out.  All of my books have been from true settings. I think each setting has its own energy and flavor that seeps from the cracks that I try to soak up and put on paper.

I would love to be able to plot but I can’t. Generally, I just have scenes and characters, and let them decide. This means tons of wasted time going on tangents and dead ends and thus more rewrites. I prefer ‘mapping’ which is more visual.

I like the idea of rambling through the first draft and typing like mad, not worrying about misspelled words or messed up sentences. I just get through the story and write as much for tone and plot as for sentence structure and worry about that later. At times I even close my eyes when I type and move my head about in a rhythm similar to Stevie Wonder at the keyboard. (You are the first person I told that to.)  (I am not joking here) (I wrote that Stevie Wonder style.)

As for research, I may Google something real fast in the heat of the moment during the first draft, but I also heard a bit of advice somewhere about doing research at the end, so I literally may type “–do research for this paragraph here–” on the manuscript and move on.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

Trying to juggle writing with a life, my day job, my family, other demands. Besides that, there are the tangents I go on due to not plotting. Any final word count is probably only half of what has been written.  I figure anything you write that isn’t used is at least an exercise in writing, so even if it gets cut, it is like the fat that makes the meat juicier.  You also can’t fall in love with certain sentences and scenes in the first draft because they may need to be cut out later.

Impatience is also a big problem. I start submitting a piece in my head way before it’s done. I have to fight the urge to rush it. Especially since you need time and distance to edit. I can only reread for quality content if some time has passed. But it is very cool to forget the content of what you wrote, and then to reread it later with fresh eyes as if you were a reader seeing it for the first time.

Louise D. Gornall

@Rock_andor_Roll

Louise2

Louise is the author of the YA fantasy In Stone released by Entranced Publishing.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

Sometimes it takes me a couple of months. Sometimes it takes me that just to write a chapter. The smallest things steal my focus. Uh, a squirrel…

What does your first draft writing process look like?

So right now I’m working on a development project with Mandy Hubbard. What that means is that Mandy has outlined and plotted a story and I’m helping her to fluff it out. I’ve never worked off an outline before and it’s kind of thrown me for a loop. Because I know what’s coming, I’m finding it really difficult to take a step back and put in all the little details I know the reader needs to stay on top of what’s going on.

Right now I’m revising and drafting which I don’t normally do, but I feel safe in the knowledge that, thanks to the outline, my plot is never going to change so dramatically that my revisions will be a waste of time. That said, I’m a firm believer in nothing shapes your book like putting it away for two weeks, coming back to it and revising the crap out of it.

What’s research? I’m kidding. I’m not great at research if there’s call for it I’ll research places, but that’s about it. I like to wing it or make it up. My “research” nearly always ends up with me just looking at the pictures.

What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

Transition scenes. I hate them when drafting. They seem so boring and monotonous. I just want to get to the action bits. I don’t really do anything to overcome this, I just kind of push on. I know I can make transitions more fun after a couple of revisions so I just keep going. Also, character names, they kill me. Again though, just pick one and push on until it becomes natural.

I want to thank all the authors who participated in this post. Follow them on twitter to find links to their books, websites, and to get more writing tips and advice.

Follow me @TamzWrite

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12 thoughts on “How 12 Different Authors Write a First Draft.

  1. gmr1tes says:

    Always fascinating to see how other writers approach this. Great post.

  2. brendadrake says:

    This was fun, Tammy! I loved reading how other writers draft. I think the real writing for me happens during edits. It can take me forever to edit the draft afterwards.

  3. TK says:

    The more of these post you write, the more I realize there is no singular method to writing a book.

  4. mikeakin1 says:

    Great, great post! Very helpful.

  5. […] you look back on the post How 12 Different Authors Write a First Draft, you’ll see how different the process is for […]

  6. […] How 12 Different Authors Write a First Draft Featuring: Lane Heymont, Becket, Kristen Strassel, Summer Wier, Brenda Drake, Greg Wilkey, Jamie Grey, Melody Winter, Kat Ellis, Julie Hutchings, Mark Mathews and Louise D. Gornall. […]

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