Thursday, April 11, 2013

On First Drafts

So, many of you know that I bowed out of A to Z because last year I commented 50,000 words worth. This year, I said "Hey wait, that's a novel," so I decided to write a novel instead. But I'm in that place where I'm having a hard time switching from polishing to drafting. I've never had that problem. I'm a big fan of the fast first draft. First drafts need to exist. They need to explore characters and plot so that by the end I as a writer know both.

I'm a super steady drafter. I take 12 weeks to write a novel. Every. Single. Time. There are exactly two exceptions: my first two novels, and let's just say those aren't going to make daylight anytime soon, ya know?

When I write, I try to use the first draft like an exploration of the story. It's sort of my way of seeing if a story is viable. I know this is a huge waste of time if I get to the end and say "Nope, no story here," but it's how I write. I've made extensive outlines, I've made NO outlines, but the only way I've found to tell if there is a novel is to write the story.

And to get over it being a complete waste of time, I've decided to just write my first draft as fast as possible, because, seriously? Pretty much the whole thing gets rewritten.

An example: I wrote a novel, in the allotted 12 weeks. I thought it was really clean. It was. I decided that there were a few things that could be done better. Just a few. So I rewrote the first 20K. Cool. Then I rewrote the last 15K. Then I added 20K and cut 15K. Then I gave it another pass where I added another 10K and cut 6K.

If you do the math, you see that I gave my supposedly clean novel, the one that was pretty good, and pretty close "finished," 65K new words. It's just over 75K. So only 10K from the original draft remained. Those original 65K were apparently less than, well--how to put this nicely?--crap.

I know that there are plenty of people out there who write a first draft, tinker with it a little, then call it awesomesauce on toast. To you I say, "Kudos!" because I can't work like that. I have to know exactly how the story ends before I can layer in all of the subtext (I suck at subtext... erg!) and describe things in a meaningful way. I probably suffer from some sort of attention disorder (OH SHINY!!!), but I have a limited time to get out a first draft. After that, I can tinker. 

The reason I'm putting this out there today, is that I think figuring out your process is a huge step in becoming a "real" writer. It took me a lot of time to figure out what kind of process worked best for me, and I'm still a work in progress. But there's more than one way. In fact, every process that leads to wonderful story is totally valid, but just in case you're struggling, this is my process: Write the crummy first draft (quickly to reduce the pain). Figure out if it will even work. Then replace practically every word with another word (and expect to do that part more than once).

Good luck out there, and go write!


  1. Greta post! There is so much advice out there and most of it is really good, but you HAVE to figure out your own process. Glad you're finding yours :)

  2. I'm finding my process might even vary from one story to the next. I've done wonderful outlines, started writing and the story pulled me in a whole different direction.

  3. This is such a great post! Congrats on finding your own process with first drafts and such.

  4. I HATE first drafts. Just so that's out there... I can work with a second, third, fiftieth draft, but a first? *shudders* I think you've got a good system. 12 weeks of awful, and then complete scrap and rewrite.

  5. I wish I could write a novel in 12 weeks... actually, I probably could, but I get sidetracked by everything. If I stuck all the writing together it might be 12 weeks.

    Apart from the time scale, our processes are very similar!

  6. Great advice, Rena! You make me want to have wild hair and let loose cranking out a first draft! I sooo want to be careless and go with the flow, but I have a hard time not obsessing over every single word, even on my first draft. I'm seriously going to give it my all with my next story! :D

  7. I love this post. So much. I've spent the last, oh, 6-9 months trying to convince myself that I'm a plotter. Turns out, not so much. I have to have an ending and general shape in mind, but that's it.

    So, yes. I love this. I want to try this.



I love comments! Let me know what's on your mind.