Writing The First Draft

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Now that Shadow Of The Wicked is complete, I have been working with my editor for my next novel, To Wield The Stars (if you remember me talking about it) to be published by OMAMPublishing. But while I was waiting, I have had the feeling to fall back into the Three Kingdoms (Shadow Of The Wicked) world and do a full featured novel and possibly series to explain a lot of the lore and history.

So on my on Instagram I posted that I have started that series. I’m not sure what the title will be but I have a grand plan for it to be epic and grim. However, writing the first draft has always been the most daunting part of writing a novel for me.

I’m always one to attack my challenges head-on, however, I used to set an ambitious daily minimal quota for myself, counting out how many clean, carefully thought-out pages I would need to write each day in order to finish a 400-page manuscript.

The first draft typically takes me about 3-4 months. I would then spend the final three or four months of my allotted time revising and polishing the manuscript.

My writing goals and ambitions never seemed to go according to plan.

I invariably ended up writing about 200 pages total, falling completely short of my goal.

This leaves me in a position to add scenes, subplots more character development and constantly scramble to make up for the pages.

The great news is that there are as many ways to write a novel as there are writers, and happily, there is no one right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply a matter of whatever will work best for you.

I figured that in this month’s article, I would share with you what I’ve learned about the advantages and disadvantages of each.

That way, you may be forewarned and perhaps better armed for the pitfalls that may befall you when you sit down to write your first draft.

‘One Magnificent Draft’

Some very successful authors creep along at a snail’s pace on one magnificent draft that only needs a slight polishing by the time it’s done.

In this scenario, you would take the projected length of the book and divide it by the number of days you have to get it finished. For the purposes of this article, I will use as an example a 400 page manuscript (the standard 100,000 words for a single title) and a deadline of 8 months, which is also fairly typical for historical romances. The One Magnificent Draft type writer would thus have to figure on writing one to two practically-perfect pages each day to meet her deadline.

People who are highly intuitive and who have deeply absorbed into their subconscious minds the archetypal and mythic story patterns seem to do well with this approach; however, there is not much margin for error, deadline-wise, should your story wander off on a tangent that proves to be a dead end.

Another problem with this method was that progress through the manuscript at only one or two new pages per day went so slowly that months would pass between me writing my major story turning points. In the interim, it was easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees.

I will say that the benefit of the One Magnificent Draft method is that when you work on early sections of the book until they’re really good, it helps to give you more confidence as you press on into each new chapter.

The extensive revisions that I was asked to do on my first couple of books taught me fairly quickly that I was not really the One Magnificent Draft type of writer. I realised I would need to start scheduling revision time into my production schedule, not counting revisions my editor might ask me to do down the road. In other words, I realised I needed to do two to three drafts and have beta readers read it then edit those before my editor even looked at it.

‘The Double Draft Method’

This second breed of writer tends to be a bit more analytical or left-brained than the previous type. In the Double Draft Method, the writer counts on doing at least one full revision before her manuscript is editor-worthy, so they’ll have to double the numbers because she’ll be doing two drafts in the same length of time: 800 pages divided by 8 months = 100 pages a month, or three to four reasonably clean pages every day.

The output is greater, but the pressure of perfection is less because you still have another chance to play with it.

I like the double draft method, and sometimes triple because it allows me to go over it multiple times to make sure I have kept the consistancy with the plot, characters and theme. It lets me cut, change or add anything I need to before I can either send it to my editor or beta readers. However, three or four pages per day, the daily writing quota is still low enough that you can theoretically make up for it by putting in a couple of long writing days, but if it happens repeatedly, if you have a series of experiments with possible story twists, say, and you end up scrapping them, a bad cycle can set in where you’re constantly rushing to try to catch up, and that gets exhausting fast. It’s like being caught on a treadmill.

Each time you try a different possibility within your story, and spend time and energy writing scenes that don’t work, it kind of shakes your confidence; this leaves you questioning your abilities, which makes it even harder to do good work, meanwhile, you continue piling on still more pages that you have to make up ASAP in order to stay on schedule.

Below I’ve linked my self-publishing journey on my Youtube Channel with all tips and tricks with writing from draft to publication.

Perfection from the get-go would be nice, of course, but that’s not possible for me in this lifetime, so simply planning from the start on doing a number of drafts helps me to keep a sense of humour about it all and maintain the sense of play that is at the heart of the creative impulse. To me, it’s marvellously comforting to know that I can pretty much rely on it that my first draft is going to be lumpy, awkward, rambling, dull, and unbalanced. Happily, it can and will be fixed in later edits.

Rewritten. Again and again and again.

Until it’s right.

If you like what you read, if you have any questions or ideas, make sure you post your comments below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view, a question or an answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

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2 thoughts on “Writing The First Draft

  1. Or you could be like me and pants your way through your first draft, then realise all the problems with it, and totally rewrite the entire thing once it’s done. It’s as if the first draft is only an outline. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    • That happened to me in my first ever draft! But the more you write the more you learn about your writing practice. Good luck with your future writing projects and thank you for reading the post!