Finishing Your First Draft


Welcome to my first attempt at ADVICE FROM A WRITER!

As of late, I have had many discussions with writers about the complexities of finishing a first draft of a novel.  While my credentials as a fiction writer are still developing, I have learned that comparatively speaking, I have an exceptional pace with first draft writing and a good understanding of the revision process.

Many writers (me included) start with a fantasy scenario that their first draft is their book.  Over time we all discover that -THE END- comes a bit later. Completing a first draft is an extraordinary accomplishment, but no one is publishing first drafts. I heard somewhere that an early draft for the screenplay of Good Will Hunting included aliens and a space ship or something. That award winning screenplay was somewhat of a different animal. In my first draft of Circling one of my characters was almost a murderer. Who she ended up being, was very different. In my writers workshop, we discussed an average of six full revisions for a completed novel. SIX! Circling is on it’s SEVENTH revision!


Finding a story is one thing. Creating complex, interesting characters within a cohesive, well developed story is quite another. I can’t sit down and start writing with a fully formed character in mind. Some writers begin with a very formal character study before developing a plot – physical description, likes and dislikes, quirks, habits, car make and model, favorite ice cream, sexual preferences, etc. This is not my way. I like to feel my way into the plot and see how the character acts and reacts to the circumstance as they develop. My Book 2 male lead is exhibiting some unusual character traits. After 25,000 words, it became clear that his mother was abusive. This developed out of words and scenes written, not out of a preconceived notion of a character that I want to fit into a box. This is my way. You can find your way.

That being said, for successful first draft writing – that means letting the words out – THERE MUST BE A WILLINGNESS TO SUCK! This is the most important part of first drafting. I’d love for every word I write to be considered perfection, but it is far from it. Perfection (always a dicey word) comes from editing and revising and examining and rethinking and reordering and editing and revising. Rinse and repeat.  I could mull a sentence for thirty minutes in my head to perfect the word choice and the flow to communicate an idea, before letting those words onto my pages. But that doesn’t get a work written. Let it out. Let it breath in the open air.

I visualize my first draft process as a spiral. Here the story starts to unfold and then I discover something about a character on page 26 that requires and adjustment on page 12. Then a scene on page 40 explains what motivated an action on page 17 so I have to go back and expound on that there. It is a fluid back and forth of ever forward motion.

Remember, if you write you are a writer.  Completing a first draft requires you to forgive your writing the imperfections required to, in fact, be a writer.  Relax. Open a bottle of wine, pour a cup of coffee or whatever your are into.  Turn your favorite playlist on repeat. Don’t move. Just type and type and type. Leave perfection for a rose on a rosebush or a cloudless blue sky.

Write your first draft, because you are a WRITER.