Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Writing: A First Draft

Project: sidekicks
Wordcount: 33,000

The Trial of First Drafts

Around the time I hit the 30,000 word mark with this story I felt things falling apart. With so many characters and subplots, it was difficult to connect things and even harder to see how everything would come together. Since I don't outline my novels, I often have no idea what I'm doing. My first drafts have gone from (when I was younger) having no discernible plot to (now) having parts of many plots in them. One of the biggest reasons I don't let others read my first drafts is because, for me, it often takes at least that long for me to figure out what's really supposed to happen in the story.

I've thought about giving up on this story. With so many characters I feel like I may be aiming a bit higher than I can actually hit and like maybe my writing time is better spent on a story I can write more easily. But the story isn't hopeless. It's a mess, sure, but that's how first drafts go for me. I keep writing toward the finish line, trying not to freak out too much when I don't know how to connect the dots of this story or when I don't quite know which plots are worth keeping at which aren't. When I don't know the end game of these characters and their relationships, I remind myself that I don't have to know it all right this second.

I don't know how far this novel will go. Honestly right now it wouldn't surprise me if I did this first draft, then let the story sit forever, never bothering to go through the arduous editing process for a novel that might not ever work. But right now I don't know that it won't work. I won't know that until I at the very least finish this draft and see if, when all the words are there on the screen, I can make sense of what should and shouldn't happen.

My family and friends often ask about what I'm writing. And the fact is, when I'm in a first draft, I don't quite know how to answer because I don't know the what happens of my book yet. Right now all I know is that sidekicks is about five best friends. They may or may not be drifting apart. They may or may not be fighting against that drifting apart, trying to stay close. One of the reasons I love writing first drafts is also what makes them so difficult and trying: the possibilities are endless. Anything can happen. As a writer, it's terrifying and exhilarating to sift through that anything to get to what works, what makes sense.

Fellow writers, what do you think of first drafts. Love or hate?


  1. I absolutely hate first drafts. I'm a perfectionist so it's really hard for me to just keep writing and not stopping for edits. I'd say at least try to finish the first draft.

    You can do it Jordyn!

    1. Oh, I definitely understand that. One of the reasons I wait so long to show writing buddies my work is I want it to be as good as possible first... and that takes a couple of drafts. That said, first drafts are my favorite part of writing. I just wish the stories came out perfectly the first time. haha.

      & thanks!

  2. For me, first drafts are pretty much useless. I don't mean that in a way that suggests I somehow magically skip writing the first draft -- but basically, the first real go I make at a story rambles through pages and pages and pages of unusable crap. And somewhere buried deep in all of that crap I finally discover what my characters are actually doing -- though the "why" usually doesn't become clear until that fateful first draft.

    Which is why I've come to think of this particular kind of draft as a "zero draft". It's not exactly the first draft -- definitely not the first draft of anything recognizable as the final draft -- but it's incredibly important to my process, to my figuring out what the heck I'm doing. I know a lot of writers who like to "brain dump" everything before even beginning to rewrite, to edit, to morph their plot or their characters. I can't do that -- if I discover something doesn't work 20,000 words in, I go back and fix those 20,000 words before figuring out what comes next. Because what comes next, for my writing style, always depends upon what happened before.

    1. That's similar to how my first drafts work.. there's a lot of plots that change or get cut and sometimes characters change, but I don't consider it a "zero" draft because that implies that by the second draft I have things figured out. (And honestly, sometimes I do. But sometimes it takes even longer.)