A first draft is exciting, but it can also be daunting. You have an idea and characters ready to burst onto the page, but at the same time, you have an intimidating blank screen glaring at you, daring you to fill it. So, how do you dive in and start getting those ideas down? How do you drag that first draft out of your head and heart and onto the page? Every writer is different, but this is what works for me…
It may seem obvious, but my advice is to just write. Write freely and manically and with abandon. Change character names if needed as you go, ignore the spelling mistakes, don’t edit a thing. Just write, write, write, until you have a decent body of words that can be shaped into a real story later along the line. Don’t worry about making mistakes – just go for it. Turn off that inner editor and inner critic, and make words.
I am now on my fourth book (The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3) and so far, I have set myself the same goal every time I write a first draft. I aim for between 50,000 and 60,000 words in 30 days. That’s a lot of words in a short space of time, but I find that I get into a rhythm that’s both bewildering and fun – and once I have words there, it’s easier to make them behave. I admit that this method produces a draft that’s terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it’s more of a draft zero – but that’s how I find my story.
When I plot or plan, it kills the story for me and I get bored and lose interest. If I use this frenzied method, I get excited about the story and characters and surprising things happen. I try not to worry about mistakes or plots holes or story arcs, and only a small amount of this initial draft will be in my final book. After all, writing is rewriting! But like an artist mixing paints or a sculptor preparing clay, this gives me something concrete that I can shape, sluice, and colour.
This method won’t work for everyone, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, unable to get the words from your brain onto the intimidating blank page, it might be worth a try. I’m documenting my current first draft journey on twitter and my own blog; here’s a glimpse into my first week of writing The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3.
#1stdraftdiary Day 1: Some words are stolen from deleted scenes from Book 2 (approx 300). Today was a real slog – it was difficult to switch off from the publication & (double) launch of Caramel Hearts, so it felt like I was connecting back with the characters and little more than that. Probably the hardest day of writing yet – and this is my fourth book so I didn’t expect that! Instead of feeling pleased that I’ve started, the day ended feeling rather glum. Word count: 2012
#1stdraftdiary Day 2: I decamp to a friend’s house for a change of scenery as a pick-me-up. She’s an artist and works with music on somewhere else in the house and I make an important discovery – I can work with music on if it’s not in the same room! This isn’t particularly relevant for me on a day-to-day basis because I live in a mobile home, so everything sounds like it’s in the same room! But it’s a discovery all the same. The change of walls, desk, light works and I manage to get a great word count down. I know that these are all the wrong words and usually I don’t care – but this time, I’m unsettled. As I close my computer down, I realise where I should have started and know I have to start again. I don’t usually do this, but the book is due October 31st & there isn’t much room for mistakes so I delete a whole chapter. Word count: 4521
#1stdraftdiary Day 3: And start again! But the day is warm and muggy and promising sun, and it’s calling to me. I walk the dog six miles instead of the usual three before it gets too hot. An essay I want to write keeps bugging me, so I decide to think about this when I’m walking, and then concentrate on my first draft when I am stationary. It works! The essay begins to form and then I sit at the water’s edge half way through the walk, writing more of my book using notebook and pen, moving now and again to avoid a pair of territorial swans. When I return home, I write up my thoughts on the essay, then type up the book. Because I started again (something I don’t usually do), I’ve gone backwards – this puts me 1500 words behind schedule. Word count: 3500
#1stdraftdiary Day 4: I finally connect with my old way of working. Thanks to a brief conversation with author, Celine Kiernan, I realise that the start has been slow because I know the characters (this is Book 3 of a trilogy after all!!) so I’m automatically editing and criticising, when usually I let these things go and write freely, without the little nagging voice. And so, I force that voice to switch off and gallop on, feeling much happier with the actual writing part! End of day, I’ve caught up a bit; still 800 words behind schedule but it’s early days and certainly nothing to worry about – plenty of time to catch up. Word count: 7200
#1stdraftdiary Day 5: Woke up in a mild panic. The garden had to take priority, meaning a trip to Bantry to buy plants, then weeding the beds and planting before any work can get started. By 4.30pm, I still have 30 minutes of garden watering to do and no writing. Beating myself up severely about this for several hours of the day, but when I finally get to sit down, the words flow quite happily and I realise what a pain I’ve been to myself all day. Feeling rather joyous when I shut the computer down. Word count: 9100
(P.S. I’m now up to Day 11 and have reached 22,000 words).
What is your process for writing a first draft? Are you a plotter or do you write organically, like me? I’d love to hear how you work!