Elizabeth: Back to Basics – First Draft, Now What?

Stories Yet To Be WrittenAt some point, if you are serious about writing and persistent, you will finish the first draft of a story. It may have plot holes you could drive a truck through, or be littered with notes like “something needs to happen here,” but the draft will be done. Whether you’ve ended up with a polished first draft (color me envious if you have) or a hot-mess (that would be me), you’ve taken a story from an idea in your head to actual words on the page. You’ve gone from staring at that blank page in a brand new empty document to typing “The End.”

That is something to celebrate.

*Cue the confetti and balloons*

The world is filled with people who think they will write a book “one day.” With a finished draft, you’ve moved from the “I might” group to the “I have.” That’s a great feeling. Once the “I’ve finished it” happy dance is done and you’ve basked in the glow of “The End” for a while, it’s time to think about what to do next.

Give it a rest

One of the best things you can do when you finish your draft can be to put it away and give it a rest. If you’ve been head-down in your story for any length of time, it can be helpful to take a break and do something completely different. Read a book. Watch a movie. Get out of those writing pajamas and actually leave the house. Your story will still be there, marinating away in your subconscious. One advantage to taking a break is that when you do go back to your story, time and distance will have given you a new perspective. You are also likely to be refreshed and motivated to jump back into the story and start working on it again. Once you are ready to get back to writing, you have some of options.

  1. Throw it away and start all over again

Okay, I can hear the screams of “nooooooo” from here on this one, especially if you’ve just spent the last month powering your way through 50,000 words of NaNo. For many writers though, that first draft is more about discovering what the story is about than getting final words on the page. It’s a chance to get to know your characters, to put them in different situations to see how they will react, and to do a walk-through of your conflict and story arc.  Once your draft is done, you may have a very different idea about your story than you had when you first started. You may be able to revise your draft, but you may also decide that it would be easier to start from scratch, now that you really understand your story. Even if you continue going forward with your current draft you may find yourself cutting out large portions of it. That can hurt – who wants to see their word count drop – but the end result will be a better story, which can ease the pain a bit.

  1. Move on

The story you’ve wound up with in your first draft may not actually be the story you want to tell, or you may decide that the idea you initially had just didn’t work out, for whatever reason. Your best option may just be to put the draft away and get started on something new. I follow a lot of writers on social media and have heard countless stories of unfinished drafts sitting in a drawer or stories that got off track and couldn’t be saved. It happens. Take whatever you’ve learned from writing the draft and move on to the next story. Who knows, sometime down the road you may circle back to this draft story with new ideas to move it forward.

  1. Once more from the top

On the flip-side of the coin, your first draft may be a pretty good version of the story you are trying to tell. In that case, now is a good time to do a full read-through. This is not an editing pass, this is a “does this flow in a reasonable way and are there any major holes in the story” read-through. This may also be a good time to outline the story you’ve wound up with so you can see what is happening in each scene and how the story and characters are arcing. Revisiting our old friend the conflict-box (see posts here and here for a refresher) can be very helpful at this point. You may be one of those writers who just needs to go through their first draft one time to tighten everything up and get it to a polished state or you may need to make several additional passes, each time focusing on some specific aspect of the story. Whichever path you follow is the right one if it gets you to a finished story. Once you’ve finished a first draft, the most important thing is to:

Keep up the Momentum

Along the way to your completed draft, you’ve probably figured out your writing style and/or how to fit writing into your already busy life. Maybe you’ve established a set writing schedule or re-prioritized things so writing comes first, not last. Whatever you’ve done to get to the finished draft stage, keep doing it. Once you’ve got a writing routine in place, it’s much easier to keep on with it than it is to stop and restart one (voice of experience talking here).

Anyone out there with some advice for dealing with a first draft?  Please share in the comments.

As for me, there is a sink full of dishes that has been waiting for me to finish my recent first draft.  I’m going to take care of that, go out and get some fresh air, and then get back to work. I have a daily word count to hit and a new story idea clamoring for attention.

Happy writing to all, regardless of what phase you are in.

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Back to Basics – First Draft, Now What?

    • NaNo was a big help for me on both the prioritizing and the momentum. – now I am just hoping it will be sustainable. December will be the test for that.

  1. I’ve done all of the above. I’ve scrapped something I’ve started, I set one aside (the one from the McD program because I couldn’t figure out how to fix the problem), started new projects, and now I’m trying to keep the momentum going on my current one. NaNo didn’t do it for me, so hopefully December will work better for me. I hope it works for you, too, Elizabeth.

    • Michille – hopefully each one of those has helped you grow as a writer, even if they did not turn out as planned. My own McDaniel novel is still sitting on the desk, waiting for me to get back to work on it. I am hoping my November work on something different will give me a new perspective when I start working on it again (any time now).

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