How we should all be viewing our "first drafts".

Lately I've been in a funk. Yes, I just used that word. At some point in the last few months, I realized that I don't know myself as well as I thought. I'm not able to gauge when my depression will kick in, and unlike a few years ago, I can no longer turn it off and on like a switch by listening to some posi-core. Right now I'm feeling better about writing, and a few fun ideas have popped into my head about The Sometimes Sword. But I can't guarantee that next week I'll feel the same. It's a reality I need to face in order to overcome it someday.

As for my blog, I think I may just need to suck it up and write about writing, not the lack thereof. Who knows, maybe it will eventually bring me back into the right state of mind. Today I wanted to focus on editing, specifically when you realize that the editing you are doing is a dead end. At some point a writer might stop in the middle of the second or third edit, sit back, and realize that the story they wanted to write has never been further away from reality than at that exact moment.

You wrote your first draft, maybe you gardened it, watching as it grew and took shape. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the story also got away from you. Perhaps it still turned out well enough, but your original vision got lost in the metaphorical grocery store. Along with the usual horrible prose, shudder-inducing dialogue and other things that plague first drafts, you find yourself trying to find where your vision went. A lot of time can be wasted with this process, and even worse, you may find yourself struggling to deal with a fragmented and revision-heavy manuscript, purely dead weight. I found myself in just this situation a month or so ago. At the time I decided to give up the book indefinitely and move on to something else. I've since changed my mind, for many reasons (you can read about them in some of my previous posts).

So what do you do when you suddenly find yourself in this position? Some people give up, thinking they just aren't good enough writers, others move on to something else (like I almost did), and some people just keep plugging away at it, endlessly revising for years and years. I like to think there is another way. Chuck Wendig at has these wonderful lists he does, usually titled along the lines of "25 Reasons Why Writers Blank" and so on. Recently there has been a theme throughout them (possibly because of NaNoWriMo coming up) where he focuses on the purpose of a first/rough draft. I think many writers, myself included, think of the first draft as the stepping stone to the second draft, then on to the third and so on; something to be improved over time, incrementally revising each version until it shines. Naturally, this can lead to the aforementioned years of editing, or giving up.
Nowadays, I'm suddenly not so sure that this is how it's intended to work. What if--and stay with me here--what if the first draft was meant to be a practice draft, and no more? What if a writer sat down and pounded out a 60k word manuscript just to clear his/her head? We all know what it's like to have an entire world, story, and several characters floating around all schizophrenia-like in our brains, especially when we first develop a story. It's sometimes painful, often confusing, and always frustrating to have so much information stored away without an outlet. What if that first draft was the outlet, and not the first step toward the final result? Crazy huh? (Maybe it's just me, maybe you all knew that back when you were five years-old, and I'm simply horribly behind the times.)

This is something I want experiment with on The Sometimes Sword. What will happen if I take a machete (metaphorically) and hack this book apart, ruthlessly throwing away any crap I encounter, and trim it down to its elements? I'm hoping this will relieve the dead weight, destroy the fragmentation, leaving only the scenes with worth, ready to be studied and arranged how they need to be (maybe even into a new book). Perhaps I can bring my story back to the original vision I had, before it got away from me.

I haven't actually done this yet, but I've been thinking a lot lately (thinking about a story is almost as important as writing it) and I think I have some fun ideas that will add a lot: considering new characters, introducing new plot lines, redefining the antagonist and her motivations, rearranging events, changing character personalities and backgrounds, etc. Another thing I want to bring back is the description of the world and locations, which fell out along the way. I want to dive into the history of the world and highlight the crazy creatures and individuals within it. This last bit is actually why I initially began to write the story, but in the course of devising plot and (struggling) to develop believable characters, this fell by the wayside. (I admit, Fablehaven was the series that sparked this particular desire. I've always had a soft spot for the "magical menagerie" type fantasies, and I wanted to write one myself). I need to bring it back, because it was what made writing The Sometimes Sword fun. Without it, I ended up where I am now with the book, depressed, bored, and pessimistic.
Back to the main point of this post however, my first draft has been treated as a diamond in the rough, as opposed to the wet clay sculpture it really is. There is no cutting and polishing of a precious gem, only demolition and rebuilding, mixing it back into itself. Now that the ideas have been vomited onto the paper, and my brain-clutter cleared away, I can begin writing the real first draft, the one that will eventually become the final manuscript. At least, that's the plan.

What do you think? Are you stuck in a draft that you think is the diamond in the rough, but in reality, is simply the first clay pot that you need to mix back in and start anew?


  1. In my experience- even if I don't think a first draft will be 'the one' (although I always do, up until I start querying it:) I revise it, get it beta'd and prepare it for publishement (I know that's not a word) to the best of my ability because- as you observed- it's fantastic practice and will ultimately get me to where I want to be. I've got four manuscripts floating around now, I've hard core querried three and two were definitley 'for practice'. I know i'm getting better with each though.

  2. I definitely agree that taking a draft to the finish line is worthwhile, if for nothing more than the feeling of accomplishment. Congrats on your 4 manuscripts! It's a wonderful feeling to write that last word of a draft, isn't it?