Five Things To Do at the End of the Sloppy First Draft

When the sloppy first draft is done, when all of the words are written, and I have congratulated myself on the effort, and before I put the project away for a while, there are a few more things to do.

  1. Don’t type all of the words for all of the key scenes in the last third of the book. Why? I just poured out all of my ideas, built up to the climax, killed some characters, and pushed others to the brink. Why not wrap everything up? Well, I do, in a way. I write the framework of what will happen in the last failure, the final conflict, and the resolve. I know what’s going to happen so I summarize. I know who lives, who dies, how the problem is solved, what moods and emotions should be evoked and all of those get written into the draft, but not the details. When I get ready to work on draft two and have reread the first draft, and my subconscious has chewed on what works and what doesn’t, the details of what happens in those scenes become obvious. Loose ends are tied up, the theme brought full circle, and character arcs are completed. The details in those scenes are what ultimately make a book satisfying or not and for me, they take some serious thought.
  2. Take a walk. After I type the last words I walk or go running. My mind goes over what I just did and I immediately start asking and answering questions. Did the characters work or did they fall flat? Were all of the story questions answered? I also get some general impressions of the novel.
  3. Take Notes. I keep a section in my manuscript for a log where I keep a date stamped note of what I am thinking about the work. Here, at the end of the first draft, I make an entry to record everything I was thinking about while I was walking. I do this while the thoughts and ideas are still fresh and when I start draft two I will have these notes to prime the pump.
  4. Ask one final question. Am I still excited about writing this novel? I will ask this question many times if the answer is yes. If not it does not mean I abandon the work but I may let it sit on a shelf longer before I tackle a second draft. It also means I should add this feeling to the notes described in item three. I may have more work to do to find what is or is not working.
  5. Forget it. I will mark a date on a calendar to begin the second draft and in the meantime I will focus on the next project. For me, I will usually let the first draft sit for about a month. Even though I am not actively working on it and my attention is on something else, my subconscious will still be working on preparations for the next draft, and sometimes that’s the best thing. When I start the second draft I will have renewed energy, new ideas, and fixes for the things I noted at the end of the first draft. I also get to fill in all the details of the final key scenes which allows me to do more of the hot, fast writing I love about the first draft.

These are things I’ve found work for me after pushing through the first drafts of four novels. I think items two, three, and four, would work for many writers. The process and the results have improved with each novel. The most important thing is to have a completed first draft, you can’t produce a second without it.


Write to Discover

Write to discover. I have heard this advice so often I have forgotten how true it is. One of my works in progress has been moving along but I kept feeling like something was missing, like there was this big story with interesting characters who are living through a plot that is leading nowhere. I knew what the ending should contain, who dies, who lives, who sacrifices something yet I did not really know how it would end. With short stories I feel like I need to know, or at least think I know, how a story will end. I can always change it when I write the end and the original idea no longer fits.

That is more difficult with a novel. There are so many characters and so many plot lines and threads to tie together to make a satisfying end it feels to me I need to have it all planned out. Today I was challenged to think differently.

The ending, and the plot tying, and the character resolutions all became very clear to me this morning. Was it just the right time? Did my subconscious finally just figure it out? Sort of. The threads fell into place, woven together in a resolution that just makes sense because I wrote so much of the story it became clear. It was inevitable.

Just write, and it will come. Advice like that sounds like a meditation instructor is giving me writing advice but it is true. I must plod along, sometimes aimlessly putting stupid words together in sentences and paragraphs that will be cut later but they are not a waste. They are leading me down a path that eventually defines what comes next and what comes last.

One of, if not the, great pleasure of writing is living the stories that are in my mind. The only way to do that is to keep putting words on paper to discover what comes next.

Events and Deadlines

At the middle point of the month both my writing and running marathons are on pace. I have done better with the writing than the running. I crossed the 30,000 word mark a couple of days ago, and while the NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 I suspect this novel is closer to 75,000 or more when it’s finished.

The running has been more challenging. When I ran the half marathon two years ago I was in a little bit better shape and carried five fewer pounds. Today is the final test. I either make the distance and keep competitive with my time from two years ago or I don’t.

That’s really the point about both activities. I write because I have stories in my head and I need to see them written. I run because it is an exercise I enjoy and it keeps me fitter than I would be if I didn’t. There really are no other consequences but having an event, something I must stay focused on each day for a period of time, helps me achieve both of my goals: getting stories written, and staying healthy. Most of us are procrastinators and even those who are generally self-motivated find it hard to meet deadlines. Imagine if Christmas were celebrated as the month of December. How many gifts would be exchanged on New Year’s Eve compared to December 1st?

Today I find out if I can finish the half marathon. Sometime next weekend I’ll probably ‘win’ NaNoWriMo. Without these events I would be a long way from both goals.