That ‘First’ First Draft

Writing a first draft is easier for me now that it was three years ago. That first draft of Devil’s Blood took me months to complete, at least 6. But, that ‘first’ draft came after a good two years of note making, character crafting, and world building. I created a lot of the story without the intent of writing a novel; when I decided to write the novel, I used all those notes and whatnot to craft the first draft. I’m still using those notes for the second and third books.

It was not a good draft. I’m in the process of finding that first draft and showing it as an example of how far the manuscript has come. My biggest problem while trying to write that first novel was that I tried to write too big a story.

When writing your first story, start small. One character. One plot. One villain. Predicable? Maybe. But it will be good practice. In the first draft of Devil’s Blood, I had multiple plots going on, which I later stretched out into several books. There were too many unrelated things happening that didn’t add up to a central plot. My plot was all over the place. I also has four POV characters fighting for the role of protagonist, each with their own backstory and problems.

I can’t tell you how many revisions I did of Devil’s Blood. I honesty don’t know. A lot. At least a dozen, including serious plot changes, character motivations, and chapter switches. It’s not even the same story. It is, at the heart, the story I wanted to write.

Writing the first draft of my first novel was overwhelming. I didn’t know what to do. Where should I start? How do I know when a chapter’s over? How do I sense plot holes? Character motivation? Is this character talking out of their personality? Am I forcing the plot in this direction? Does it feel like a natural plan of action? The plot has major holes in it, what do I do? What is this ‘tell/show’ feedback I kept getting? What does it mean?

All of these questions can be answered by, “In editing.”

The very first draft – draft zero – is where you, the writer, get your story on paper. Or, on a document. It doesn’t have to be gold. It’s a rough draft. In the first draft, you’ll fix a few things. In the second draft, you’ll fix a few more things. In each subsequent draft, you tighten and clarify, until you’ve come to the final draft.

How do you know when you get to the final draft? That’s a tricky question. I’m not sure I know how to answer. My best attempt would be to say that you might not know when it’s truly finished. I ‘knew’ Devil’s Blood had reached its final draft on a feeling. The characters had evolved. The plot felt complete. I had a foundation for a series. I accomplished what I wanted to within those pages. Is your book five-star quality? Is it bestseller worthy? If your answer hesitates, then it’s not in its final draft.

With each story I’ve written, my rough draft has been less rough. I’ve started closer to the final draft. I’ve gotten better at the craft. You’ll get better too, with time and practice.

Getting that first novel down and on paper will be tough. It was for me. It took time out of my schedule. Dishes went unwashed some days. On occasion, I’d wear dirty clothes. You’ll never finish that rough draft if you don’t sit down and write.

“I don’t feel like writing.” – Okay. I have those days, too. Sometimes my brain needs a break from a computer screen. But, if you’re doing this excuse-dance daily, maybe you should rethink your choice to be a writer. You can’t write a novel while you’re playing video games or watching TV.

Everyone (or most people) have an idea for a story. Most of those people will not write a novel. Will you be one of “those people,” or will you be among those that write that novel?

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