The Rocky Road to a First Draft

20131005-163643.jpgI recently returned from Spain, where I spent nine days traveling and doing research for my second novel (coming in spring 2015). It’s a tough life, I know.

I’ve traveled in Spain before, and lived there for a semester in college. But this particular trip required me to tread on some unfamiliar territory. This time around, I spent all of my time in northern Spain. Namely, in Cataluna and Basque Country. Both places are breathtakingly beautiful, with ancient villages, mountaintop monasteries, and phenomenal food and wine.

These places also have local dialects, which made communication in my rusty Spanish interesting. I imagine that, to locals, I probably sounded like a five-year-old with a terrible accent. Spaniards say that Americans speak their language like they have “una patata en la boca”–“a potato in the mouth.”

That’s how I feel about the drafts of my novels. When I’m writing a first draft, I have all these ideas. They are vivid but scattered, still trapped in my head which, I’ll be the first to admit, is a mucky place to be. Communicating those ideas in a way that readers can understand is like trying to talk with my mouth stuffed.

Drafting is the hardest part of writing for me. I come to it kicking and screaming every time. Yes, I said it. I know writing is supposed to be a labor of love, and it is. But even with an outline and notes and Scrivener and a beat sheet, drafting is a rough road for me. It’s 90% brute labor and 10% love. Revisions are the reverse ratio. That’s where I follow the forked and switchbacked roads and smooth them into a story. But until then, it’s uncharted territory, and terrifying every time.

But that’s all part of the fun, right? What about you, readers? Do you prefer drafting or editing? Leave a comment to let us know what part of the writing process is the most foreign to you.

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Susan Gloss is the author of the novel VINTAGE (William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2014). When she's not writing, toddler wrangling, or working as an attorney, she blogs at Glossing Over It and curates an online vintage store, Cleverly Curated.

6 thoughts on “The Rocky Road to a First Draft

  1. I’m more of a drafting enthusiast. I can’t wait to see what happens next! 🙂

    With my last major revision project (my mystery story book), I was not looking forward to the rewrites. I had some really good beta feedback to work from, but I thought it was going to be arduous. I’m a serial writer, so I’m always flipping back and forth between drafting and editing. Doing either one for months and months always sounds dismal to me.

    The revisions turned out to be a real pleasure, though — it was exactly what I needed to be doing right then. Very pleasant process.

  2. I’m with you all the way. Drafting is like opening veins and squeezing the blood out. I enjoy the editing! Plucking at this and that to turn something shoddy into something beautiful is like a puzzle and it’s fun. 😉

  3. I loooooove revising. Drafting is torture for me; I’m never fully convinced I can actually pull off this writing thing until I see pages and pages full of words (even if they’re terrible ones). But revision is where I start to see how it’ll all come together. It doesn’t matter if the draft is bad because at that point, I come up with a plan.

  4. I’m with you, too. Hundreds of times during the drafting process, I fantasize about the ultimate reward: sitting down with a complete ms and a lovely red pen. Sometimes, I can convince myself to love the process of drafting but often, it’s the reward of revision that keeps me going.

    Your trip sounds lovely. I am very drawn to books set in other countries and am already looking forward to yours.

  5. I’m on the torture side of drafting too. The keys seems to be learning to trust myself and the process — which is hard when the draft feels like too shitty of a first draft. 🙂

    People who think that writing novels is all inspiration and dreaminess are kidding themselves — and likely never to get a novel written!

  6. I love the drafting process. I know that a lot of work is needed to turn those masses of words into a “real” story, but I love the energy and excitement of drafting. Even though I have a general idea of where the story is going, the twists and turns my unconscious throws out a fun to follow.

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