The Dreaded First Draft: A How-Not-To

What my trashcan would look like while writing a first draft, if I used a typewriter.
What my trashcan would look like while writing a first draft, if I used a typewriter.

This week on The Ball we’re sharing our tips and tricks for first drafts and how to get them done. But I pretty much buck all convention when it comes to drafting, so you should probably do the opposite of everything I do.

First, I start with the idea and then mull it over in my mind — sometimes for four or five years. I live with the characters, write whole scenes and conversations in my head, think about various beginnings, endings and plot twists. Once I feel like I have a handle on who my characters are and a loose plot, I’ll sit down to write.

This is usually when I stare at a blank screen for hours OR I type a sentence, hate it, delete it and repeat that step hundreds of times. It’s very efficient.

I also edit as I go. I find it very difficult to move on if I don’t have scenes and dialogue almost exactly as I want them. Which is why I’ve re-written the first third of my WIP four times now.

I know, this sounds really painful, doesn’t it? That’s because IT IS. But it’s the only way that works for me. So that’s my advice: don’t look for the magic tip that’s going to miraculously make your first draft a cinch to write. Because first drafts aren’t a cinch to write. And you have to write them in the way that works best for you.

What’s your writing process? Share in the comments below.

 

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Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at colleenoakley.com.

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This article has 8 Comments

  1. I laughed out loud at your delightful sarcasm: “It’s very efficient.”
    And see my post tomorrow to answer your question. 🙂

  2. I edit as I go also, because I write serially.

    So, each section (chapter or part) gets drafted and then edited and then proofed and polished and then posted, and then I go on to the next one.

    It amazes me that people can write a draft for a year or more (or much more) without ever editing. That sounds pretty tedious to me — I like to go back and forth.

    I do the mulling part, too, but again back and forth with the writing and editing, not all at once. And I do take notes. 🙂

    1. Ah – Anthony Lee Collins, funny to find you over here. I do my first draft all in one rush, but it usually only takes about a month. The work after that – well I’ll let you know!
      Bel (alreadynotpublished blogger)

  3. It’s funny when this popped up in my subscription feed it was only the title and I thought – No! First drafts are fabulous, you can write with abandon and errors, write the draft of your heart, it’s the second draft that’s tough! Then I read your post and agreed whole heartedly 🙂
    My second draft I find SO difficult as I can’t go back and fix, I have to start with that blank page again and write the entire thing over, but this time with a plan, with characters and all that stuff you spent all that time brainstorming. We have the same grief, just at different stages of the process – here’s to the dreaded second draft 🙂

  4. Oh, you made me laugh Colleen! “This is usually when I stare at a blank screen for hours OR I type a sentence, hate it, delete it and repeat that step hundreds of times. It’s very efficient.”
    😉

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