Your first draft is the first step in producing a finished novel, and for most writers it’s the hardest step to make. It’s not just having to come up with a great story idea, great characters and a great setting. It’s trying to puzzle together all your plot points into a seamless story. And it’s not as easy as you may think.
The first draft is where some writers give up- they underestimate how difficult writing a story actually is. Some may spend years writing their first draft. I started writing Nephilim in 2013, and the first draft wasn’t finished until 2015 (thank you NaNoWriMo.) It’s the first test to how dedicated and inspired you are to the story you’re trying to create.
First drafts are often a jumbled mess of dictionary words, with a few golden treasures gleaming within. And I’m here to say that that is not a bad thing! I’ve heard so many stories from writers who think they have no writing skill because their first draft doesn’t read like a polished manuscript. A first draft isn’t supposed to.
Your first draft is a foundation on which to build your masterpiece. It’s the badly written instructions that come with something you buy from Ikea.
It’s going to be hard. It’s going to take time. But all those things that are wrong with your first draft, are there to guide you in making them right.
Lets be honest. It’s very rare that a writer can execute fantastic writing during their first draft. You’re going to have spelling and grammar mistakes. You’re going to overuse dialogue tags, or insert paragraphs of exposition to ensure the readers can imagine exactly what you’re talking about. Sentences won’t make sense, action scenes are going to be dull- it’s expected!
Introduce a character in the first chapter that never shows up again? Protagonist’s hair and eye colour change between acts? And just what happened to that subplot I was working on?
Yeah, plot holes happen- especially if you’re not an avid plotter like some writers can be. They can still happen, even if your novel outline is 20,000 words long. What’s important is that you take the time to weed all these out during revision.
Your characters don’t have a personality. They’re just there. We don’t know what they’re thinking- they don’t react to events that happen around them, they don’t have opinions or dreams or goals. I’ve been there. Does this mean you can’t write a believable character? No. You’ve written the basics. For a first draft, that’s absolutely fine.
You have a plot- of course you do. But instead of going from A-Z, you’re taking so many detours. Your characters explore places and chat idly and travel lots- but nothing happens. No plot development, no character development, no word building development. Just a filler episode, except it’s 10/15 chapters which are filler.
It’s difficult to get over the feeling that you’re writing isn’t good enough, especially if you have any of the issues above. But they’re a necessary stepping stone to revisions and rewrites and eventually queries. Don’t worry about making each chapter perfect before you move onto the next one. Not because you’re worried your story doesn’t sound great.
‘You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page,’ – Jodi Picoult
What you don’t often think about when writing your first draft, is the insane sense of achievement and happiness that comes with typing ‘the end.’ Who cares what the first draft sounds like? You’ve done something great- you’ve written a novel! No matter how you feel while you write, just focus on the end.
Making it sound great? That’s a worry for the next step.
Good thoughts and happy writing