First draft

Allison Tait blog
Posted on July 18, 2012

On Monday night I completed the first draft of my next novel. It was quite a different proposition to finishing the first draft of my first novel.

Then, I jumped around the room, whooping and hollering, thrilled that I had finished my first full-length manuscript. And it was finished. Of that I was convinced.

This time, I typed that last full stop and gave a little sigh. It was done. Now I have something with which to work. I put up a little Facebook status update:

Good news: first draft of second novel is finished. Bad news: at 70,000 words it requires a LOT of work. Sigh. Tomorrow I start again at Chapter One.”

Because now I know.

Your first draft is not your book. It is the promise of your book.

Even if it wasn’t short (by at least 20,000 words), this book would still require a LOT of work. Being a writer who doesn’t really plot much (as in, not at all), my characters develop as the story does. From a kernel of a person on the first page to having a dimension or two by the end. I know about them when I begin, but I don’t know them. By the end of the book, I do.

Which means I must go back and add those dimensions to pages one, two, three… and so on.

It might sound like a messy way to write a book, but it works for me. I know people who do all that planning in advance. They know exactly who they’re dealing with and what those people will do before they even type ‘Once upon a time’ (or a slightly less cliched opening line…).

I can’t do that. The more I know about what will happen, the less I want to write it down. I made the mistake with this book of writing the last three chapters once I got to the middle of the book. To be fair, I had to. Something had popped up at the 40,000 word mark and I needed to find out if I could resolve that particular ‘pop’. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I didn’t want to wait til the last minute to discover that it couldn’t be done.

So I wrote the ending – and promptly lost interest in the story. There’s no need to write the story when you already know what’s going to happen, right? Er, yes, there is, unless you want a half-finished manuscript rolling around in your bottom drawer forever.

I gritted my teeth and ploughed ahead, happy to discover that other surprises appeared to make the going easier.

And now it’s done.

Except it’s not.

Back to Chapter One. To build on that promise.

No whooping and hollering. Not yet.

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  1. Monica

    Thanks, Allison! I’m nearly finished with my first draft and needed to hear this. I am a plotter, but I have still had some surprises in the story / characters along the way. I have some serious re-writing and revision in my near future. 🙂
    -MA Fox

  2. TravelnLass

    All so very interesting (to this nowayinhellamIevergoingtowriteanentireBOOK lass). Seriously, I can’t even imagine the dedication and the free-spirited risk that it would take to presume to start – much less FINISH a fictional novel.

    Major kudos to you Allison!

    And though I could never sustain such literary dedication, I do consider myself a bit of a “writer” (but only for biweekly columns like “Digital Drivel” for my local newsrag, plus my travel blog) and I must say…

    Your wise words to Corren about the process are oh so true:

    “Get it on paper and then you have something to work with.”

    In short: like Nike says: Just DO it! 😉

  3. Sarah Ayoub

    Thanks for recommending this post to me Allison. I wrote my first book with no plan, and in no order. First chapter, last chapter, chapter 21, chapter two and then a bunch of other ones. And then ones I stuck in after I had ‘finished’ to string the story together. Back then I was clueless. I didn’t read writer blogs, didn’t know if anything will come of it, basically was not immersed in publishing and writing. This time around it’s the opposite. For some reason I feel compelled to plot and compelled to write in order. Needless to say I think it’s a result of feeling a little afraid that I won’t be able to replicate the ‘ease’ of writing book 1. But I am glad I am onto a bunch of great writers’ websites and facebook pages now, so I don’t feel so afraid, or so alone in my non-plotting (or plotting!) ways.

  4. Claire Chadwick @ Scissors Paper Rock

    I plan to a very small degree…..but to be honest, I mainly let ideas flow & characters develop as I type! I like to just write…and see where it takes me, and my stories!
    I’m a few chapters into a kids/early teens fiction, and I was starting to loose momentum & motivation. This post of yours, has triggered some inspiration again. So, thank you!
    Good luck with your editing, and re-writing!
    Can’t wait to read your books in 2013 ;)))

  5. lipglossmumma

    Why did I miss this post? Congrats Al, even though there is still a long way to go you are on your way.

    I too am not a planner, I love that the story takes me on a journey and almost writes itself. I wish it did sometimes….literally!

  6. Anonymous

    So interesting to read your post and all the insightful comments from other writers. This year I wrote a novel for teenage girls (I have small grand-daughters). Essentially working from a basic idea of the main subjects and characters and how it would end, but not knowing how I would get there. Every day I sat down to it the story and characters just grew as they emerged onto the computer.

    However, sadly I then took the step of contacting a couple of literary agents and sending them submissions. Neither felt the story was right for them, but didn’t give any comments on how I could improve it, or why it was unsuitable. Before hearing back from them (and this took ages) I had already begun gathering thoughts for a sequel. Now having faced rejection from two different agents I’m a bit discouraged and unsure what to do. My son thinks I should keep trying and send it out again to more agencies and that I should also begin the sequel. But following this first rejection I’ve also been thinking of a completely different story, this time for adults. Having recently reurned from a long holiday I’m rather unsure which direction to take. I must say that despite my disappointment I’m not sorry that I wrote the novel as I really enjoyed the process and the wonderful feeling of having completed a book. Even if hasn’t grabbed the agents.

    Good luck with your writing!

    Best wishes, Pamela

  7. Janelle McCulloch

    PS Sorry for typos. Am staying up late to write myself, and so much want to be in bed!

  8. Janelle McCulloch

    Oh, I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants girl! It’s important to have a story arc – that’s true – but mine’s more of a roller coaster of terror rather than a carefully thought-out plan.

    And like you, I don’t want to know the ending. I find the story writes itself after the fifth chapter. I usually look at the word count. Once I’m over 25,000 words, I breath easier. It’s all downhill then, to the 60,000 or 80,000 mark. (The first 10,000 are the most difficult!)

  9. Deborah

    I’m seriously impressed by anyone who completes a manuscript or a first draft. Such an achievement!

    I’ve got a partially-written novel wallowing in the depths of my computer’s folders somewhere that may never see the light of day. Getting through the first draft is hard enough without then being faced with the notion of edits and rewrites etc.

    Not to mention the fact that, I’ve realised I mostly blog cos I don’t really have an idea for a novel ‘in me’.

    So, I’m very impressed by those who do!

    Good luck with the next stage!


  10. Murissa Shalapata

    I take a similar approach to you. I have an idea – an event, a character and something to drive them – but I find out about them as I write while the themes and deeper subtext are discovered upon the second and third draft. I think I hate rewrites but I like the initial writing and figuring the story out.

    Congrats and keep going!! Can’t wait to see your finished book on the shelves!

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  11. alisonpercival

    I hear you!

    With the first book I attempted, I just wrote and saw where it took me. I had a story to tell, knew roughly the arc of it, but nothing planned. It was supposed to be about two friends but became much more about the mother’daughter relationship. The sub-plot took over and swamped everything else. In a way, it was quite freeing but I got myself into all sorts of muddles with it.

    On the one I’m writing now, I’ve actually got some coloured post-it notes and a planner thing – not quite up to Kylie’s Excel spreadsheet standards – but I’m finding it’s less scary knowing what’s coming next and that I have a certain number of scenes to write. But then again, there’s not much room for manoeuvre. I know what’s going to happen when. I really don’t think it matters how you get there – as long as you get there.

  12. Corenne Tavares

    Oh and congrats! Its an awesome achievement! 😉

    • Nikki Fisher

      Wow Corenne sounds like you have all the ingredients now all you have to do is cook! I suffer from having very high expectations of myself and a saying from a friend always helps me and that is “think progress not perfection”. So true I find! And the other writing tip I subscribe to is write first edit later don’t be tempted to go back and change each sentence as you write it. Just write. May those words just flow for you!

    • Corenne Tavares

      Thank you Nikki! You friend is very clever – mind if I borrow that saying? The editing kills me! I’ve done a few exercises writing on random topics where I’m not supposed to go back the whole time … sometimes I get it, Other times not so much. But that’s also a work in progress. I’m more excited than ever. Thanks for the advice. I am going to start until I finish. First Progress. Then Perfection. 😉

  13. Corenne Tavares

    I’m “starting” to write a book. I’ve not set a goal finishing date yet because its my first and I’m still learning. I have to say though that I have my plot with a few sub-plots that ties in all the characters. I also have all my characters. So technically I should just be able to write … but I’m holding back. Scared I guess. When I do something I want to do it properly and finish. I think I’m scared I wont reach the standard I would naturally expect of myself so I’m putting it off. Any advice?

    • allison tait

      Just this – if you don’t write it, you won’t be able to fix it. Get it on paper and then you have something to work with. Good luck!

  14. Dianne Blacklock

    I came across a great quote the other day – ‘Plot is like Soylent Green: it’s made of people.’ (Chuck Wendig terribleminds. com) Love it!

    He goes on to say that plot doesn’t exist as a mechanism for characters to jump into, but that characters create the mechanism by making choices based on their motivations – they’re the engineers. This is certainly the way I write, once I have the characters set, they direct the action.

    But my favourite writing guide ever is Stephen King’s On Writing, because he really encourages you to do whatever works for you, as Kylie said above.

    Congratulations on making it past the first post!

  15. Krissy

    I finished the first draft of my first ms a few months ago. It was quite an achievement 🙂 I’m going back through it now, re-writing, editing etc. I’ve had some beta readers read through it, giving me bits of advice on parts that are a little iffy. It turns out ‘finishing’ the book didn’t really complete the book 🙂 I’m not a planner. As I write the characters just develop. I like that, it feels more organic to me 🙂

  16. lisawalkerwriter

    So excruciating that I can’t even spell it 🙂

  17. lisawalkerwriter

    I would love, love, love to be able to plan – it would save so much anxiety – but I am like you Alison, I can only see as far as the next paragraph at a time. Excruiciating, but I least I surprise myself as well as the reader I hope.

  18. E.

    Congratulations on your first draft. Good luck on your rewrites and editing.

  19. Kylie L

    I can’t help but reply!! I definitely plan my novels, know my main story arc and have pages of notes for each character/theme etc…. but stuff still happens every day as I write that surprises me, and I love that. Sometimes it’s just a metaphor that I’m chuffed with; others it’s bigger, like a character doing something I hadn’t planned but know is right (and of course in those situations I do what my character wants, because once they’re at the stage of seeming like a real person to me I can trust them to act authentically) or announcing that they want a larger role. That happened in my last novel, Last Summer, where I thought the female lead was Laine, or maybe Colleen, but from the first page of her first chapter Kelly elbowed them both aside and declared she was it. Planning doesn’t mean you give up all spontaneity and stick rigidly to your spreadsheet… for me, it really just gives me the courage to go on, the belief (often necessary) that I actually *do* have a story.

    All that said, it’s horses for courses- do whatever works for you. All that really matters is the book at the end, and the end of a first draft is a very big step toward that. Congrats Al! Enjoy rewriting 🙂

    • allison tait

      I knew you wouldn’t be able to help yourself! As you say, horses for courses. Your books always turn out so beautifully that I can’t help but be a little envious of that spreadsheet…

  20. therhythmmethod

    I like that you write ‘from scratch’. I like that characters reveal themselves to you through the process rather than showing up all shiny-like and pre-plotted. In this sense, it’s like sculpting, unearthing. It’s also very brave.
    Oh, I love me a nerdy writing post. Thanks Al.

    • allison tait

      I don’t know that brave is the word I’d choose… foolhardy might work better! x

  21. Giving Back Girl

    I’m with Kelly, fiction writers are up there on a massively high pedestal for me! By the time you get to the end aren’t you sick to death of the book that you can’t bear to go back to it with fresh eyes. Every line I write, I sweat blood over. I simply couldn’t sustain that over that many pages. But you obviously can Al. Righto, big breath and back to the start! Awesome work!!!

  22. bigwords is...

    Congratulations on getting through draft one. Good luck with the next draft x

    • allison tait

      Thanks – and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that… Sigh.

  23. Kelly Exeter

    I am in awe of anyone that writes fiction, whether they plan ahead or not. Quite frankly, creating a story and characters from nothing scares the bejeezus out of me!! So well don to you Al for getting that first draft out 🙂

    • allison tait

      It can be a wild ride, tis true.

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