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First Draft Troubles


I have quite a few, but I've narrowed them down to these three:
1. Size of the text. I have an uncanny knack for turning a simple plot point into a full-blown, sixty page novella, which, let me tell you, is far from convenient when trying to avoid tangent in a first draft.
2. Brush up blues. When I sit down for my daily quota, I reacquaint myself with the story by brushing up on what I wrote the previous day. Sadly, my mind remembers great, inspirational works of fiction from the day before, but obviously that is not my impression the following day. Being a perfectionist, it's hard to get into a story whose prose aren't just so.
3. Fuzzy future. Originally, my novel was going to take place over the course of a single year, within a single city, and remain focused around a single character's narrative. My brother, curse him, introduced the idea that I might expand the story to when the MC is an adult and his point of view through a war that branches the span of two countries. With these two contradictory points, I come back to number 1 and worry my story will become too large to write before my attention is lost.


Hi Dina, first of all, I admire your discipline and focus on daily quotas, I know it is not easy. I know some of these issues pretty well, so let me tell you how am I dealing with them:
1 and 2 are kinda interconnected. I usually let myself write and don t spend much time editing the text from the previous day, because I tend to get stuck. (I use a lot of comedy and sometimes I feel the punchline is not exactly what I want and I would spent an hour looking for the right one, which would eventually turn out pretty bad as well.) So, my advice is f*@k editing last days text, just read it, do the necessary touches and move on. Let yourself write. The thing is... One day is not that much of a time to let the text settle, I believe. The ideas are still too fresh and you get easily attached to them.

Finish the text and then do proper real editing work. It is much healthier for the text to edit it from the perspective of complete story. That way I find it easier to judge whether this or that idea actually works in the context of the rest of the story or it s just a whim, that came to me during writing. If it is the latter, but it is not too bad, I just archive it and see if I can build a story around it or use it somewhere else.

The third one is still in close relationship to 1 and 2. I find it easier to have a story laid out in points and stick to it (from the beginning to the very end). That way, if I get carried away, I can just focus on the next point in my story and get to it somehow. And I have the main inspiration still handy to navigate me—sentence, quote, image, situation... whatever, that lets me know why I am writing this and what I wanted the story to say. So even if I get a new idea, like changing the time span of the entire story, I go back to it and go back to the story pointers. If it improves the story, I rearrange the whole thing and then go back to writing.

This works very well for me. Hope it will be helpful to you as well.


"F*** editing last day's text," you say. suppose I agree with you there. I've never actually had the chance to get to the editing stage because I've never finished one novel in all my five years of writing. I have been writing consistently every day for the past couple of weeks, which is more than I've done in months. Yesterday I decided to redo a series of scenes because they are seriously limiting the creative options I would have in future parts of the book. I wrote 1500 words today in order to begin that, so I'm quite pleased with that.


Myth Weaver
Have to agree with martinH. As best you can, I say plow on until you have a completed work, warts and all. A finished first draft is better than an incomplete 30th edit. You must resist the urge to rewrite or it will suck away any hope you have of reaching a finished product. Along with that, I also advocate that it is not useful to seek feedback until its compete as well.
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A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
If it makes you feel any better, I edit as I go along, pretty much every day, and have still finished and published two good books. Go ahead and follow those tangents. Sometimes rabbit holes lead to Wonderland. And remember, you can always cut the story down in your second draft. The point is to just finish the first one in any way that works for you. If you're making pages by editing as you go and following tangents, then do so. I know it does wonders for me and my writing team.

There is a Japanese proverb that I feel applies admirably to writing. Fall seven times, get up eight. It's about persisting. Keeping your butt in the chair and digging in. As long as you're doing that, as long as you're writing, there isn't a wrong way to go about it.


Myth Weaver
My approach is much like A E Lowan's - doing a sort of 'half edit' as I go along. On the up side, the rough drafts are often 'almost decent.' Downside is 1200 words a night is a blistering pace.

That said, come rewrite time, I routinely discard several entire chapters from the initial drafts.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
1) If you're uncertain about your text you may want to do some reading or googling on scene and chapter structure.

2) Whether edit-as-you-go helps or hurts depends entirely on how well you've structured your story and whether that structure is in danger. If you have poor structure or are still finding your story, you should probably stop with the constant editing. It's a waste of time to stare at words that are going to be cut later on, and it's depressing. On the other hand if your structure is strong, if you're fairly confident in the scene you've written, then editing as you go can both improve your writing and be very motivating.

And to be clear, some people "find" their story through discovery writing, and a second draft is almost like a total rewrite. And while you should review the basics of scene structure, and keep it in mind while you write, you also have to keep writing to develop yourself to a place where you can utilize it well. It's often a style difference, or it can be a sign of where you are in your development as a writer. Either way, if edit-as-you-go consistently demotivates you, then stop doing it.

3) It would also be cool if you introduced a character early on who seemed like a cool guy but right near the end opened a portal to let a bunch of demons in and destroyed half the world. Total edge. Think of the sequel.

My point of course is that it's your story, and you should write the story that you are excited to share. Sometimes it's a grand epic, and sometimes it's small and intimate. That's your decision, not your brother's.

I could tell you that young adult is the bigger market, or that you could think about time jumps for a sequel, or that a big war is a tough challenge for any first-time author. But none of that matters compared to your own motivation in telling the story. You've got to think it's an awesome story, or you'll never be able to care quite enough to get it right.


toujours gai, archie
Another voice in favor of finishing. There is a huge benefit in knowing what "done" looks like and feels like. It's not anything objective; it varies from one author to the next. And it's not like you do it once and then you've got it nailed.

But finishing, getting to Done, is vital. It's crucial for self-confidence, for knowing what a *complete* story arc looks like, for starting to learn the difference between a first and a second draft ... for a host of factors. You can read about these things, hear anecdotes from others, but until you've done it yourself, with your own story, it will all be distant information.

Finish that first draft. Not a short story (unless you're going to be a short story writer), but a major work--say, 50k or more. Because that's only partly done. Then there's getting to Done with all the revisions, getting the story to the point where you can present it to beta readers or an editor. Then there's getting to Done in terms of actually publishing, whether self-pub or submitting to agents.

I spent years on my first novel, Goblins at the Gates. But I didn't really make progress until I wrote a novelette, The Garden of Hugo Vuerloz. That was my first completed work--completed, as in getting all the way to cover design, Amazon blurb, and self-published. I am convinced I never would have finished the novel had I not taken a side-trip to The Garden. Now I have three novels and am about to start my fourth. You can't do a fourth novel until you've done a first!


Myth Weaver
Finish that first draft. Not a short story (unless you're going to be a short story writer), but a major work--say, 50k or more. Because that's only partly done. Then there's getting to Done with all the revisions, getting the story to the point where you can present it to beta readers or an editor. Then there's getting to Done in terms of actually publishing, whether self-pub or submitting to agents.

More and more, I find myself preferring to write shorter works. Not short stories, exactly, more on the order of novelettes and novellas (8000-35,000 words). Reason being is I can 'hold the vision closer' and hence skip out on the long, tedious rewrite phase - plus that format still lets me tell a good story.

Now, I have completed rough drafts of eight longer works - 60,000+ words, and rewritten/edited six of them - but those were long, hard slogs - plus I 'cheated' a bit:

I incorporated nigh on a dozen short stories into the 'Empire' novels, expanding the first three from 45-50,000 words to 60,000+. Better than 25,000 words of 'Empire: Metropolises' 85,000 words consists of a novella and short stories.

Once I get the current series taken care of, and a couple other long dormant novel length projects rewritten, I'm probably going to stick to tales of 8000-30,000 words. They just suit me.
This is pretty typical first draft stuff, and unfortunately, first drafts are just Like That. It’s probable you’ll have to just plow through and get it done; you can’t fix much so early on.


Myth Weaver
I am the contrarian to the just finish it theory. But then, my goal was never anything less than 120k works.

A simplified version of what I did: I knew the ending, so I wrote the prologue and first chapter, reworked them every day until I liked what I wrote the next day. Then I wrote chapter 2 and 3, and after a week or so looked at chapter 1 again. Don’t like the writing or how I handled the story? Rework it. Rework 1, 2 & 3 until after a week away I still like the writing. Write some more chapters incorporating all the style changes, after a month, check chapter 1, 2, & 3 again... Don’t like them? Rework. Like them? Keep writing new chapters. At some point I was content with everything (but still improving) and I finsihed the book because nothing made me gag.

1: I would never finish a book where I was disgusted by my own writing... which is tough because most big name published writing disgusts me to one degree or another. I have a picky inner editor.

2: I’d rather be a perfectionist reworking 15-50 pages at a time than 500. If I had finsihed Eve of Snows with my original writing, I would never have edited 140-150k words into the shape I did. By the time I was finished I could send raw drafts of brand new work to my editor and not be embarrassed, in fact, be happy with it.

Writing a million words might be good advice, but no one ever said they had to be sequential, heh heh.

If I’d figured this out years ago, I would’ve been happy with my writing a lot sooner.

There is a caveat, I studied screenwriting and finished several screenplays so I knew the “Rush” of finishing a story. Although, finishing a big novel is better than a screenplay, the word counts don’t compare, LOL.


Article Team
It's all hard. First drafts, editing, etc. There is no easy part to any of this. Just keep pushing. The more stories you finish the more confidence you gain in your abilities.
If it's any help I like to divide my books into parts and then edit the parts after I finish them that way I can get down what is in my head without freaking out too much because I am constantly making changes as I write. Also it's really hard for me to do but it really helps to get down the story and not think about the details too much because there have been several times where I have spent hours working out all the details of one scene and then going over a previous one and realizing that I have to trash all the work that I just did. And like Brandon Sanderson says, "Just write."


So, the underlying theme here seems to be "Write now, worry later." I think I can handle that. Really, I was worried that most others are happy with their first drafts and the pressure of having everything just so was weighing on me. It's hard to crap through certain scenes when my mind is full of all the potholes and character contradictions I create by doing so. I guess that's just stuff I'll handle in the editing phase.