So How Bad Was The First Draft?

This week, after taking a few days off as I had promised myself, I read through my first draft.

People talk about the “bones of the story” and I’m pleased to say it has bones. There is, in fact, a skeleton in evidence and that, at least, comes as some relief.

In some places this skeleton even has flesh and muscle and a healthy blood supply. It is strong and lean and vibrant. In other places, the skin hangs loosely off the bone and is in dire need of more meat. Elsewhere there’s too much flab; saggy, heavy, energy-sapping wobble. And finally, there are those parts which have simply been pieced together wrongly; a hand stuck on the end of a leg, an ear hanging off a nipple.

Recognising all this is fairly easy. Putting it right, not so much.

I’ve come up with two simple tasks to try and help. Firstly, I’ve broken down the novel into individual scenes, writing a summary of each one on an index card. High drama scenes I’ve highlighted in red ink. Then I’ve laid out the cards on my sitting room rug in the order of the first draft. Now I am able to see, more or less at a glance, where I need to add, take away, or re-order for maximum impact. That’s the theory anyway.

Secondly, I have set about giving each scene a specific date, written on a post-it sticker and attached to every card. This exercise is designed to save my novel from a severe case of the Wishy-Washy: a disease by which something happens at some point and then something else happens sometime later.

You may think it sounds like a waste of time fiddling about with index cards and post-it stickers and different coloured pens. I admit that it certainly doesn’t feel much like writing. But, before I launch myself into the long and arduous re-write, I need to take stock and plan carefully. I need to make sure I know what I’m aiming for and have a clear idea how to achieve it.  That way, by the time I come to read the second draft, several months down the line, I’m hoping that, instead of lumbering along like a half-eaten zombie, my skeleton might just be ready to step off the page and shake my hand.

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5 Responses to So How Bad Was The First Draft?

  1. Meg says:

    Holy crap I’m impressed! I definitely did not do anything as dedicated and also slightly insane as write all my scenes on index cards. I did make notes for each new draft, but that’s about it! Which… ultimately, is why you’ll be winning awards left and right with your genius book. <3

    • claudia says:

      You’re right, Meg, it is slightly insane. And, sadly, I don’t think your equation of index cards with award winning genius is a proven one. 😉

  2. Julie says:

    This is so great, Claudia – thank you!
    I’m 70k words into Draft 1- hoping for late winter/early spring finish, then on to Draft 2. You have given me a way to approach the revision that makes the challenge of completing Draft 1 far easier to envision. I’ve scared myself, knowing the monster I’m creating will need some major taming. I know I just need to keep plowing through, head down, writing writing writing until the first draft is finished, but it’s hard to grasp how I’ll ever tame the beast once it’s finished. Your post is an inspiration and a way forward. Now I can set aside thoughts of revision and focus on the task at hand.

    • claudia says:

      I’m so glad you feel encouraged Julie. People work in very different ways. Some plan meticulously beforehand and, as a result, their first draft is much closer to being a finished product. I do plan ahead, but what grows out of the actual writing is still apt to be on the wild side, and as you say, seemingly hard to tame. I just carry on bashing it out regardless until I have enough material to work with and an ‘end.’
      It’s partly an insecurity thing. I want to know I have a novel before I have a novel – if that makes any sense!
      Anyway, very good luck with finishing your first draft. Get those cards and assorted pens ready!

  3. Andy Wilson says:

    Nice piece Claudia. Yes, after first draft is the time when you stand back from the project and try to put some manners on it. I think your idea of the cards is really good. I’m already into the ‘first edit’ – which as we all know is not the first edit at all but writers’ shorthand for the first major reorganisation of the project – but still find I’m trying to hold too much of the master plan in my head. As I don’t have a nice big piece of spare floor space, I’m going to try using flow diagrams on the computer instead.

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