What’s All This First Draft Nonsense?

Whenever I read blogs or Twitter posts by an author who’s just finished the first draft of their WIP (work in progress), I always wonder if I’m the only person in the world who thinks first drafts are just another way of saying, ‘what I’ve written is crap so I’m going to do it all again.’

First of all, I’m aware that many writers create a first draft to get the basic story down on paper and develop ideas. It’s also likely that this first version of the book hasn’t undergone any kind of editing and will be stuffed full of clunky dialogue, rambling sentences, grammatical gaffs and hundreds of typos. So, then they write the second draft, working on the structure and sorting out stuff like conflict and resolution and fixing any plot holes. Those who write murder mysteries, for example, might want to make sure they’ve given the reader enough clues to allow them to work out who the killer is while creating a puzzle that will still leave a surprise at the end.

But I don’t do any of that.

Why? Because I practice my craft with a slightly obsessive attention to detail.

In the past, I’ve tried those techniques where you start writing and ignore typos, gaffs and anything else that might distract from the story, and simply power on to the end of the book. And yes, that would be great if I could do it. But I can’t. My need to correct my work as I go comes from the same place that screams at me when I read an email or text message with misspelled words, missing apostrophes etc. Instead of concentrating on the message, my first response is to advise the writer with suggestions on how to improve their grammar.

In place of writing a first and second draft, I write the final draft, correcting and rewriting as I go along. Admittedly, there will still be typos and grammatical blunders that depart from what is true, right, or proper. But luckily those will usually be picked up by my editor (cheers, Joy, you’re a brick). I don’t seem to suffer from problems with the plot, which I suspect is due to my habit of rereading everything from the beginning before I start each writing session (obviously I don’t this as much when the book has reached thirty or forty-thousand words).

Being a pantser (an author who writes with no plan or outline), I detest any hint at knowing how the story will end. Sometimes, of course, I have a sense of how a particular character or scenario might work out, but often the ending is as much a surprise to me as to my readers.

The only problem with this method is that sometimes my lack of planning ties me up in knots, such as with Terminal Black, the first book in my Relic Black Thriller series, where I became totally confused by the plot and the ridiculous number of characters I’d created. Usually, though, it works out fine. If there comes a time when it doesn’t, I might have to reconsider, but being a control freak, I probably won’t.

NB This post originally appeared on Chez Maximka.

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  4 comments for “What’s All This First Draft Nonsense?

  1. 23/04/2023 at 3:30 PM

    As a fellow pantser, I’m with you on this.


  2. 22/04/2023 at 2:07 PM

    As the Joy mentioned above, I am compelled to mention two typos I spotted. I think you meant to say ‘prick’ not ‘brick’. The second one is ‘this this’. Enjoy your weekend, Colin. *chuckles


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