Craft

Writing A First Draft After Revising Forever

I know my first drafts are messy. As hard as it can be to accept, I know that no matter how much time I spend brainstorming or outlining, until I have that draft written, I don’t fully know how the story is going to turn out or how to fix it. But writing that first draft after spending years revising and polishing a previous WIP? Omg, it’s so much harder!

I miss my beautiful prose! I miss the banter that doubles as furthering an important subplot! I miss the convenient foreshadowing! But of course those are all things that get layered in during revisions. And I can’t revise a book until I’ve written it and have a foundation from which to work.

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m doing! But I wanted to share a few things that have helped me get back into the drafting groove.

  • Give yourself time to settle into the story. Even when I took a break from revisions and came back to my fantasy WIP, I would spend the first few days moving at the average rate of molasses. It sometimes takes a bit of time to get immersed into a story world, and it’s even harder when it’s a new and unfamiliar one. Be kind to yourself and give yourself as much time as you can afford (I recommend 1-2 weeks) to just write/brainstorm/doodle without goals.
  • Set small goals. Whenever you’re ready to dive in, start with small goals, maybe 500 words per day or a certain number of focused hours to spend per week. This was a tip given to me by fellow WBPer Axie, and it really helped me get SOMEthing written in those early weeks when every word felt like pulling teeth. You can always ramp up your goals when you have more momentum.  
  • Focus on having fun and moving forward. This is hard for me because I actually hate drafting. But I can’t revise a book that isn’t there, so I remind myself that no one is going to see it. It’s literally just for me, and so it’s okay if the words suck or if I write myself into a giant plot hole. The problems will get fixed—they always do—but I have to be patient and give the ideas time to marinate and in the meantime, keep going. And though I’m a very linear drafter and reviser, if I get really stuck, I allow myself to write out of order—to jump ahead to a scene I know I’ll have to write eventually or to a bit of banter I’ve been dying to get to. It reminds me of what I love about the story and helps get me through the more frustrating parts.
  • Schedule brainstorming time. When I draft, I’m much more likely to get stuck than when I revise. Even with an outline, the actual mechanics of a particular chapter or scene aren’t always apparent until I’m actually there in the story. So I like to set aside a bit of time every week to think deeper about the upcoming scenes. I go on Pinterest, write ideas down in a notebook, listen to my book playlist, read sections of a craft book, or go on long walks to talk to myself or to friends. This helps me figure out where I’m going to get stuck and unknot some of those things before I actually hit snags. It also helps me draft a tiny bit cleaner than I would otherwise, and it gets me excited about scenes before I write them which makes for a more fun drafting experience!
  • Keep track of the changes you want to make. When I started my new project, I created another other document in my Scrivener file: a list of everything I want to change, remove, clarify, or expand. As I get further into my draft, I sometimes realize that things I introduced earlier are no longer relevant—or I end up adding in details that need to be established way earlier. And having a simple but comprehensive list of problems will make my job easier when it comes time to revise. It also makes me feel better about the messiness of the draft—I know the problems are there and I know I’m going to fix them later. It helps me compartmentalize and keep writing forward to The End.

I hope this helps! And if you have any drafting tips of your own, let me know in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Writing A First Draft After Revising Forever

  1. This reached me at the perfect time. My fourth book comes out in June, and in between working on publicity for that I’m trying to make some real progress on the next one. I too am missing my beautiful prose and the banter that doubles as furthering an important subplot! All of these tips have worked for me, and even though I’m also a pretty linear draft-writer I’ll add one non-linear idea that’s also helped: each morning, I try to come up with a scene or character I want to learn more about, and write about that one first. Good luck and thanks again for reminding me that I’m not alone…

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  2. I’m working on a second draft of a memoir. I’ve been doing so for two years. Revising is so much harder because the momentum isn’t there.

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