The First Draft

Tips and thoughts

As many before me have also commented, I’d be happy if I had a pound for every time someone said they had a great idea for a novel, if only they had the time to write it. No-one has the time. You need to make it. That may mean sacrificing something else. Unfortunately, we can’t duplicate or extend those 24 hours a day.

I don’t believe the adage that everyone has the same 24 hours to play with each day. They don’t.

Take me as an example. I don’t have children. Therefore, I immediately have more time to focus on what I want, as opposed to ensuring my kids are safe, happy and well looked after. I also have cleaners come each week. Again, that gives me more time to do as I please. With a day-job that takes my focus throughout the week, I either write early in the morning or late evening, or, more usually, only at the weekend. Rarely watching television also frees up more time for me.

Someone else may have greater flexibility during the day but little of an evening, and another might have responsibilities that mean they have to grab isolated moments here and there.

However, if you want to write, then you will find the time. Somehow.

I try to carry a notebook with me wherever I go, ready to outline a scene, or jot down a character sketch or a piece of dialogue. The best ideas often come when you’re not at your writing desk!

To me, writing a first draft is like reading, in that I fall headlong into another world. My focus and vision narrowing as I ignore my surroundings and the distractions of day-to-day life fade away. In writing, I see the scene, the actions, the characters (albeit muzzily!) before I commit the words to paper, or hit the keyboard. With the story running through my head like a movie, I feel as if I’m actually there, a silent watcher lurking in the shadows.

For me, this almost trance-like state is easier to get into in the early morning. I try to get up at 6 am or just before, when the house and my world are quiet, the heavy silence enveloping me as I type by the light of the computer screen. Often, the characters take over and I’m as surprised as anyone by what they say and do!

There is no filter in the words. They go down as they come. In the first draft, you are telling the story to yourself, getting it out of your head and on the page. It isn’t meant for anyone else to see it. So it doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish – and it will be. You’ll go off-piste, get jumbled, write a sentence that should be an entire page, plunge down a rabbit-hole, invent characters that you’ll later discard, and on and on. That’s okay.

As Stephen King said in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft*, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” To Hemingway “writing is rewriting”. The magic happens in the editing, as you work your way through multiple drafts, again and again.

You never truly feel finished with a book, since there is always something you could add or tweak, but you get to the point of it being “done” – the story has been told, the characters, where appropriate, have completed their arc, you’re satisfied with the ending and it all ties into the theme.

Then it goes to the editor, and the revisions start again!

The moral of the tale is to just start the story, pen to paper, on a computer, dictating into a phone. Get it down as it comes. Remember, you can always fix it later; adding more layers and detail, or ruthlessly pruning, and that’s what editing is for.

Happy writing.

*King’s On Writing is an excellent read. Part memoir, part homage and masterclass to the craft, you can easily spot the events and circumstances that made Stephen King the writer he is.

1 Comment

  1. Deborah Carr says:

    Excellent post and all very true!

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