First Draft Struggles + Personal Lessons

Last Sunday I printed out the rough draft for my book which felt both accomplishing and terrifying at the same time. Something about holding the story in your hand for one thing is really solidifying; a small way to remind yourself that you did a lot of work even though it was hidden in the electronic folders.

Then also the terrifying journey to read what your brain dump looks like. For most people, the first draft is the version no writer wants a reader to see because it’s almost written in their own personal language that no one else will understand. That’s what the second draft is for. To make people understand that weird, personal language swirling around in an authors’ brain.

While I had a few other things to talk about this week, I think this blog is a good place for me to write down some lessons I’ve learnt while writing. Especially since the writing community is all about sharing experiences and learning from one another to develop each other’s style. So here are a couple of things I’ve realized while writing my less than pleasant first draft:

You can only know your characters if you put them through the plot

This was honestly the strangest experience for me while writing the draft. Before writing, I usually have a character map to show a basic understanding of who they are, their history and other little things. However while writing the draft, most of the things I planned completely transformed almost as if the character themselves were telling me this was who they were because this was how the plot was going. One of the fascinating things about diving into imagination is sometimes your subconscious mind will conjure things up and spray onto paper that you couldn’t realize with just your conscious mind.

I learned that no matter how detailed my character mapping would be pre-drafting, it was still bound to change because people change through the events in their life. But the events have to actually happen for them to change. Same thing goes for your characters.

First Draft doesn’t mean you have to write the entire book

For the majority of April, I had been working in Camp NaNoWriMo to jump-start drafting my novel so that I don’t drag this part of the process too much. But towards the final couple of weeks as the draft was reaching the climatic part of the story, I realized that my mind was starting to grow a bit stiff and static. I started writing words and scenes that didn’t even mean anything to me which is fine but it began making me a little worried. At some point last week my mind reached the tipping point and I couldn’t look at my draft anymore without feeling like pulling all my hair out. So I stepped back. Assessed the first draft and decided that it was probably time to start thickening this up before I can get to the climax.

It’s no shock that the first draft will be missing some parts and details that could be important to the story but you just haven’t quite fleshed it out. When I was looking at mine, I saw a lot of characters were being silent, the world wasn’t quite built in a satisfying manner, the balance of dialogue and description was a little off. These are all generally normal aspects of a rough draft but it seemed like my mind was telling me it was time to move onto the next step which is the second draft.

My first draft is extremely short compared to what the finished novel would be but it provides a good foundation of what the story is. Which is exactly the draft’s purpose and it took me a while to tell myself that the purpose was fulfilled.

First Drafts suck, not you

This is honestly a generic lesson every writer tells themselves and everyone else. Unfortunately despite the constant reminder, that thought still manages to linger in the back of your mind that you might just not be cut out for writing. Which isn’t always the case. At this point in the story, I always had to tell myself that I don’t actually know my story and world yet. Obviously because it’s the first time I’m writing it. The world was new to me when I first started making it but through writing the first draft, you start recognizing it and at some point, the world becomes second nature to you like the route to your house.

It’s undoubtedly a rough obstacle to reach this point and I still have a lot to develop before I can really reach it for my world but it’s no reason to feel like quitting writing altogether.

Also with how we’re all living this year, it’s normal to feel like you’re stuck in every aspect of life even though it seems like we have all the time in the world.

That’s all I really have for today. It was something close and personal for me to share because I know a lot of people around the world must also be using this time to start their own careers in their homes. As a fellow university graduate of the dreaded 2020, I understand it can be a little hard to put your mind onto something while not knowing what’s going to happen to your future and the world.

But always remember to stay safe, healthy and keep writing!


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