Reflections on a first draft

That’s it. Done. Complete. Oneiromancer (or possibly Somnia; I’m considering a change), after nearly a year’s slog, is finished –

It’s not, of course. The work has barely even begun. But the first draft is through. 140k words of chunksomeness; a hefty doorstep of a novel. I am hoping this will be reduced through the redrafting, but more on that in a minute. For now, left me just bask in its completeness and take a moment to reflect on the first-draft experience.

I started the actual writing at the beginning of March, as soon as my last work went through its last edit and disappeared agentwards (ultimately for rejection). Nine months, then. That’s how long this has taken; the longest I’ve spent on a first draft since I stopped handwriting and went straight to the word processor. I’d like to say that this is because this draft is the beneficiary of my greater experience; the extra time is because of all the extra thought I’ve put into it throughout the process. Sadly, the truth is more prosaic: I’m simply doing more hours in my day job and have painfully little writing-space.

Which is not to say that I’ve not learnt. I’m not a big pre-draft planner am reluctant to become one; I find a starting point and an endpoint and simply write until I link the two. But I’ve accompanied my creative writing with an as-I-write plan: creating a spreadsheet of happenings and notes for me to think about/address in the future. I’m hoping that this is evidence of my growing awareness as an author. This is still to be proven.

What it means is that what flows from my fingers still has the power to surprise and thrill me. The two characters that I considered ‘main’ have been gradually sidelined; the two characters that I created solely to fill a need – and thus had no pre-draft role save for a vague ‘shape’ – have grown to dominate. Others have changed sex and age and status. This is an utter joy, although it’s also filled with dangers. Are these people real? Do they have depth and back-story (unwritten, perhaps, but present in my mind)?

Similarly, the story has mutated and drifted and become something other than that I originally envisioned. This, again, is both a delight and a danger and it’s why I’m breaking the rules and diving straight into draft two. The novel I’ve finished up with is not the same as the one I started. There are empty threads to be drawn out – to be either removed entirely or given a proper resolution. There are plot-points that arise suddenly towards the end: they need to be properly bedded and what now appear as coincidences must be foreshadowed.

Oh, and I forgot about a significant character’s existence for 100 pages, which is frankly just embarrassing.

Aside from the big plot points – which should be comparatively easy to weave in – my big concern is my flabby middle. I could stand to lose a few pounds. And I certainly want to cut a few thousand words. As I was drafting I was aware that, after the central crisis, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going. I wrote a half-dozen scenes that I, as author, had to write to work out what I was trying to do. Does the reader need to see this? I’m not sure. I’ve seen it with other writers; scenes which don’t really advance the story but I can totally understand why the authors included them. I’m hoping cuts can be made here. My biggest worry is that these scenes actually turn out to be quite good; then I’ll have difficult decisions to make.

And then, once this draft is complete, it’ll be off to my team of readers – authors all, and a reciprocal arrangement where I read their stuff in return. It’s a great deal. They will, I’m sure, tell me where I’m going wrong and either assuage all my many (many) doubts or give a reader’s-eye view on how best to proceed with draft three.

It’s worth pointing out how little I’m concerned with the actual words at this stage. All I’ve said above is concerned with either character or story. Of course I want – always – to write good quality prose, to captivate and enthral my audience. And, in going through my draft, I’ll be sure to make improvements in the actual wordsmithery. I can’t not. I want to write well and I’ll be wincing and scribbling and crossing-out all the way through. But prose grows where my Rosemary goes with repeated passes. I don’t need to focus on that right now. It’ll come.

So there we are. Draft one complete, and a few notes on where I stand. At the moment I’ve got 541 pages of not-quite-crap: certainly not a work I want to share with the world. But before you can blast a rocket to the stars to have to build a platform from which to launch it. This is that platform. It’s rickety and unstable and prone to collapse, but it is there. Now I just have to build the real story around it.

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