1. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    First draft target expectations

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by tonguetied, Jul 12, 2014.

    I tried to find a few threads about first draft writing, but did not feel like my understanding of it wasn't answered well enough. I understand that a first draft is not to be expected as a final output, although some claim it could come close, but what is it you are aiming for exactly?

    I am not a dedicated writer so that creates a problem for me since I am not keeping close tabs on where I am in my story. I also have jumped around a bit trying to capture some ideas before they escape my memory. I have written an outline and tried to develop a chapter list so that if I want to jump around I can put things in what I hope is a good place, however finishing a chapter has been problematic due to my lack of dedication, I have to reread what I have written in order to continue, but then I see problems in what I have written and try to fix them right then. But in some instances it has sounded like a first draft is just pouring out your story without any significant edits. I don't feel like that is anything I could live with, too much would bother me about something so poorly written and having a slight fear that plot holes would develop that would essentially negate my effort. I don't want to write the same story a half dozen times and still not be any closer to completion.

    So please explain what is the target of the first draft? I know this will vary greatly from person to person, but each response on this forum seems to help me understand the task of writing a bit more, in the end I have to pick and choose what seems to apply for me, and some guidance is helpful.

    Thanks in advance for responses and suggestions.
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are so many elements involved with writing the first draft, and yes, every single writer develops their own method - and sometimes it's the book itself that dictates the methods used.

    So just to list a few variables (in no specific order):

    Outline or 'discovery' - do you work best with a plan (of whatever detail) or are you more productive just writing?

    Edit as you go or after the draft is finished?

    Write in order or as scenes come to you?

    I'm sure there are others but these seem to be the ones that give folks the most trouble. Each has its pros and cons, but again, which is which depends on the writer.

    Bear in mind, there is a spectrum for each of these, and myriad combinations. Beginning writers often want someone to tell them which one is best, but that simply can't be done. You may need a detailed outline to keep track of your story so you can write out of order and edit as you go. You may prefer not using any outline, write in order but without regard to plot holes or grammer and then edit/revise after you've got it all finished.

    Basically, you have to try everything and give it an honest effort. If it doesn't work, you modify or switch to something else. Eventually you'll find the combination that lets you finish successfully. I wish it were easier, but ...

    As to my own preference, I try to write as clean a first draft as humanly possible. I don't outline, I write in order, I edit/revise as I go.

    As to your "dedication", if you want to be published at some point, you need to learn to discipline yourself. I always urge new writers to write every day, either for a set amount of time or a set amount of words, whether or not it's on the current project. The point is to develop the habit of writing regularly. Once that habit develops, you'll find it much easier not to procrastinate.
     
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  3. b3av3r
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    b3av3r Member

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    I agree with the writing regularly comment. It will always be hard for you to finish a work if you are going back and having to read everything you wrote just to get ready to write. This will get even harder and more time consuming as your story grows. Imagine having to read 50 or 100 pages of a work just to get started writing.

    I try to find a balance between writing and editing. So I usually write for a couple days then go through and edit for a day or two. Obviously, this isn't a rock solid schedule. Sometimes I write for a week or more before I decide to go back and edit while other times I edit every other day.

    Try different strategies and approaches until you find one that works for you. Dump the ones that restrict your writing and embrace the ones that enhance your writing.
     
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  4. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    Good question, @tonguetied. I wondered about this myself recently and wrote about it in one of my blog entries (The Heed for Speed). I have found myself writing very slow and not moving along until the paragraph or page I had just written was pretty much done to my liking, so that by the time I finish the story it's nearly a final draft. Of course I go over it again and make small changes, but for the most part it's good to go. I'm not sure I enjoy this type of writing, as things don't flow and it's not "therapeutic" I guess. In the above blog entry I mention a podcast I listened to called Fiction School. I recommend listening to episode #34. Perhaps that will help you. Good luck!


    ~Chad Lutzke
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm aiming for something like a very detailed outline. So my first draft is basically me just getting my thoughts on the page. It's definitely not something I would show anyone. (Which reminds me of what Hemingway said to F. Scott Fitzgerald: "I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.")
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, a first draft would mean that the entire story had been written in narrative (rather than outline or "write this later") form and I didn't have any remaining REALLY HUGE plot holes--like, oh, half of half the characters' actions in the second half of the novel are driven by their grief about Fred's death and then I decide not to kill Fred after all.

    I wouldn't officially care about writing quality--that is, even if the quality was awful, I'd still consider it a first draft if it fulfilled the above description. That doesn't mean that I'd forbid any editing, just that I wouldn't require it. I'm assuming that no matter how carefully I polish as I go along, I'll be making multiple drafts after the first one anyway.
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The quality of my first draft has changed over the years but for the most part I just want to get the story out. For novels I tend to come up with a fairly organized storyline or list of events that I refer to ( but not always ). Sometimes I wing it by daydreaming ( and having a few scenes stored in my head that I know are upcoming ). First draft is all about getting the bones
    down. I want that line, the character's journey from point a to point b. It will be flawed, sketchy, thin in areas and overwinded in other areas ( some scenes will echo each other and be redundant ) and there will be large looming plotholes but it doesn't matter as long as it's down on paper/computer. Because no matter how flawed it is - I can work with it.

    - In the first draft I want to see a hint of something deeper, a good tone and a fix-upable plot. Everything else can be added or fixed. Without those three things though, I feel the draft is pointless.
     
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  8. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I give myself a goal word count of approximately 80,000 words for a first draft, a common novel size. My first draft is mostly me just writing, I might go back and change something or read over it if I hit a writer block (I've found reading over my work usually fixes a writer block, my writer block usually comes from writing something the wrong way or something is right, after I fix it the writer block will be gone).

    By the time I get to the end of my first draft my characters are a bit flat (usually at the beginning of my book) and I have a lot of tense problems in my books. Though the majority of the time it is the exact storyline that will be in the final draft, my first novel is in its second draft now and I went through and changed several sections in it during the my first once over, and I now have my completed storyline, the rest of my drafts will involve me completing the editing process, one time after another (I'm still too close to the story to be an objective editor, since I'm writing the sequels, I won't be able to edit until I finish the first draft of my third book at the end of this year). I don't plan any of my novels, most of the time I don't have the slightest clue about where the book will end until I'm almost writing the end, except for my third book I have a basic idea about how its going to end but I have no idea what's going to happen in the middle.

    I agree with everyone else, find your own method, make it your method, your process, like you said in your OP everyone has a different method, no two methods or expectations of completing the first draft will be the same. Sometimes its not good to have high expectations for your work, at least not while it's in the rough stages, having those expectations can be great for your story but it can be bad for you if you find that you can't meet them in that first draft, it can destroy your motivation and your confidence in your writing.

    What do you expect from yourself in a first draft? How can you ensure that you meet your expectations?

    I recommend choosing a basic common method most people use in their own process, try it, change it, make it work for you

    Amanda
     
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  9. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I think you get to define what "first draft" means to you, at least for the most part. If you visualize the final version being a "first draft + some editing" you are going to need a first draft that is fairly far along. On the other hand if you see the first draft as just an approximation to the story it could be quite rough.

    For me, "first draft" suggests that the story is complete in the sense that there are no obvious unfinished parts and the various characters and subplots are in place in a reasonably consistent way. I see a first draft as being readable with enjoyment even if there are some things still out of whack.
     
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  10. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    First let me thank all of you for your responses, I was sort of afraid that the answer was going to be a bit like this: whatever works for you. Since this is my first attempt at writing that is an unknown entity.

    While writing a chapter I realized that I am not adding any background or scene description thinking I can add that later, however I am wondering if that makes the first draft what I wrote without fill, for lack of a better word, or should I only consider it a first draft after I add in the details. OK, by details I mean things that are not truly the story line, just stuff to give it color or life. I have recently introduced myself to Craig Johnson's work and he uses a lot of descriptive language that is not really the story but it probably does set the stage in ways that I don't even realize. I seem to be writing almost exclusively dialogue which reads as flat as a pancake run over by a truck, so I know it needs a lot of additional work. I have read several posts where people suggest putting the story away for a few weeks or even months at the conclusion of the first draft, that this step seems to be important to let your mind clear and see the whole thing in fresh perspective. I am a big believer in "can't see the forest for the trees", so it makes sense to me.

    Writing this post may be clearing my view of this subject, I think I will work on my dialogue and then go back immediately to add background descriptions to punch it up. After that I will consider it a first draft for later "first" review/edit. At this point I am not even sure I have introduced my MC, the story in my head doesn't seem to revolve around an MC but I am fairly certain one will emerge before it is over, however it may be a robot rather than a human. I guess I sound obstinate about this first draft concept, but I think I need to understand it more fully to give myself some structure to aim for.

    Finally, I got angst reading Stephen King, and that was just from his book "On Writing", when he, like most if not all of you, declare that you have to spend a lot of time on writing nearly every day or it will never get done. Point taken, but not well received in all likelihood. I think my goal is to simply write this book and not really worry if I ever pursue publication, more of a bucket list sort of thing.

    Thanks to all, great suggestions and instructions.
     
  11. Amanda_Geisler
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    Amanda_Geisler Contributing Member Reviewer

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    @tonguetied
    Getting yourself into a writing routine is hard and it takes a lot to discipline your mind to sit there and write for several hours a day. A lot of the members that replied to your post have probably been writing for several years, it takes time to find out how to work your own mojo. I have been writing for almost 7 years now and I only got the hang of my own writing methods at the start of this year.

    It sounds like you are a fairly new writer, so don't bum yourself out if you haven't worked out your own process yet, this takes time, for now just focus on the project, don't even care if it gets published, worry about that later. Since it is your first attempt you will probably find that you will rewrite your first novel so many times that it is completely different from your original idea, it took me the better part of the last 6 years to write my first novel and I believe about 10 different versions, all of them more different then the first one, but I am told by my friend that my finished novel is similar to the first version of my book which was hand written and probably all of 10,000 words, now in the second draft of it's latest version I have 81,000 words and a plot line that I'm happy with.

    It will take time for you to learn and grow as a writer, pretty much everyone here will tell you that. I suggest reading everything you can, about writing, about creating plot lines from basic ideas, about creating good characters, anything that might help you build your novel until you're proud of all the work you've put into it. I also suggest that you ask questions, even ones you think are silly, nobody here will laugh at your questions, we were all new writers once too. Find out if you have a writer's festival in your town/city or in a nearby town/city go to workshops and find out as much as you can about the writing and publishing industry, it will only help you in the long run.
     
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