1. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Writing an entire first draft before editing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by jannert, Oct 11, 2013.

    I don't know if this is the correct place to put this thread, but I just read an excellent article on why you should write a first draft all the way through before going back and editing. It's written by Martha Alderson, the author of The Plot Whisperer.

    Below, I paraphrase the main points her article makes. She says you should always finish a first draft before editing, because:

    1) It keeps you from starting over and over again and not moving on
    2) It means you actually finish your story
    3) Until you see your finished story, you won't grasp the significance of what you have written
    4) It means you will actually accomplish what you set out to do - you will write a story
    5) With a skeleton in place, you can then see the structure of your piece
    6) Until you finish your story, you won't know the ending; until you see the ending you won't know what needs to be included in the beginning
    7) The less time you spend making each word and sentence 'perfect,' before moving on, the easier it will be to edit parts of your story later, or even remove them altogether

    I see so many people on this forum who present unfinished snippets from barely-started stories for critique. Martha Alderson's article says what I've always wanted to tell them—only she says it better. FINISH the story. Then you'll have something to work with. (Of course by then it'll probably be too long to post on the forum! o_O)

    Even people who offer critiques sometimes miss this important factor. They critique as if the piece is finished, which it's not. It doesn't matter if a piece 'starts well' if it doesn't end well. Nor does it matter if it starts badly, as long as it goes somewhere that's good. The bad beginning can be removed later, but you won't know how much of it to remove, or what needs changing, until the story is done.

    If anyone is interested in reading this article, here is the link to it: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-reasons-to-write-an-entire-1st-draft-before-going-back-to-the-beginning?et_mid=641173&rid=239329351
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know the pros for writing a complete first draft, but it doesn't work for me. I edit as I go along and find that as I do so my story can change on paper pretty drastically from the outline I have in my head or in my notes (for the better, I hope). I come across dialogue etc that is inconsistent with the character, decide to explain more/less, occasionally delete or reserve scenes for later, that kind of thing. I would not end up with a satisfying (for me) story if I wrote everything down quickly as a first draft and then tried to edit it again starting from the beginning. On a more minor note, it also gives me more idea of what the finished word limit will be, which can be important. I always finish my stories, but I must admit I am a slow worker.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    To tell the truth I think every one of us backtracks while writing, tooling around with things, fixing dialogue, etc. I don't think that's exactly what she meant.

    I think her article is aimed more at people who start stories but never finish them. The people who say they can't move on unless everything is 'perfect.' (I've encountered a few of those recently.)

    I especially liked her last point, which is if you work hard to get everything 'perfect' in a passage, it's really hard to get rid of the whole passage later if it doesn't help the story along! Boy, I've been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

    Anyway, there is no method that works perfectly for everybody. I think her article was aimed mostly at people who can't really move on in a story, because they need everything to be perfect before they do. Every sentence, every bit of dialogue, every tweak and twang. She feels that's a mistake—akin to not seeing the forest because of all the trees—and so do I.
     
  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think she says it that well.

    Someone into drawing said it much better. When you're drawing a person, first you start off with a lose sketch. The basic shapes, then the outline of the figure, and so forth, finally finishing with the finest details. Amateurs will do something like starting with the eye first, trying to get every detail right before even finishing the body, and ending up with a deformed looking person.
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Well said. I would also say that experience writers like @madhoca can do the outlining of basic shape of the story pretty easily in their head and can afford to detail-edit as they write. Their first draft is like the fifth or sixth draft of someone who wrote a completely unedited first draft. The key word of course is EXPERIENCE.
     
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  6. SarahD
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    SarahD Member

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    I find I have to make edits as I go along so I don't forget them. When I'm in the middle of writing a section, if something occurs to me that I need to add in at a later date then I make a comment at the part where I need to add it in so I can go back to it at a better time. When it comes down to word changes though I did need take some time after writing so I could pick up the repetitions and incorrect words. I have found that the more I do this though, the more I can identify these things up as I write without the need to take a break, like Killbill said though, it's something that comes with experience.
     
  7. DanM
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    DanM Member

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    I have learnt from bitter experience that the biggest mistake one can make when writing a novel is not spending enough time on the planning stage. I made that same mistake 3 times. I even made that same mistake AFTER after asking Lionel Shriver whether overplanning a novel would kill the idea (I saw her on a book tour last year) - my presumption was, back then, that it would. She fixed me with a stare that sent my balls rushing back up to my spine and said: "Would you build a house without planning it first?"

    So, similar to what others have said in this thread, if you plan the novel properly then when it comes to actually writing the first draft the idea will be developed enough so it comes out as the third/fourth draft.

    Personally I think that this draft should be written from end to end - to give it a cohesive feel. But, of course, each of us may have a different method...
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't edit as I go along anymore - I used to. I don't bother nowadays because my rewrites change so drastically that there's just no point. The only point it has is, yes, it fine-tunes my writing. But personally I'd rather fine-tune my writing in practice pieces rather than my WIP, because writing a whole chapter that you're then gonna scrap entirely is just discouraging. And also, if you don't edit as you go along, you need less time to distance yourself from your book when it's done so you can get on the edit faster too, simply cus you wouldn't remember every detail so clearly and there would be more fresh parts.

    I've outlined in the past too and seriously, what I ended up writing was so different that the outline might as well have been just inspiration for starting rather than a skeleton of any sort. Detailed edits aren't worth it till the draft is done really - not because you won't finish, but because you're just giving yourself far more work than you need to.
     
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  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd imagine different people have different approaches, but if one has trouble finishing what they start, it might not hurt to try this approach.

    T and I always plan first, then write. Then plan the next stage (chapter, part, scene), then write. After the whole shebang is finished, we go back and start editing, adding new ideas, etc. Works for us.

    Sometimes we make it up as we go along, especially back when we started writing together, but far less so nowadays.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I like that too. I'm also an artist—in fact, art was my minor subject at university—and can really relate!

    I also like the oft-repeated observation that close editing before a piece is finished is a bit like 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.' However, no one method works for everybody.

    However, I am interested to know: those of you who edit and re-edit every section to perfection before moving on...do you finish your stories, and if you do, do you ever go back and re-edit the perfect bits again? Or do they always stay as perfect as you originally edited them to be? If you edit them again after you've finished, maybe you've wasted time during the process? However, as long as you get there eventually, I guess you're fine. I'm sure there are all sorts of answers here. I think my original comments were directed more at people who never do 'get there.'

    I still maintain that (most) fine-tune editing is best done after the piece is finished. Only then will you be aware of what the basic shape of your story is, and where the weak links are, etc. Maybe where pacing needs to be picked up or slowed down, or stronger transitional scenes need to be built. Certain relationships emphasized or de-emphasized. Things like this. Story structure is just as important as word choice.

    Obviously you'll go through whatever you wrote 'today' and tweak a few things. But if, 5 months down the road you're still re-working the same bits, or worse yet, constantly re-starting your story because it's 'terrible', I think you've stalled. You should probably attempt to leave the imperfections as they are and try to write the next bit and see what happens. But that's me. (And her...) And a few other people on this forum as well.
     
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  11. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    This is really true. I've restarted my current chapter three times because I felt it wasn't going anywhere. I've lost so much time rewriting stuff and deleting things that may or may not be relevant in the end.
     
  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    What she says may work for her, but it would guarantee I would end up with a "completed" draft that would never, ever be finished. I edit/revise/rewrite as I go, I don't outline, I don't know the ending - and I have finished every story I ever started, short and novel-length (except the one I outlined). Now, if she were only pointing to the writers who never finish a piece, I would say the advice is probably sound - no writer gets anywhere if they don't learn how to complete a story. Past that point, however, there is no right way or wrong method to writing, and it's foolish to think there is. It's a good way to destroy new writers who can't follow The Path.
     
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  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the bottom line is that there's no 'best' or 'right' way to write... there's only what works best for each writer...
     
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  14. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Funny, i just read that article this morning and thought "what a load of crap." It might be true for some but, (like most of the "advice" articles I see on Writer's Digest,) I just shake my head and pray people aren't treating this stuff as the One True Path to Enlightenment. Sadly, I think a lot of writers, especially newcomers, feel that way about Writer's Digest.


    Deck chairs? No. I prefer to think of them as minor course corrections… and we all know the Titanic could've used more of those. Editing as you go doesn't mean making things superficially pretty. The purpose of editing as you go is to keep things tidy, concise, and focused on a singular purpose. IMO, a manuscript (yes, even a first draft) should be steaming straight toward a definite goal, (preferably one that doesn't end in an iceberg,) and hitting all the important stops along the way, not meandering aimlessly all over the Sea of Imagination.


    Maybe your problem is that the chapter truly isn't going anywhere. If this is true, boldly soldiering on won't change the fact that you have a diseased chapter plopped in the middle of your manuscript.

    There's nothing wrong with reworking a troublesome chapter before continuing on, as long as you actually continue on once the problem is solved. I understand what the author of this article is trying to say: often times, writers hit a trouble spot in the narrative and get hung up on it until, eventually, they give up entirely and shelve the whole thing. It takes a lot of willpower to stop thet train and get it rolling again, hence the reason it's probably better off in the hands of more experienced, more disciplined writers.

    But I disagree with her solution. The "just deal with it later" approach might work for some, but (personally) I feel like it's a writer's way of giving themselves a pat on the back to boost their ego. Sorry, but a bad chapter is still a bad chapter, even if you bury it in twenty good ones. I just can't write like that. If something's wrong, I have to address it now. No, my first draft isn't perfect, but I can't bring myself to leave glaring issues in it. I can't build my castle on a bed of sand and sleep soundly at night. Kudos to those who can, but that sort of thing would throw my whole mojo off.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @AnonyMouse - I'm going to stop banging the drum here, and, as I said, no one method works for everybody.

    However, a 'bad' chapter can easily be discarded or worked on after a story is finished. And unfortunately, a 'good' perfectly-crafted chapter might need to be dumped as well, because you've changed your mind about where the story is going.

    Her point was, until you're finished you're not really going to know what works best for the story and what doesn't. The deck chairs may well be perfectly arranged, but that ship is still going DOWN!

    Anyway, fair enough to people who don't share this point of view. As long as writers do actually finish their stories, I've got nothing negative to say about their working methods.

    I would never dismiss Writers' Digest as 'crap,' though—and since you were reading it this morning, you maybe don't always dismiss it either? Many of their articles offer lots of really good tips AND insight from highly-respected published authors. Not everything applies (and I'm not crazy about the heavy advertising for expensive courses and editing services.) But there are tidbits of really good advice in there, too.

    I remember one particular tip that helped me, a while back. The idea that you should 'say it once, say it well, then move on.' It broke me of a terrible writing habit of mine. I always found two different ways to say things, and then included them both! I don't do that any more ...or if I find myself slipping back, at least I recognise the mistake now. Thanks to Writer's Digest.

    Anyway, I'll leave it alone now. I've said my piece. And hooray for anybody who has found a writing method that works for them! Whatever it may be.
     
  16. Tara
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    Tara Contributing Member

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    I agree with this...

    ...and I have to say this works pretty well for me. If I work on a first draft without editing, overthinking and trying to make everything perfect the first time I write it I can finish a first draft in 1-3 weeks, depending on how much time I have to write.
    Having a story done also motivates me to work on it because I actually have something done, I know where it's going and I can work with that. Although I realize it's not the perfect method for everyone I think working with a (badly written) (quick) first draft when you start editting is way nicer than working with nothing execpt previous chapters.
     
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  17. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    This is what I'm doing with my book. It works well for me. I am preserving my initial momentum and enjoying the process. It is a worry-free way of doing it and relaxing for me. I think some of the joy would be removed if I were going back and editing every fifty or so pages. I recently read On Writing by Stephen King. He suggests a similar approach.
     
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This is encouraging. I wrote my whole story out in one big marathon and come Nov it will be 2 years working on the first of the two books. You can feel like you're not progressing when anniversaries come up. But I do have the whole story, I've not started over. I'm happy.

    I do agree not every style works for everyone. But this one has worked for me.
     
  19. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    Thank you for posting Jannert, I found the article link that you provided very interesting.

    It was infuriating to write a four-five paged chapter and then continually go back to cut it to pieces only to find your not progressing any further. I learned that I had to write out everything FIRST without worrying how it looks and then finally go back to edit. It proved much more fruitful.

    But what works for me may not work for others. There's only one way to find out though. Write ;)
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wait, I thought you said you wrote about 1.5k words per day. How you could be finished yet if its been 2 years??????
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a good one.
     
  22. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Good article Jannert, thanks for posting! This works for me when I can do it.
    But lately I find myself coming to a hurdle/crossroads at the thirty pages mark. This is where the
    voice-I-must-ignore starts up loudest - what are you doing, do you think anyone will read this?!
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I am reminded of NaNoWriMo - the idea is actually pretty similar. Write like crazy and get it done as fast as possible :D And NaNoWriMo has been inspiration and motivation for plenty of writers. Mind you, I've never participated because I don't want the commitment, which is silly really because I am already committed, but y'know...
     
  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Good question. :p I can't tell you where the time has gone.

    1,500 words was the typical amount I was writing in a day when I wrote out a chapter from the draft for the first time. I haven't kept all the chapters I've written. And they get re-written, sometime with major changes sometimes with minor changes. Now I'm spending a lot more time revising the chapters. Cranking out words is not the issue, revise and revise is.

    I just spent the last few days revising one chapter that I had taken to the critique group and I came back and re-wrote the protag's emotions. She likes a guy who is her friend but who she thinks likes someone else. Instead of just having her resigned to her lot which is how I had written the scene, I added in a lot of nervousness as she is reacting to her attraction while fearing he will notice and it will ruin their friendship. The group's suggestion was excellent. I'll probably go back again and revise it some more after letting it simmer a bit.

    It's amazing how slow it can go as you get closer to the end. When I wrote out the original draft, I thought maybe a year to write the book. Now I'm going to say 3 years total and I'm hoping book two will go faster since now I know so much more after writing this one.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's how I got started. That's why Nov is the anniversary of starting my book.

    I had a couple false starts and didn't get going until the last week. At month's end I had 45K words. But rather than worrying about NaNoWriMo, I just kept going until I had the whole story drafted.
     
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