First Drafts = Chaos

Do not be alarmed by the title—I’m not losing my mind. In fact, I’m having a blast writing my first draft. Every morning when I wake up, I’m still tired… but then I remember my story, and I smile. All day I look forward to my writing times. 

So why the chaos? Let me refer to the dictionary for the physics definition of chaos:  behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions.

That’s how my draft is unraveling. A small idea is born, rippling through the manuscript with bigger and bigger aftershocks. One thought leads to the next, unpredictable but not random.

If you try to make your first draft perfect, you are trying to control your story.  If you have complete control, nothing is unpredictable.  You won’t experience the great sensitivity that leads to fresh new ideas. In short, giving up control = better writing.

I already know this, yet I sometimes have to remind myself of it. Okay, all the time (the drawbacks of being a control freak). During the first chapter, I felt compelled to start perfectly and continue linearly to the end. I was trying to drag out the right words at the right spots at the right time. The result:  a slow, hard draft. It took hours to reach my daily word goal.

Slow, hard drafts are a quick and easy way to burn yourself out. The goal here is to finish the novel, not to get it right the first time. How can you expect to already know every layer of the story? You can’t; you shouldn’t. Why even kill yourself trying? Just let loose and have fun.

Here’s the deal:  no matter how much you outline beforehand, no matter how good you are, your first draft will not be your last. You will have to go back and change things, either by adjusting or by deleting altogether. So why would you want to spend priceless time and energy on an excerpt that might later be deleted? The more attached we are to the writing, the harder it will be to cut what needs to be cut.

So if you expect your first draft to suck, you won’t be disappointed when it does. You’ll be prepared and ready to tackle the later drafts. On the other hand, if you create some rare gems during the first draft, you’ll be thrilled that you exceeded your expectations. It’s a win-win situation.

Warning:  this is just my method of writing. Every person is different, so what I like may not work for you. Try it, tweak it, and create your perfect method. Maybe the method will continue to change throughout your life… and that’s okay too. EYES OF LIGHTNING is my well-outlined novel; THE RIVER’S EDGE is my pantsers novel (as in, flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants).

So I’m curious to hear from other writers about their first-draft processes. Do you try to write linearly and chronologically, or are you roughing it up all over the place? Do you love or hate writing the first draft?

I have more chaotic words to crank out, so I better go. Have a great week, everyone!


2 thoughts on “First Drafts = Chaos

  1. It really does depend on the novel itself… Sometimes I hate the first draft, sometimes I love it… More often than not I love it, I relish the chaos…

    But different stages of the novel annoy me… I usually like the opening, but the opening also sets the pace of the novel… If I have a hard time with the opening, I’ll typically have a hard time with the rest of it…

    Then there is that point that I get to at about 15k – 30k, where I go “I’ve gotten this far, and now my plot has vanished, I don’t know where I am or what I am doing… 5k-10k worth of forced words usually get me out of that slump, but not before I have been to the edge of the universe, looked out, and asked myself “what am I doing here?! I should just give up!”

    • “What am I doing here?! I should just give up!”

      LOL! I sometimes ask myself that, too. 🙂 I think the 15k to 30k mark tends to correspond with the end of Act 1 … and sometimes we’re unsure of how to write the less exciting start of Act 2.

      I tend to love the first draft process, especially at first. By the end of the month I’m dragging … but it’s worth it!

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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