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Sunday, 20 January 2013

First Drafts

In response to the lovely awards from Rosemary and Wendy a while ago, for which I am very grateful, thank you, I thought I'd post my seven things about writing a first draft. I am interested in the different ways writers approach this.

1. I type the first draft on my laptop. It can take a week or so for a longish short story.

2. I don't read through it each morning. I just look at the last hundred or so words to check the sense and spot any errors, then carry on.

3. I can't leave spelling or grammar mistakes for the second draft. I have to correct as I go. 
    I always give it a title, but this will probably change, maybe several times, before submitting the story.
    I might also change the names of the characters if they don't feel right once I've become better acquainted.
    The only thing that never changes is the theme.

4. I break off to carry out any research required. I can't go on unless I know I've incorporated all the facts.

5. I don't read it until it's essentially finished. I print it out and take it somewhere I can read it out loud and make corrections in the margin in red and green pen. By the end, the sheets of paper are smothered in notes and crossings-out and asterisks and footnotes. It can take ages and at the end there is more pen than print.
    I have difficulty reading my scrawl, especially if I don't start the revisions straightaway. Sometimes it's a very simple word or two, but it can take an age to work out what it says. Yet when I have written myself a very cryptic message, hoping I'll understand myself when the time comes, I nearly always remember what I meant.

6. I transcribe all the changes onto the laptop, including further, spontaneous ones I might add to the ones already scribbled on the print-out.

7. The chances are high that by this stage, I've begun the first draft of another story. 

How do other writers approach the first draft?


  1. Wow! You are thorough! You put me to shame, Joanna.

    Btw any chance you could get rid of word verification? It always takes me about three goes. And I'm not even a robot.

  2. Thanks, Frances. I didn't realise I had word verification. I'll get rid of it if I can work out how. Thanks for letting me know. x

  3. Oh I am really a longhand writer! I make myself do the whole first draft before I put it onto the computer. Then I print off and revise it by hand, until I can't read it any more. Then I retype... and print off... and handwrite... and retype... as many times as necessary. I know I don't work very fast, but for all of that revision time the story is bubbling away in your mind, and developing further. I like to read out loud too, and sometimes take bits to my writers' group to see what they make of them.

    Well done on the blog awards!

  4. Thank you, Joanne. It's good to know how writers approach that first draft. Sometimes I fancy trying it in longhand. I always do poetry that way.
    I love the moment when I see it printed and I always print it single-spaced to save paper, but also to see how it will look it if gets published.
    However, that leaves me very little space for the corrections, hence the messy manuscript I end up with. But there's something nice about seeing my own writing on it at that stage.
    Like you, I'm not the fastest, but I also feel that the bubbling you mention is vital. So many changes and improvements come to mind. x

  5. Fascinating to read how you approach it, Joanna. Although I tend to type straight to the computer, I often find I get on better writing in longhand at my favourite cafe once a week (only for about half an hour), and I always write poetry first in longhand. I must have a title and the characters' names - except I've struggle with my contemporary hero's name until this morning and now it's definitely the right one!

  6. It is so interesting to hear how you work, Joanna. I have got into the habit of reading back through what I've written, over and over again, which ruins the creative flow. I am currently trying to train myself to just write that first draft, then edit later. I write mine on the computer, but I've started making more use of my notebook which is how I used to write in the beginning - notebook first :-) x

    1. Thank you, Teresa. I really love to hear about how writers write. I also think it's hard not to read it back all the time. I've had to make myself keep going too.
      I do love the idea of using notebooks and would like to try it. I think I would enjoy the break from the screen. I get more and more hunched over it as the day goes on! x

  7. Thank you, Rosemary. I should try going to a cafe sometimes. It does sound nice. I've always enjoyed reading in cafes and I like the warmth and the murmuring voices in the background.
    I think having a title is important. And if I do keep the same one all the way through, it's often a good sign. However, I recently changed the title of a story that had had three outings to competitions without success. AFter the change, it was shortlisted and it made me think about how vital the right title is.
    I'm so glad you found a name for your hero and hope the writing has continued to go well today for you. x

  8. I'm not so methodical! From ideas and notes jotted in a moleskine, I expand them on the laptop, sometimes straight into in a comprehensible draft, sometimes in chunks to see what might transpire. The complete ones then need a decent edit, I always read them aloud to pick up clumsy phrases etc - and then a revisit for tweaks after a week or two (if no deadline). Others stay in chunks until I revisit them and play around and quite often something just comes, and then I go through the stages above. The best edit or tweak is always the one after a couple of weeks, or longer. A few are submitted to my critiquing group, so I might make a few more tweaks after that. I now tend to anticipate the sorts of things that would be criticized so avoid the errors and weaknesses I used to make!

  9. Thank you, Lindsay. I agree about waiting to edit for a couple of weeks. It works wonders. I'm amazed by how clear the errors are. And not just errors, but all kinds of new ideas and directions can spring up too. I was so glad I left my novel for two months. I don't think I would have spotted the horrendous things I saw otherwise! x

  10. I usually write my novel on my laptop in one large document, then will print out each chapter after I finish it. Editing doesn't really begin until the novel is completely done, then I'll go through and edit it. So I really don't know if I have a first draft, second draft type of writing style.

  11. Thank you, Melissa. I loved printing out my novel. It was so much more exciting than just the few pages of a short story. I stayed with it so I could keep adding more paper to the printer. It took ages because I didn't do it until it was finished and then I read the whole thing in one and a half days. Then I took each chapter, one at a time, and edited those.
    Like you, I didn't have that first draft feeling that I have with a short story. It was a different sort of process altogether. The chapters felt a bit like short stories in themselves, but because they had to flow on and make a seamless whole, I thought about them in an entirely different way.

  12. When I have an idea, I tend to scribble brief notes in longhand then begin 'writing proper' on the laptop when I feel I have enough for the story. I try and write a complete first draft without stopping to think too much and regardless of how good or bad it is. Then I put it away for a couple of days. I then read it through and rewrite and titivate until I'm happy with it. I usually have several going at once, working on a different one each day.

  13. Thank you, Gail. I really would like to be able to write without stopping to think too much. I was driving myself mad today, because I was doing far too much thinking and not nearly enough writing. I keep trying to reorganise the words to make them perfect, forgetting that there is plenty of time later for that. Tomorrow I'm going to try to keep going. I think the stops for thinking are my way of procrastinating. And I'm procrastinating because I'm scared of getting into it! It's really helpful to know how everyone works on their first draft and I'm learning a lot. x

  14. Really interesting to read how you approach things, Joanna. If I'm writing a short story I tend to type it all in one go on the laptop then read it over the next day and start making changes. I do like to print off a copy too and read from a paper copy as it makes it easier to spot mistakes.
    I've realised after reading over some old stories I wrote that I'm a more effective editor when I've left my work aside for a while, looking on it with fresh eyes.

  15. Thank you, Vikki. I so agree with you about the fresh eyes. It's amazing how many improvements there are to be made after some time has gone by. When I read something I wrote three or four years ago, I love to give it an edit with the different perspective and understanding that time brings to bear. x