The First Draft is a Slog

People often think that professional writers just sit down and start writing something that comes out fully formed. While a few writers may do this, most do not. But even those of us who do not, can get caught up in that lie again if we’re not careful. I have been caught in it for several months now.

I think in part that’s because the experience of beginning a book is much different from that of rewriting one or finishing one. My favorite parts are rewriting and polishing. That stuff is for the most part easy. And fun, because it’s always fun to make something better. I can work fourteen hours a day on rewriting, editing, etc. And while sometimes there are those periods where I have to think about the problem, mostly the words suggest better words, the ideas, the characters themselves suggest improvements, and because you have so much of the work before you, the work itself is a partner in the effort.

In the beginning there is no “work” to partner with. I’m sure this seems obvious, but it isn’t always to me. I remember most the exhilaration of working with a draft already there, seeing how things come together, seeing what isn’t needed, what needs to be added, refined. I’ve been expecting those feelings to manifest themselves now, when that’s not at all what it’s like for me to write a first draft.

Basically, the first draft is a slog. That’s the only way to describe it. I have never been able to breeze through a first draft, just writing willy nilly, come what may. Because usually that just sends me off a cliff, where suddenly words fail me, and I have no idea where I’m going any more. Not only that, the whole direction I was moving in now bores me and I can’t bear to write another word in that direction. I did that with a draft of The Light of Eidon. Wrote 100 pages of stuff that had to be axed in entirety.

So I do it for a bit, usually very roughly, then have to go back and see what I wrote. See if I can make some sense out of it, get a direction out of it, at the very least make it coherent. That part, not surprisingly, I like better than the first part. I think there is also an aspect of memorization involved… I go over and over things and get the events, the world, the people imprinted more strongly on my mind, so that when I start the next bit, I’m not wondering if I chose A or B in the last chapter and what kind of goals and reactions would be reasonable for Character C.

Granted if I had an outline, this wouldn’t be so necessary, but I can’t write one until I’m a little further into the book. There’s the element of “what I really want to write” that plays in, as well. So, if this sounds confusing and ineffecient… it is! It’s why I don’t write a lot of books in a short period of time!

10 thoughts on “The First Draft is a Slog

  1. eritta

    Oh wow, I’m exactly the opposite! I think the edit and polish part is a slog and I adore the first draft. It’s so much fun to just writewritewrite and get it all out there!

  2. 3by3 writing method

    that terrible decision to delete hundreds of pages has happened to me more that a few times

    I finally came to the conclusion there was a better way than constantly writing myself into a corner.

    If you’re having trouble making and outline you might want to take a quick look at my forms… or not

  3. KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy

    Hey Karen…

    I HEAR ya!
    Working on first draft of 2nd novel now… Pressure’s on… Deadline looming!

    I’m working with Randy I’s Snowflake Method and I have to say, I really like it. I’m learning the process, so it’s not complete by any stretch but I’m SO much farther down the road than I would have been otherwise.

    Thanks for sharing this. Happy writing !!! 🙂

    1. karenhancock

      I remember when Randy taught his Snowflake Method at a Chi Libris retreat some years ago. He prefaced his presentation with the warning that some writers would love his Snowflake, while others would want to run screaming from the room. I’m closer to the latter camp than the former, right-brained, creative type introvert that I am! The Snowflake is linear, logical, controllable. I WANT his method to work for me, would LOVE to work like that. Alas, I do not. My problem is I don’t know what I really want to write about until I start writing. Once I get a handle on that, then I can do an outline. More or less. Good luck with Novel #2!

  4. Kelly K.

    Just keep it up. I am reading the Eidon series for the 3rd time…have read Arena several times and get SO MUCH out of them each time. I loved Enclave too but SO FAR have only read it once. I have them all in paperback but also bought them for my kindle so I can loan/give the paperbacks to people. They are important works; I know they greatly helped my faith walk while entertaining me at the same time. I am salivating in anticipation of SKY as I know from experience that God has his hand on all of your works and I know that this book too will speak to me. Be encouraged that to this one reader your work really means something! (no pressure…LOL)

  5. Christine Levitt

    Karen, I can’t tell you how eagerly I read your blogs in hopes of seeing something about Sky, which I look forward to so much. I absolutely loved Arena and dream that someday someone will make it into a move. I even know who should play Pierce – Aaron Stanford, who is an excellent character actor. I loved Enclave almost as much as Arena, but the latter is still my favorite. There aren’t many good Christian authors who write the way you do with detail, character depth and emotion. And your landscapes are easy to visualize and are almost characters in themselves. Please press on !

    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Christine! I appreciate it. Now I’ll have to go find out who Aaron Stanford is…

  6. Rebecca LuElla Miller

    Ah, Karen, thanks for this post. Now I understand why I have to outline. I don’t think I could work alone. I need the partner. Wow, this was really insightful.

    I looked at the Snowflake method once and immediately dismissed it. You’d have to know the story in order to write the story. But a point outline. Now I can at least say something as bland as, He goes into the city. That gets me started. Without it, should he stay put, go down by the river, take a boat to the island … the choices are mind-boggling.

    I thought you and your blog readers might be interested in a post I just read over at editor (Harvest House) Nick Harrison’s blog about the interplay of tension and being stalled (not blocked) in the writing process. I found it helpful.


    1. karenhancock

      Thank you, Becky. The article was very interesting and has provided food for future blog posts. Even your reference to a point by point outline…


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