This Is What Writing My First Draft Feels Like:

Steve Irwin

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I can assure you, the teeth on this draft are sharp.

I guess you can say I’ve been on a writing hiatus. With moving to London, getting my M.A., and planning wedding, things got a little complicated. Okay, a lot complicated. It’s been two years since I’ve completed the first draft of a novel.

Two years.

That’s not to say that the story ideas weren’t flowing. I simply didn’t have the time to hash them out, at least up until about a month ago, when my DH (I have a DH!!) and I decided I should put focus back onto my freelance and fiction writing careers. This meant that I suddenly had all the time I wanted to write my newest manuscript.



So I dove back in head-first. I was in a rush, because we don’t have forever for me to focus on this without results. Lady’s gotta pay the bills.

Rushing is where the problem started. With previous drafts, I’d focused my energy on strong outlines and serious pre-planning. Everything had to be structured before a word could be typed. Someone once told me that plotters were the “true professionals” of the writing industry, which was what I wanted to be, obviously.

Plotting was what helped make the writing flow. I could churn out a first draft in months, even with a day job. I didn’t experience the true darkness of writer’s block, or the abyss of self-doubt and, eventually, disgust. With plotting, my drafts felt more like this:



Still too orange and hairy for publishing, but at least they weren’t trying to kill me.

To be fair, I did give myself a few days for plotting this one. I read all the writing books, which only confused me more, and then spent a week hiding from my laptop.

Finally, I re-read that popular piece of advice: allow yourself to write garbage.

That beautiful, much-used phrase is what got me back on track. I started spewing out words again, and barely noticed that I hadn’t yet figured out what my ending would be.

But I was having fun, and I finished the first quarter of the draft within a couple of weeks.




Then came the middle.

God, the middle.

I began slowly, then quickly, realising I had no idea where I was going. Sure, there was a vague glint of something that I wanted to happen, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there.

I kept going anyway. I had my own personal deadline, and a prize for myself if I beat it (Sims 4 Island Living Expansion Pack, whaaaat). So I kept slugging through, but the draft was getting annoyed, kind of like this:



It wanted blood (in the form of plotting).

I’ll spare you the gory details, but the draft bit me quite a few times. It wasn’t fun. I did get through it, but I know that editing will be, well, more of the same. (Doin’ it all for the Sims).

Now that I’m through the middle bit, though, things are clearing up. While taking frequent writing naps (those are a thing, thank you), I began having those magical writerly epiphanies that made me remember why I went on this hellish journey to begin with. Somehow, through a combination of mid-draft plotting and writerly enlightenment, I was able to tackle it enough to make things manageable.

Despite the draft with teeth, I’m beginning to rethink my plotting needs in the future. Having an outline and knowing where to go is important, of course. I made the mistake of going too pantsy for this draft, but it made me realise the mistakes I made by being too plotty in my previous manuscripts.

In many ways, plotting every point took away the magic of that writerly epiphany. Everything was planned. Everything was black and white. There was no struggle. Tears were not shed. I never felt an ounce of self-hatred, or the highs of over-confidence. There was no feeling at all.

I think that, for me, too much plotting led to too little emotion, which led to boring manuscripts. Last I checked, agents, publishers, and readers don’t like boring.

I’m not saying that this happens for all plotters, but looking back, it did for me. So now it’s time to go back to my draft and wrangle it some more. Bleed, scream, claw, and pray it submits.

Then I shall ride away, much like this:



Fellow writers, what are your thoughts on the plotting vs pantsing debate?

4 responses to “This Is What Writing My First Draft Feels Like:”

  1. I am glad the experience was revelatory. Regarding pantsing vs. plotting, it is both and neither for me. I don’t quite plot: my outlines are wild-haired, unformatted text dumps in a file, which then are wrestled into shape. I wake up at night to feverishly jot down inspired thoughts onto a pad, then figure out later where they fit in one of my story structures.

    But I also can’t write with abandon, either. I can’t write drafts. Even with an intent of fixing later, I can’t let it be raw and untamed. I move slowly and linearly, polishing as I go, and if I get stuck, I’m stuck until it moves.

    Which is a good indicator that my methods are not terribly effective. It sounds like you’re getting things done.

    • Your process sounds a lot like mine. I have to constantly remember to allow myself to write garbage, but at the same time, plotting in the past felt tedious and seemed to take away the “spark” -_- Glad I’m not alone though! Hope your writing has been going well 😀

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