I have a first draft

So, a funny thing happened. I had predicted that, if I wrote 1,000 words a day for the six weeks of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I would reach about 97,000 words and, more or less, the end of the first draft of Hold My Body Down, my novel in progress.

But I miscalculated how much I would have to write before reaching the Dramatic Conclusion. I went right into it without much ado, and found myself typing the last lines of the novel last night, at around 80,000 words. (According to the word processor’s word count function, not the old 250-words-per-page method.)

(Sharp-eyed readers will note that this doesn’t quite equal 1,000 words a day from the time the Write-a-thon started, 23 days before. I had about 58,000 words then, so I wrote roughly 22,000 in those 23 days. There were a few days when it just wasn’t going to happen: four-hour bedtimes with my two-year-old, for example. Still, I managed to make up for those days by writing extra on some other days. I’m proud I’ve stuck that close to my goal.)

The fact that I got to the end sooner and in fewer words than I anticipated is a welcome surprise, for a few reasons. 80,000 words is novel-length but on the short side, which is perfect for a first draft, because I am one of those writers whose first drafts are shorter than their subsequent drafts. The first draft is all about plot and character, for me, so I might write “He opened the door” just to get the scene moving along. But in later drafts, I might change that to “The wood was so thick that even his heaviest knock made hardly any sound. He listened. Surely if she were inside, she would have answered. Unless, of course, she was unable to get to the door. He grasped the brass knob…” or maybe something less purple but you get the idea.

(Incidentally, you may have noticed that the second, fuller example is close third person point-of-view whereas the first is just third person, from a hundred miles up. So a lot of what I still have to fill in will help me flesh out my characters, and that in turn will help me smooth out the plot. It’s not just description for the sake of language and atmosphere, although of course that matters.)

That’s not to say there won’t be cutting in the second and third drafts. There will be blood. But I expect, nonetheless, that the final draft will have more words than this first draft.

Also, there are a few little self-contained scenes I have yet to write, to be inserted in various sections. So while I did reach the end of the plot, I’m not quite done. I might write a few of those now before I start the second draft, or I might just start again at the beginning and write them in their proper places.

This leaves me in a bit of a quandary when it comes to the Write-a-thon. I’m not sure a word count daily goal will work for me in the second draft. The second draft requires more care, a willingness to take the time where it’s warranted, so a day’s work might be a sentence. And then there will be other days when I whiz past whole scenes that need little work.

So I’m officially changing my goal for the remainder of the Write-a-thon. My commitment from now until July 24 (and beyond, I hope) is simply to do some work on the second draft every day.

And now a word or two about the book itself. Not much more, because it’s still fragile and private. It stayed within the very broad strokes of my very rough outline, although my outline kept changing as I went along. My characters surprised me in a few ways. There were betrayals I didn’t see coming. The basic “what” of the Dramatic Conclusion was close to what I envisioned, but the “who” and the “how” were a little different.

I have been jotting down a list of instructions to myself for the second draft. It’s a  long and daunting list. It includes such fundamentals as “make the mechanics of the fantasy make sense” with many more specific items about characters who are inconsistent or bland, or scenes that need recasting. So it’s going to be much more than a polish.

The third draft will be mostly about language.

I may type that one in from scratch, as Joe Hill does. That won’t be good for my repetitive-stress-injured wrists.

3 Comments on “I have a first draft

  1. Hi Kate, I found your blogpost interesting. Thanks for posting. I’m writing my first ever novel (which I’m looking on as a learning experience) after writing short stories for a couple of years. I’ve been writing approximately 1000(+) words for about 13 days and I’m now up to a (very) basically written 16000 words. Right now, I’m in the process of having a bit of a panic, because although I’ve got quite a lot of story yet to cover (and a lot of interplay between the various characters) I’m wondering how on earth I’m going to pad it all out to 80000 words. I don’t want to be repetitive, and I don’t want to drone on and on with endless description. At the minute, I’m thinking that I might end up with a novella length manuscript of about 50000 words, which seems pretty low. Again, like you, I’ve wanted to simply get the story down – the action, the characterisation, the motivation, the story arc – without worrying too much about the quality of what I’m writing. Basically, my question is, as you’ve been writing, have you found that it’s normal to have these doubts near the beginning of a novel, and does the story develop more than you think it will as you continue to write? Questions, questions!!! Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Sally! Good for you! My advice (for what it’s worth) is to just write without thinking too much about word count in the first draft. If it turns out to be a novella, well, then that’s what it is. Or you can add another plot line, and/or point-of-view character, to flesh it out if it feels too thin at that length. If you really want to have a sense of what your final word count will be (and I get it – I’m the same way) then you can always do an outline with word-count estimates attached to each scene. But I’d suggest that being too rigid about that would be a mistake.
      Another factor is the kind of drafter you are. Some people consistently write too much and have to cut in the second draft. Some (like me) write very skeletal drafts without much description, or inner voice for the characters. My stories tend to grow with each draft.

      • Kate – thanks for responding, and the advice. It’s all reassuring. I think that, like you, my instinct is to pad out the story later. I don’t want to spend too much time drowning in the finer detail when, in the first instant, I want to get the plotline down. Hopefully, I can expand on everything else later! A whole first draft (as you have done) will be an achievement in itself for me. Thanks again, and I’ll be following your posts 🙂

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