Having sent my latest novel off to my agent a couple of weeks ago, I’ve enjoyed not writing anything. I’ve caught up on emails and admin but haven’t quite managed to do all my book-keeping—surely that can wait! But I have the urge to write again, to start the long and bumpy process of writing a first draft of a novel, based on an idea I’ve had in my head for months.
I’m still warming up though; I need a new notebook, I need to tidy my desk, I need to wait for one of the days when my 4 year old is at kindy because starting a first draft requires a whole day of concentration, as well as new stationery! But thinking about starting to write again made me reflect on the process of writing a first draft of a novel. It’s a very particular process, or at least it is for me.
So I’ve made an infographic which summarises the 8 stages I go through when I write a first draft.
Stage 1: Finding a Voice
I think this is the hardest part of a first draft. It can take weeks of writing little short scenes, trying out writing prompts and exercises, and reading other novels. This is the slowest part of the first draft and, for me, the least rewarding. It’s where I really have to push myself to sit down and write. Until, one day, I write a piece and I know it has the right voice. I know it’s the sound I want my novel to have. And then I’m off and writing.
Stage 2: Groping in the Dark
Having a voice is all very well but what about a story? I always begin my first drafts with the barest bones of an idea about a character, but with no real notion of what this character might do and certainly no clue as to what the plot might be. I’ve been getting better at trying to combine my pantsing approach to writing with a bit of plotting, using tools like Scapple and Scrivener, but there is still a very real period of groping blindly along, trying to find the one grain of sand on the shore that has a glint of magic about it.
Stage 3: The Surprise
This is literally like bumping my head while I’m lost in the dark of Stage 2. I will suddenly write a scene which begins to show me what my story could be. Or a new character appears, like the character of Selena in my first book, a character I had never planned to write, but who brings the book to life in an unexpected way. Surprises are exciting and to be cherished; I love it when I reach this stage of the first draft.
Stage 4: The Fireworks
Once I get to The Surprise, the story begins to unspool, to reveal itself to me. I go along for the ride, typing as fast as I can in the hopes that I can grab hold of the words before they disappear. There is a lot of joy in this stage of writing; in fact, there’s nothing I would rather be doing and interruptions like having to eat are most unwelcome!
Stage 5: The Doubt
Following hard on the heels of The Fireworks comes that inner voice of doom I’ve written about before, the one that tells me my plot is full of holes, my characters are boring and derivative, my writing is lifeless and dull. It’s really just a matter of pushing on past this stage, writing on regardless, knowing now, after having grappled with it in each of my books, that I can get the better of it if I just ignore it until …
Stage 6: A Glimpse of the End
In this stage, I know I am nearing the end. I know I can make it and it gives me a surge of fresh energy. It gets me over the doubt and my word count accelerates here because all I want to do is get to that very last page and be done with the stress of the first draft.
Stage 7: Typing THE END
This is cause for celebration. Finishing a first draft is a huge accomplishment and many people who want to write books never make it to the end of a first draft. I know that I now have a story; I have a plot and I have a set of characters. I’m walking on air, until I remember …
Stage 8: Now I Have to Redraft!
I actually like redrafting, although the thought of doing it immediately after finishing the first draft can be daunting. I feel more secure when I redraft as I have a story I can make better. But the redraft is a process unto itself and requires an entirely new infographic, which I will bring you in a couple of weeks, if you enjoy this one.
But what about you? Do you go through any of these stages when writing a first draft? Or do you have a different set of stages? For those who don’t write, is this what you imagined writers would do when they wrote the first draft of their book? Let me know in the comments below.