The First Draft Run Through Blues…

What do you do when you pour your love, sweat and soul into a first draft, and on read-through it looks terrible? If you’re me, you have a huge confidence crisis, rue the day you ever told anyone (let alone the internet) that you’re a writer, and then oscillate between feeling sick about wasting so much time on the page and wanting to put a match to the whole thing.

Fortunately the rough draft is still in tact, and I’m at least on the right path to putting this into perspective. So in a physician heal thyself type of way – this is how I’m trying to handle the jandal.

1. Emotional Space.

I’ve always been told that you should give any kind of critique a few days to sit (even if it is your own), so the emotion can settle down and you can make an objective evaluation. I can’t speak for other writers, but the creative side of me has a flair for drama, or if I’m honest – melodrama. I’m either on track and loving the process:

OMG these characters are amazing – and I so didn’t see this coming. This is awesome!!!

Or the whole thing seems hopeless:

The whole thing is drivel. And I still can’t understand the comma rules…

Even as I write this, I realise the emotional sting is fading and I will be able to do something with this draft. I’m neither brilliant nor horrible, just a writer on a journey.

2. Identify the Positives.

There must be a reason I’ve plugged away at this for so long. There are bits that work. Obviously not in the way I need them to yet – but that’s what reworking is all about. There are a few characters that shine, one subplot that’s working beautifully and an ending that’s worth putting in the time to get the start right.

3. Is there a Quick Fix? (Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water).

Often there isn’t much difference between a strong scene and one that misses the mark. I see this most often when I’m beta reading or critiquing for others (because I’m usually having a moment when it comes to my own work). Which means with a few small changes the scene can really shine.

For example the biggest issue I have with my WIP at the moment is the opening chapters have good character development and world building, but instead of exploding out of the gates, the plot is still warming up doing stretches somewhere. Yet I know in this day and age hooking the reader early is essential.

If I were counselling someone else I might ask if there was some incident I could drop into the earlier chapters that would tie into the plot and give the start more momentum. And with a great sigh of relief I can already think of a few interesting possibilities.

4. Develop Stamina.

Writing is not for the faint hearted. At the end of the day you need to find a way to keep going. There will be edits, rewrites, plot bunnies and one day when the dream of publication happens – there’s always the joy of public critique. That’s how it is. I wish my WIP actually reflects the story in my heart – but it is going to take time, effort and determination to make it happen. So I’m digging deep. I’ll still be here next week. Writing.

5. Draw Strength from Others.

It helps to know others have gone before and overcome the obstacles. They’ve written at odd hours, learned the comma rules (or found an understanding editor), survived the criticism and have created something beautiful. Although I am in awe of those rare creatures for who the journey to publication is easy, I’m more encouraged by people who have endured the hardships of learning the craft and have triumphed. So I read author blogs, aspiring author blogs, articles – and I don’t feel quite so alone in this journey.

6. Set a Course for Adventure.

I was reading Victoria Grefer’s awesome blog, Creative Writing with the Crimson League this morning and she seemed to sum it up perfectly:

Let me tell you, you have to find an adventure that makes trudging through the struggles and the challenges worth the pain. You have to be on as great an adventure as your characters are, or you’ll pack it up and go home. Believe me.

I’ve done that. I wrote 100 pages of a novel once before I gave up…. Because there was no adventure. Nothing was happening. While I liked the characters, I didn’t like what some of them were doing, and I didn’t see how their actions would lead me to where I saw a possible adventure I could really invest in. So I started over, and began with the adventure itself, instead of trying to paint a background for it. That was one of the best writing decisions I’ve ever made!

And I realised for me, like Victoria, writing fantasy is an adventure. And adventures are exciting, captivating and always moving forward. My WIP is an adventure – something happens and my characters are all pulled into something bigger than themselves. If I can connect with that sense of adventure from the outset things might be very different.

Honestly, when it comes with dealing with the first draft blues I suspect the only answer is to write a great, polished final draft.

How about you? I’m sure I don’t have all the answers – I’d love to hear how you deal with first draft disappointments.

20 thoughts on “The First Draft Run Through Blues…

  1. *Warning: Reply includes kick in the butt.* :-p Suck it up, Buttercup. First drafts are supposed to be bad. Really bad. It’s what they’re meant for. We push through them, letting the shite fly, good, bad, or indifferent, knowing full well what we’ve put down on those pages may very well come back to haunt us, all so we can reach ~Finis~. Then, deep breath, stick it in a drawer.


    Wait a little longer.

    Have some chocolate.

    Now, take it out and have at it. (And have some more chocolate.) Because this is time to kill your darlings, and whip that first scary draft into shape.

    It’s like creating a sculpture. You start with a wire form (the first draft). It looks only remotely like the finished image in your head. It’s twisted, ugly, ungainly. You start to add clay, fleshing it out, adding here, subtracting there. It starts to take shape. It begins to look like you imagined it could. You work on it some more, now you’re adding details, smoothing the bumping parts. It’s almost complete. Then suddenly, you’re polishing and it’s there! The image you held onto from the time you first wrote, “Chapter One”.

    Congratulations!! 🙂

    1. I know first drafts are ugly – but it can still be a bit of a shock. I think I was holding on to the delusion that it was better than it was… Butt kicking thoroughly deserved.

      1. It is most likely better than you think. You just have to find those parts and brush them off. 🙂

  2. Oh, yeah, I could use a match. That would make me feel better. Just kidding. Great tips. I am doing this on my first draft right now. Just reminding myself, it’s not as bad as I think, It’s not as bad as I think.

    1. I hoped it helped – I think it’s always good to know you aren’t the only one who goes through it. I’m sure it’s not so bad either. Best of luck pushing through!

  3. I read blurbs to my write club. Since I’m reading the parts I’m least uncomfortable with, in whatever voice I’m hoping to acheive, they usually get good responses. It helps bolster my confidence a bit.

    1. A great practice. Maybe that’s why I’ve been a bit wobbly – our writing group hasn’t been meeting over the school hols – and I do miss their encouragement. I know I should be able to deal with this myself (and really I know I will keep going) – but it is much easier when you have support.

  4. That’s why you edit as you go. I use what I’ve previously written and edited as inspiration to continue. Or sometimes I just put extra time into scenes I really like.

  5. My answer to first draft blues is “beta readers”. If I can’t tell whether my newest MS is a best-seller in the making or a pile of rubbish, I ask other people to tell me what they think. But – and I know you’re not at this stage yet – the biggest confidence crisis I had was when I started querying – and getting rejections. It is a bumpy road, my friend! 🙂

    1. I agree about betas – I realised (doing betas for other people) that it doesn’t take much to change a scene that isn’t working well into a great scene. So I’m looking forward to getting to that point where somone else can feed in. It’s more big picture structure – which can be overwhelming when you’re dealing with multiple POVs. I also know I’ll have more time in February hopefully when the children are back at school.

  6. “And I still can’t understand the comma rules…” …they are the little squiggly banes of my life!

    And yes, I can relate to the rest, too. The ups and downs, the fears, the frustrations. I am (hopefully) just now pulling out of a low period where I think everything I’ve ever done is pathetic.
    You know what my characters did last night to reward me for starting writing again? They decided to drop no less than five things on me WHILE I WAS DRIVING. Important things, too. I could have killed them all right there, save that that would leave only one very unhappy and hopelessly alcoholic protagonist. Usually I have trouble remembering three things for more than a few minutes, so I reduced the ideas to their essentials and repeated them over and over again until I got to my destination, then wrote them all down. In the meantime, I forgot one of them.
    Thankfully, I woke up to a tornado warning in the wee hours of the morning and while I sat in the closet waiting for the sirens to stop, I remembered the fifth one.

    And here you are reminding me why I put up with this. Thank you. 😉

    1. I’m so glad you could find the positive in waiting out the tornado siren – it sounds terrifying. Don’t you love your characters – mine seem to love long car trips too. Well done for remembering all 5 things!!

      I’m glad things are picking up for you though – as you know I absolutely understand the rollercoaster of writing. Hooray for having a writing community – because only other writers get it. Happy writing!

      1. The warnings are no terror. We have them too often for that. They certainly get my attention, though. I love our storms, but I have no love for the tornadoes.
        🙂 I do love my characters, very much. Their liking of car-trips usually isn’t a problem because I only get two or three things at a time. I can manage that much. Five was just cruel!

        Makes me wish I liked roller-coasters. 😉 Happy writing to you as well!

  7. I think that since i started writing exclusively on the computer, my first drafts are never rough. I don’t just sit own and write through from beginning to end, I edit as I go. This occasionally makes the writing slower, but since I am re-reading the whole thing and editing along the way, my “first draft” ends up being remarkably similar to my finished product. Maybe I am just goofy that way.

    1. Sounds like a good kind of goofy. I’m probably somewhere in the middle – I write slowly because I also like to edit, but I’m also unrealistically frustrated when it isn’t what I want it to be. I’m working on it.

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