09 March, 2012

First Draft Blues

The first draft of my novel finally came together this week. Normally, I would leave a draft to stew for a while, but for various reasons I need to crack on with this a little bit and so I read the whole thing the following day. Reading a first draft is depressing, isn't it? Perhaps it's not for you; maybe your first drafts are a delight. But for me, there's that moment when I have to face the fact that the first draft - novel or short story - is not a masterpiece of literature. Of course, I always know it's not going to be, but I like to cling to the hope that I might read it and discover it's the best book ever written without needing any editing or re-structuring. Alas, yet again, I find that my draft is going to take a lot of work to even begin to resemble a book, let alone a masterpiece.

It's been odd writing an adult novel after writing a children's fantasy adventure. Where are all the sword-fights, snowstorms, strange creatures and daylight robberies? I enjoyed the process, but in a really different way this time. It wasn't as fun, but it was more satisfying in other ways. Despite that, I've been feeling down about writing this week. Maybe it's just the realisation that I'm not the next [insert name of great author here], or maybe it's just that end-of-project feeling, or maybe it was just that I've promised myself I'm going to read Ulysses soon. Whatever it was, I'm grateful to both God and the ChocLit publishing company for helping me snap out of it today.

I know I'm meant to write. Don't get me wrong - I don't know that I'm meant to be a successful writer, but that's a different thing altogether. Not only do I feel that it's what God wants me to do and what I love to do, but a pastor from New Zealand who had never met me before and knew nothing about me, randomly pulled me aside in a church service and told me that God wanted him to tell me to keep writing because I have what it takes. All the same, it's hard to remember that feeling of purpose some weeks, isn't it? I finally pulled myself together this morning and promised God I'd stop moping and get on with it, and I instantly knew something positive would happen today. Nothing has happened with my writing for weeks and weeks - no feedback, not even a rejection - but this afternoon I got an e-mail from ChocLit telling me that my short story is shortlisted in their current competition (results on 10th April). It's not a Booker Prize nomination but it'll do for me. It put a smile on my face and a spring in my... erm... pen, for the time being anyway.

If you could read back your first drafts and find you've managed to write something that was comparable to an established author, who would you want to be compared to? (Of course, you want your own style, not someone else's, but humour me here...)


  1. (Pauses to pat fellow writer on shoulder...) I still have some of my first drafts and the very first one of the very first book sucks like a lemon tester on overtime. We're so used to a world of instant gratification and push button satisfaction. How marvellous then to have a craft that demands the very best out of us, in gradual stages, to produce the best writing we can. Celebrate the fact that you've made it to base camp. And now the real work can begin! (Distant echoes of villainous laughter and a scratchy pen...)

  2. Congrats on the short story nomination! Great work! Also, I certainly know how you feel about drafts--I'm having some dissolute feelings after reading my full second draft. It's really great that you knocked this draft out so quickly, so keep positive. You'll discover a bit of magic that you never initially intended, that that'll keep you go going, draft after draft.

    Enjoy this time--you've gotten some great wins!

  3. No craftsman is ever truly satisfied. Lord knows how many good or promising books/stories have been consigned to the bonfire or recycling sack. Never make that mistake, and thank your lucky stars that you have the staying power to get through a first draft (unlike some of us, whose initial enthusiasm gives way to apathy and guilty neglect!) You can write well; you KNOW you can write well. So congrats on another short-story success,and remember to be a little bit proud. Ceve

  4. You're so lucky that you've had God's obvious encouragement! External too! This despairs me somewhat- as I've had nothing more than a whisper, but then again, God has been like that to me all my life. Especially when I've had no recognition either when it comes to writing comps. I wonder if I'm doing the right thing - constantly. I don't care if I'm never successful - if it's what God wants. But sometimes I wonder if I'm going in the wrong direction - that I've second guessed him wrongly.
    You're so lucky that God has set your direction clearly and that you're getting recognition too! Well done.

  5. It's a cliche, but God does work in mysterious ways. Sometimes we get a message, sometimes we don't. Other times he knows we're on the right path and lets us get on with it at our pace.

    The competition news is great, so keep going.

  6. Thanks everyone. Warm and glowing feelings!

    For quite a long time I had no confirmation from God and felt really bad about "wasting" my life concentrating on writing. I just had to trust that it was right, and so often I was sure I'd 'misheard' (I only get whispers too, usually, Freya). So it was such a blessing to get confirmation from that pastor. I still wonder whether I'm doing the right thing so often, but it gives me something to hold on to. Though, God hasn't promised I have what it takes to be a published writer! But whatever He has in store for me must be right. (And cliches are usually true, Martin).

    Thanks Derek. You're dead right - I sometimes ask God why he can't just fix a publishing contract for me and He always says because I'd hate not to have to work for it.

    Ceve - Stephen King threw away the beginning of Carrie because he thought it was awful. His wife found it and pulled it out of the bin and made him carry on and it was that book that made his name!

    Andy - does this mean you have finished your second draft completely now?! Exciting! Your encouragement has been a ray of sunshine over the last few weeks!

  7. Congratulations on the shortlisting! And even the biggest Booker Prize winners started somewhere!

    While I would love to write genre fiction as well as Stephen King I wish I had the language craft of Barbara Kingsolver. When I read The Lacuna I couldn't help but keep reading passages out to people because they were simply perfect.


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