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How bad is the first draft, really?

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labellamedia

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Hi!
    I've got a first draft that has solid plot and dialogue, but some real character development issues. My question is how different was that first draft from the final submission. A complete rewrite? Have you ever abandoned a first draft? If so, why?
#1 - July 31, 2013, 06:47 PM

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My final drafts have pieces of the first draft, but they have significant differences. It can seem daunting if you look at it that way, so I just take it one thing at a time (one chapter at a time, one character at a time, one scene at a time--whatever works for you and that particular novel).
#2 - July 31, 2013, 06:56 PM
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What Larissa said. And remember to keep a notebook handy. While I wouldn't suggest too much editing as you get that first draft down, listing thoughts and ideas for revision when you're "in the moment" is much easier than trying to go back and remember them all later.
Jean
#3 - July 31, 2013, 07:12 PM
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A first draft is whatever needed to happen to get to an end. My drafts change fairly significantly between first and second drafts, often with many scenes disappearing and being replaced by new, tighter scenes. My ending may be entirely rewritten. So might my beginning. Entire subplots may be reworked, too. There is usually much less change between draft two and draft three. But draft one is more about getting it down on paper and much less about getting it right.

I have scrapped and rewritten a book before, but it was because the book wasn't selling the way it was--not because it was a crappy first draft. It'd been polished more than that. But I know several people who have written a first draft, set it aside, and rewritten from scratch with what they learned the first time around. But that rewrite still counts as draft two, in my book. ;)

Holly
#4 - July 31, 2013, 07:13 PM

GraceRouth

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I can only speak from my own experiences, but I've written first drafts that were absolutely terrible (must abandon bad). That happened twice. The good news is that the words are never wasted. I learned so much with my "practice" books that I feel like it's okay that they're never going to meet the world (well, never say never, but at least for the moment). First drafts of subsequent books have been much better! So much better, that it's not completely overwhelming to write the second draft (don't get me wrong, it's still hard).

This being said, everyone is different! I have a critique partner who is on the first draft of her first book and it has moments of absolute brilliance. No two writers have the same process. And sometimes the level of commitment that a writer gives a project depends on how passionate she is for the story.

Best of luck!

Grace
#5 - July 31, 2013, 07:43 PM

Most of my books have been rewritten almost completely, at least once. Some of them multiple times. Magic Under Glass, my first published book, was pretty much scrapped and rewritten twice before it sold, and then went through some moderate edits after that with my editor where maybe only 25% was changed. My second book was rewritten almost completely after I got my editorial letter. Magic Under Stone, on the other hand, is basically a published first draft. I wrote it in a few months on a deadline and my editor loved it and sent it straight to copyedits. That freaked me out! But that is a HUGE anomaly. I expect to totally tear things up once, twice, three times...I have one book that is 70,000 words but all the new words I've written for it across various drafts probably total at LEAST 300,000 words.
#6 - July 31, 2013, 09:40 PM
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I rewrote The Power of Harmony three times, with major plot changes each time, and I do a ton of editing as I write (as in starting at the beginning every time I sit down at my laptop). For my WIP, I'm following my mentor's advice - at least have a framework of the story's plot line before you start writing. I don't think I could ever write a complete outline, but I am finding the writing a little easier with that framework in mind beforehand, and I also gave lots of thought to my characters before I started writing this one.
#7 - August 01, 2013, 03:49 AM
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After my first draft I knew I had major plot changes to make. Esp. at the end. So in the first revisions, my last chapters were first drafts. Now I'm in the second revisions with a completely new beginning and end. So now all those chapters are first drafts that will have to be perfected and tightened in the next revision. But on top of that, left me with certain things that need to be weaved in and foreshadowed in my other chapters, creating a domino effect. I expect/hope after this round there will be a lot less major changes.

But yeah, just expect your first draft to need a lot of changes. Not because it is bad persay, but because as you come to know your characters and plt, better ideas will come to you.
#8 - August 01, 2013, 07:26 AM
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I think the definition of "first draft" varies from writer to writer. Some spew the whole thing out at white heat in a couple of weeks. Those first drafts are bound to need lots of work, be a lot different from the finished version, and I view them as basically detailed outlines. I suspect the big advantage here is that a lot of the emotions are captured.

I do a lot of revising as I go, like jancoates said. So my finished version is not a WHOLE lot different from what I have when I finally write The End for the first time. BUT there's so much revision in that "first draft" that it both is and isn't a first draft. There's still a big difference between my final version and the very first words I ever wrote for each scene.
#9 - August 01, 2013, 07:30 AM
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Very interesting thread!

I write a chapter at a time.

I probably re-write each chapter between fifteen to twenty times! Then I move on, forgetting entirely about the previous chapter. Once I am entirely finished with the manuscript, I re-read the whole thing several times looking for grammatical/punctuation mistakes, ways to write a sentence in a better way, ways to stretch out the emotion of the moment, and inconsistencies in the flow of things. But I keep the basic plot and order of scenes the same.

Thanks for a great question!

#10 - August 01, 2013, 09:37 AM

My first draft is usually pretty bad too. It's usually at least my second draft when things come together and I start to figure out the story and the characters. As far as character development, I often don't have my characters fleshed out (especially minor characters) in the first draft. I don't usually do character checklists or anything, although I usually have a strong idea of who the main characters are and what they want before I write. But mostly, I get to know my characters through drafting. In fact, I recently read something (and I can't remember where) about revising being all about refining your characters and getting to know them better.
So I wouldn't worry if you still have character issues. You know your characters better now and can make them truer to your vision in your next draft.
Yes, I have rewritten a book from scratch.  It was daunting, but the book needed it, and I learned so much from the experience.
#11 - August 01, 2013, 09:41 AM
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When I compare my first draft and final, they hardly look the same. There are pieces of that first draft in there and a couple of scenes are untouched, but those are rare. And the first chapter rarely stands as is. Usually I have to write 20 or so first chapters before I fine 'the one'.
#12 - August 01, 2013, 12:58 PM
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My most recent book, I didn't think I'd changed very much from the first draft to the final one. But on a whim, I used the compare document feature in Word, and found that almost all the words were different! I don't feel like I changed the story into something else. The whole time, I was just making it clearer. But yeah, a lot changed!
#13 - August 01, 2013, 01:19 PM

labellamedia

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Thank you so much for all your feedback! I feel much better about it now. I know my plot is good, but there are gaps and missteps and I still like it soooooo on to the second draft. I'll do some character development exercises. I'm thinking a Match.com profile for each main character. That should be fun!
#14 - August 01, 2013, 04:19 PM

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My 1st drafts are significantly different than the versions that end up ready for submission. There are multiple versions, between 3-5, that go through plot changes and character development. Maybe this is because I don't have success outlining. When I work on a rough draft, though, I always make notes at the end of each chapter about things I need to revisit during revisions.
#15 - August 03, 2013, 07:46 AM
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'Perseverance, the secret of all triumphs.' - Victor Hugo

I met an author at a writers conference who said he writes a first draft and then trashes the whole thing. ( :aah - I know!) So when he starts his second draft he has a stronger vision of the story but isn't constrained by his first attempt.  :faint - Even writing it now makes me feel overwhelmed by his process, but it seems to work for him.
#16 - August 03, 2013, 08:24 AM

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For my first couple of novels, the first drafts read like they'd been written by someone recovering from a cerebral incident. Now, writing my 17th novel, the first drafts are much smoother.

The change came about by rereading my works after they'd been edited, proofed and published. I made a point of becoming familiar with my 'polished' self, the true final published version of my writing. By reading them, I was able to grasp the difference between that and my original raw first draft voice. Now I'm able to write a first draft that reads more like an advanced draft. It's a useful technique, though I could not have done it with my first book.
#17 - August 03, 2013, 08:15 PM
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My writing methods are much the same as Dionna's. I rewrite as I go, so my first draft ends up not really being a first draft, but no matter what advice you get here (this is such an interesting a varied thread) it only matters what works for YOU. Keep it up!
#18 - August 04, 2013, 08:01 AM
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My method is similar to Jan and Dionna. I rewrite as I go. I guess it's my journalism background, where what you turn in better be pretty well polished. That doesn't mean I don't revise or edit or add or delete. It just means my "first draft" is usually pretty smooth and cohesive.

I don't really outline though have had to for my WFH books (the editor likes to see them). I start with a general idea and then I mini-outline/brainstorm my way through the book. Sometimes I don't even know who the murderer is when I start a mystery.
#19 - August 04, 2013, 08:37 AM
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I write an exploratory draft. Depending on the book, it can be clean or messy. Most of my nonfiction and short stuff is extremely clean because I tend to revise as I go, have an outline if necessary. I've written two novels so far, and each has presented different problems that I've needed to work on. I suspect that every new book will challenge me in different ways.

Enjoy the writing and keep the drafts. Even if the final thing is nothing like the original, you will see the journey, the process. And sometimes it's nice to see how much you've improved.

Vijaya
#20 - August 04, 2013, 09:30 AM
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Every writer is different, and some books insist ( :flower ) on being written differently.

I write every draft as if it is the final one, as perfectly written as I can make it. Experience has taught me this is rarely (if ever, speaking for my work only) the case. Subsequent readings, feedback, and working with a good editor, will make it blatantly clear and make this writer shake her head at the previous versions, a la what could I have been thinking.
But when I write, I need to think the version I am writing is good and worthy.

As others said, work in a way that makes sense to you. I knew one writer, a very good one (my dad, a published essayist & poet) who insisted his first version was almost always *it*
So-
As long as you find how to work, don't worry about the countless testimonials you encounter suggesting this is the way you must work if you wish to do good work. Just do it.
#21 - August 04, 2013, 11:18 AM
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How bad? Seriously? My modifiers hang, my sentences plod, and my logic doesn’t compute. A does not lead to B or to any other letter of the alphabet.

The good news is–when I stash those manuscripts away for a few months, their flaws, inconsistencies, and lack of logic jump out at me.

By that time I’ve fallen out of love with the original idea and can see its warts, wrinkles, and basic bone structure.

If I still think there’s a germ of a good idea there, I revise and revise and revise and revise. Wash, rinse, repeat.

#22 - August 04, 2013, 12:15 PM
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