The Life Cycle of a Novel: Discarding the First Draft

At this point, I am delving somewhat into the realm of opinion rather than fact. The truth is, every author tackles that first draft in his or her own way. Do you outline first or just go for it? Having gone for it, do you keep writing until the end?

I do outline, at least roughly, but the story doesn’t come alive until you have words on the page. But I do not write my first draft to “the end.” I’ve tried, based on recommendations from other authors, to just plow through and get words on the page, but I find that at some point, those words stop making sense and stop being useful.

The first draft is an exploratory draft. It isn’t even a rough draft. I write until the foundation is insupportable. I don’t sweat the small stuff — [Note to self: Mention this in chapter 2] or [Note to self: Look this up.] are perfectly fair things to put in an exploratory draft (or rough draft, or really anything short of the draft I send my publisher).

But today I realized that I had gone left when I should have gone right. I am now hopelessly lost in the wrong state, and the only way back is to start over. That’s okay — this is what exploratory drafts are for. Actually, in the life cycle of this particular novel it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m going to have to step away from this novel for a couple of weeks due to the holidays, and while it would be nice to feel like I’m getting something done in the two days I still have left, in the grand scheme of things it’s not going to be a big loss. The thing I need to do right now is stop and think. Luckily, I have some built-in time to do that.

While I’m at it, I’ll write a new outline, one that incorporate the truths I learned from exploring this story. I’ll do a bit more research (just a couple of things that came up as I went along), and I’ll be ready to pick this up again after the holidays.

I feel good right now. Not because of what I’ve done — it’s rubbish, of course! But because I know what I need to do next.

Posted in ChitChat, My Writing, Tips for Writers.