First Drafts Suck

Why? Well, here are some reasons my draft sucks:

1. The story is boring.
2. The conflict is confused.
3. The characters are irritating.

As you can tell, I’m at the ‘they’re never going to want any more of this story so what’s the point in writing it’ stage. Sigh.

I always get to this point in every story I write and mostly when it’s the first draft, which is why I hate first drafts so much. I usually try and get them down as quickly as possible since I much prefer editing. I don’t know why I find them so tough. I think it’s probably because I’m a pantser by nature and so the plot kind of reveals itself as I go along. Oh, I know the character arcs and the emotional development of the story, but it’s the how that happens. The ‘what do the characters DO’ that gets me. She needs to learn that he isn’t like her father so what does he do to show her that? He needs to learn she won’t leave like his mother so what does she do? etc, etc.

I know, I know, just sit down a write without the internal editor going blah, blah, blah in the background. And believe me, I do that. But I still get the I can’t be bothered with this anymore thing happening.

Anyway, my usual approach to first draft suckage is to start a bright, shiny new idea which, of course, does not help because to get past the first draft stage, you’ve actually got to finish the first draft!


So far my best option has been to write ahead to a scene I particularly want to write and this is usually the black moment. Because I love writing black moments, doing this can be a really good way of getting things flowing and it’s fantastic for figuring out whether your conflict is going to work or not. In fact, skipping forward to writing the black moment for the Hammer Pants ms enabled me to see that my poor old bad boy wasn’t all that bad. He kept insisting that he was a b*stard and that he wasn’t good enough for the heroine and I kept wondering why that was since he actually didn’t have a past that would make him ashamed. Same with the Frenchman. In the story, there’s a choice that as an alpha male in control of his life, he probably would have made, except in my story, he doesn’t want to even make the choice. And I kind of thought I knew why, but it wasn’t till I’d written the black moment that I went ‘Ooooh, so THAT’S why!’.

So, anyway, that’s my tip for getting past the ‘bogged down’ stage in first drafts. Anyone else got any ideas? I’d be glad to hear ’em!

21 thoughts on “First Drafts Suck”

  1. I’m not sure who originally came up with this, but I like Susan Meier’s version of the list of 20.
    Ask yourself a question about the plot, characters, whatever and be as specific as you can. Not just “what will happen next, but “how can I get my hero to kiss my heroine?” A lot of them will be silly, but it will force your brain to go beyond the obvious.
    I had heard this idea before, but I’m really trying it a lot on this first draft not just for the direction of specific scene but to generate “oomph”, the details and complexity to the story to make it real for me.
    I’m writing 20 settings that I could use (like home, office, tree house, cave), 20 objects/details that might somehow have to do with the plot, 20 medical incidents (it’s a medical ;-)) and I find it’s helping me get excited about writing.
    I’m also trying to analyze why I love what I love in books, TV, and movies and spin on it. For example, I love the “not yet lovers” talking in the dark type scene. Wanting to reach out but not touching each other. I kept trying to write it but it sounded stale. Then I gave my Hero and Heroine walkie talkies from their childhood together and it sparked for me.
    Also I outline even though I hate it. I’m a wannabe pantser who realizes she is too mentally disorganized to handle it!
    I also didn’t get a chance to say on your last blog post that I loooved the Lymond Chronicles. I tended to not analyze but let it wash over me. It comes from years of reading books in Spanish and only getting about half of what is said.
    I’m saving Niccolo for when I don’t have small children and have more mental energy.

  2. Jill – I like the sound of those list of 20. Might go and have a play with that. Many of my issues stem from my pantser tendencies and in fact often, I get rid of my first draft since it’s the way I find out about my characters and conflict. I can’t think about it beforehand, for some reason it just doens’t work. But anyway, will have go at the list.
    Yay on loving Lymond!! There’s certainly something to be said for letting it all wash over you actually. Though I did love talking it over with my friend. And yes, you’ll need your mental energy for Niccolo. My God, those are even more convoluted!

  3. I got stuck a little while back and did lots of reading (aka procrastinating) about how I could get past that blockage and there were quite a few suggestions:
    * plotting (not your scene I know but it worked for me)
    * writing dialogue between your two MCs
    * writing a scene ahead of where you’re stuck
    * something called the Snowflake Method (google it because it’s too detailed to summarise here)
    * character sheets (not my cup of tea)
    * questions (like Jill suggested)

    There’s lots of methods and I guess you just have to find one that suits your style (of which you have tons 8P)

    Best of luck and stick with it, I’m positive it will be worth it.

  4. Elissa – writing dialogue and writing ahead both work well for me. And actually so does walking and having a shower. πŸ™‚ I should walk more often. Apparently one author recommended walking and not stopping until you’ve sorted the problem. It works!

  5. Showers def help. Seems most of the answers to my problems come to me when I’m washing my hair. Perhaps my brain requires water to work, kinda like the Acme products for Wile E Coyote.

    Cheers, Jackie, and good luck!


  6. Amy – another shower girl! Yeah, must be to do with the negative ions or something. I am probably guilty of having the longest showers in our house mainly because I just stand there thinking!

  7. I MUCH prefer writing a first draft, mine are usually pretty clean, which you may think sounds good but in reality it means that if I don’t get it right first time, I don’t seem to get it right at all.
    Anyway although you’re at that stage at the moment… at least you know you’ve been there before and it ALWAYS passes πŸ™‚

  8. RAch – yeah, I wish I could write a clean first draft. But I can’t. I get way too bogged down wondering if what I’ve got is righ. I HAVE to get it down fast or the whole thing stalls. Sometimes the whole process is difficult huh?
    I guess that’s why I’m okay with rewrites since that’s the way I do most of my mss – I’m constantly rewriting them!
    Oh and I’m fairly confident the stage will pass. Usually. Most of the time….

  9. I’m still working on refining my process. I view first drafts like lumps of clay waiting to get molded into something wonderful. Until the last couple years I’ve always considered myself a pantser. I hated to plot because I couldn’t see beyond a couple scenes. What saved me is a book by Blake Snyder. Save the Cat. It’s all about screenwriting, but a lot of novelists have adopted his techniques. If you outline your book before beginning, know the turning points, etc., it will save you a lot of rewriting. I still pants a lot of stuff. Amazing things come out of that, but the framework of the story is there. Goal. Motivation. Conflict. Nothing better.

  10. Cat – you’re inspiring me again. Stop it! πŸ™‚ That’s exactly what my first draft is like and I should start thinking of it like that actually. Lump of clay that I can mould. Love that image. Hmmm, should look at Save the Cat then you think?

  11. Amy and Jackie, showers, FTW!!

    I was stuck on my rewrite…*grumble* I felt like I STILL didn’t know my characters. Lisa Hendrix advised me to write a scene that would never be in the book. So I did. And that helped with my hero hugely. And then I started letting my heroine talk, rant, actually, to her parents about why she was the way she was, why her business meant so much to her. And it was like I just met her for the first time.

    Highly recommend that!

  12. I’ve just finished NaNo and agree the first draft does indeed suck! I’ve done the 50,000 words for NaNo and I’m just cranking up the word count to finish the first draft off. I haven’t read back through what I’ve written but I know it’s a load of rubbish! But it’s something I can improve on in future drafts. I am finding it hard going at the moment, though, so I know what you mean!


  13. Hi Jackie,

    Whenever I get stuck on a certain part of a story or just want to bang my head on the computer screen I always skip ahead to a scene that I am looking forward to writing. I know I will have to edit it later, but I find it helps to just do something (and its either that or clean the house!)

    Good luck on your manuscript!

    Emily Harper

  14. Someone mentioned that 20 question trick to me when I was writing my Nano (yes, I won, thank you very much). I totally saved me more than once when I had no idea what should come next.

    Now that I’m done, I’m going to have to look over the suckage that is my first draft and see just how bad it really is.

  15. Julie – Congrats on your Nano! Well done you. Yep, first drafts are sucky but you’ve got the raw material there and that’s the main thing hmm?

    Emily – hi there! Yes, skipping ahead is pretty much what I do these days when things aren’t going right. And actually, writing that scene tends to tell me what’s wrong with the one before.

    Julia – good for you re Nano! And hey, I bet you it won’t be as bad as you think. I tend to be quite surprised, after a first draft splurge, to read it back and find it not quite as awful as I thought it was. πŸ™‚

  16. I’m so incredibly late commenting that I have nothing to add. So instead I’ll be a parasite and suck up all the other great suggestions πŸ˜‰

  17. Also arriving very late (sorry). First drafts are just horrid. I actually used to send first drafts out (cringe) before realising everyone redrafted their work. But I was young and foolish in those days.


  18. i think someone mentioned it but i seem to have a few key or main scenes in mind and just ask myself (or my characters!) what do they need to do to get there? It helps so far. Though this is only my second ever novel i’ve written completely! You’re methods are more likely to work than mine πŸ˜‰

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