Why I Hate First Drafts

Hi, I’m Susan Kaye and I don’t like first drafts.

Most novelists love first drafts. The first draft of a novel is where, with each paragraph, you learn more about your protagonists and antagonists. You learn more about the plot’s twists and turns. It’s in the first draft you get a feel for what the story is truly all about.

I really hate that part of writing.

For most writers first drafts are wildly out of control. They are the high-blown, everything-but-the-emotional-kitchen-sink-heck–why-not-throw-in-the-kitchen-sink part of writing. Many novelists feel that this is the only time they have all the control over their story and so love this part. That’s why you find so many writers with lots of first drafts and few finished novels. The steps of editing don’t have the wildness to them that so many enjoy.

Comparing writing to building a house is not new. The creator of Story Engineering and Story Fix blog, Larry Brooks, gives an explanation of the difference between construction and architecture that is brilliant and worth the cost of his books. Over the past few years I’ve discovered that I have more control when all the foundations, framing, mechanics (wiring, plumbing) are in place. I need the structure to be done so that I can come in and do the decorating of narrative and character building.

Laura Hile is laughing right now because she knows that I haven’t painted my living room in over ten years and that home dec to me means rearranging the books on the bookshelf and shaking the dust off some ancient fake flowers on the end table. In real life, I don’t notice my surroundings so much. I live in my head. Fortunately, I have a family that is pretty much in-tune with that.


I do my best writing work with the bare walls of a story that is up-to-code structure wise. When all the ins and outs of the opening are in place, the defining moments of the hero’s journey are set, the black moments of imminent failure are lined up, and the twists of a good ending are finally figured out, then I can invest emotionally in fleshing out the characters. In any endeavor, prepping your surfaces is vital to a good outcome.

I’ve been working on Pleasant Days/A Plan of His Own Making/The Captain’s Consort/A Plan of His Own Making for several years. It’s a Persuasion What-if, pirate/smuggler/intrigue sort of story with Anne and Frederick meeting in 1808 instead of 1814. What I’ve found is that the ending was a mess and I ignored the entire work. I now have some ideas and am working both on the ending and pumping up the emotions of the beginning chapters.

If you read any of PD/APOHOM/TCC/APOHOM in any of it’s past incarnations, you may recognize this excerpt.  Well, bits of it. Things have shifted and morphed and it’s almost a mash-up of my own work now.

Scene: The year is 1808. Frederick and Anne are separated as per Persuasion. The Elliots are sailing for Ireland on, unknown to them, a smuggling ship. Frederick has  launched a plan to break a smuggling ring and get the notice of his superiors so he captures the very ship on which Anne sails. He only suspects that Anne might be aboard and an interview with her father leaves him with the impression this might be Anne, or her younger sister. This is from FW’s point-of-view.

The hurt and anger of that summer sprang to a full blaze when having to deal with her stupid and repellent father.

Wentworth had tarried below deck after leaving Sir Walter. No matter how she had treated him, she was of the weaker sex and he took a little time to steady himself before meeting her again. He had dismissed the guard and stood for a time studying her. His resentment had not disappeared, but was dealt a serious blow when he realised she was bound, blind, and completely helpless.

All her suffering was by his command.

Wentworth was sure the voice of the woman was Anne’s. This woman was Anne’s height, but more slight, more insubstantial than the Anne of his memory. However, it would not be unusual for siblings to look and even sound very much alike. It did not hold true for him and his brother, Edward, but they were often at odds with one another, and physical differences would only be characteristic.

If this was Anne Elliot, he wanted to either keep her ignorant of his identity, which he could do by not allowing her to view his face. Or, if he did reveal himself, he wanted her to understand his motives were not criminal, but ultimately ones that would bring him recognition and promotion.

His hand trembled as he reached behind her. It was impossible not to smell the musk of her fear that nearly obliterated the scent of her lavender-scented soap. Rough skin caught on the material of her dress as his ungloved hand moved down her back and stopped at her waist. The pitching of the ship forced her against him.  Whether this was Anne or not, it had been a time since he’d had the funds to buy some affection from one of Plymouth’s finer knocking shops and the feel of any woman pressed against him was agonizing. But if this was Anne …

There is hope I suppose.

So, if you’re not a wild writer and need the structure in place before you can really get to writing the story, you’re not alone. We all have different ways when it comes to putting words on paper and building our stories.

Let me know, are you a high-flyer who goes for broke in the first draft of life? Or are you a polisher whose best work comes after the heavy lifting is done?

Take care–Susan Kaye


9 thoughts on “Why I Hate First Drafts

  1. candymorton

    Haha! I’m like you, Susan, I haven’t painted my living room in over 10 years! That would take so much work and I have too many other things to do! 😉 Moving bookcases are a big stumbling block for me, oh and patching cracks. :/

    I’m not a writer but I have a feeling I would like a little structure I my writing! Maybe that’s wrong and why I can’t get started, I want it to be on a good foundation from the beginning.

    I love this Presausion what if/pirate story! I would really like to read more.


    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      There’s something to be said for a little polite “looking past the obvious.” I think there is also a reason many people who write have loads of MSs in drawers (in our age, files) that are not finished. When you throw a lot of emotional energy into the first draft, you come to a place where you’re spent and don’t need the release of finishing. I’m not saying you don’t throw yourself into the work, but I need to have the basic structure done so I know my emotional efforts aren’t going to be endlessly deleted and rewritten.

      If writing is an interest, Candy, keep trying. The walls will one day crumble and be gone, a story can go on much longer.


  2. Robin Helm

    I was stuck on chapter 2 of Accidentally Yours for 2 months, and I usually write a chapter a week. It just wasn’t working in my head. (It’s my head that’s empty – not my house. Ha!) I finally got past it last week, and I’m optimistic about smooth sailing for a while now.

    Relating to you on the dark side of home decor, Susan, I haven’t redecorated in at least 10 years. This is the year that I MUST do it. All of my floors have to be redone first. That’s going to be fun.*sarcasm*


    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      We have a 3-year-old running around the house so she’s our precious little scapegoat. Knowing us, we’ll use her until she’s out of high school.


    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Danielle. I’m 180 pages into APOHOM so I can’t quit at this point. Now, if I have a computer disaster and lose it all …


  3. Susan Kaye Post author

    I’m not really worried about that, I save in all sorts of places. I was mentioning this as it would be another scapegoat. “I lost it all in a computer crash … too devastated to try and rewrite it all.” *hand to brow for effect.*



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