Tag Archives: First Draft

So Many Notes

I just finished my first full draft of Book 3 of Swords & Fire last night (yay!). This morning I’m making an edit triage doc, and I thought it might be fun to make a quick writing process post on how many notes I make while drafting. (Spoiler: A LOT.)

For this draft alone (and there will be many more drafts), not counting the two restarts I did along the way (one of them 60K words in to the draft), I had the following supplementary notes files:

Initial brainstorming doc (20 pages): Contained rambly brainstorming, basically talking to myself on paper, with sections titled things like “Maybethot” and “Ruminating.”

Initial outline (26 pages): Contained an outline, to do list, and schedule, but also quickly deteriorated into pages of notes on ideas for ways I might change the outline.

Revised outline brainstorming (5 pages): Starts with a weird little poem in which I tell myself to get my act together and figure out what this book is really about, then some more really deep thoughts about theme and character arcs (This came before the pivotal moment when I restarted at 70K words and was kind of a mid-book crisis on paper).

“Midway Notes” doc (19 pages): Lots of brainstorming (lists of scenes, talking to myself,  character arc notes, through line notes, scene ideas, you name it), mostly focused on rewriting the first third of the book.

Version 3 Outline (20 pages): More organized list of scenes and what needs to be in them, with a space at the end to make notes about edit ideas I didn’t have time for now but would have to get in a later pass.

That’s 90 pages of (single spaced) notes for a 386 page (double spaced) draft. And there will be many more pages of notes for revisions, oh yes, let me assure you. (Like this edit triage doc, which breaks up edits I definitely want to get in before handing in this draft to my editor on Friday versus edits that can wait until next round.)

In writing this book, I found it particularly useful to talk myself through important scenes on paper before I wrote them, so my notes will be like “OKAY. So she walks in thinking X, and then Y is there, and it’s like OH NO! And then maybe Z happens, AAAHHH! And then she’s like OH NO YOU DON’T and then BOOM! Everything is on fire.” (Not an actual quote from my notes or scene in the book, but you get the idea. I like capital letters.) Then I have the major beats of the scene clear in my head before I write, and my first pass at it is less flail-y. So a lot of the page counts on my notes are me thinking through scenes or plot arcs to myself like that.

This all ties into how I answer the classic “plotter or pantser” question. I’m a plotter, in the sense that I make these pages of notes and outlines, but I’m also flexible and constantly reworking the outline and changing my plans as I go.

Everyone’s process is different, and mine even changes from book to book. But that’s been mine for this draft, anyway! And remember, kids, if you have a mid-draft crisis, never be afraid to restart. For me, at least, it always leads to a better book.


Reset to Save

I just turned in the first draft of THE DEFIANT HEIR, Book 2 of Swords & Fire, to my editor today! YAY!!!

BUT WAIT! Let’s walk that back. While this is the first draft Lindsey is seeing, this is not even close to the first draft I wrote of this book. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what draft it was. Because in the process of writing this book, I kept going back to the beginning so much, I might as well have been trying to fight the end boss with insufficient levels and mid-tier equipment.

And you know what? It worked out really well for me. So now I’m going to tell you about it, in case this is useful to anyone else.

My saved-off incomplete drafts look something like this:

Early drafts: 15K words

Middle draft: 70K words

Late draft: 125K words

Final “first” draft: 140K words

Weird, right? I KNOW! Here’s how that happened.

One different thing about writing this book was that since my publisher wanted to put a teaser chapter at the end of THE TETHERED MAGE, I had to get the beginning into really good shape very early in the process. So I wound up writing several drafts of the first 3 chapters before moving on to the rest of the book.

This was actually SUPER helpful. It gave me time to re-find the characters’ voices, feel my way into the story, and get some new characters and elements more solidified in my head before proceeding. It got the early, derpy, HA HA I’M JUST SPLASHING AROUND IN THE WATER I CAN’T ACTUALLY SWIM DURRRHHH stage of drafting out of the way.

After that, I was in a strong position to launch into the rest of the book. I forged ahead, pushing onward even when I hit a section that I knew I wasn’t nailing, because there was this pivotal sequence I was really, really excited to write and I just had to get there and get it out of my system. Both because I just HAD TO WRITE THIS PART, but also because it was SO pivotal that it was going to affect how I looked at the rest of the book.

After I finished that part, I was at about 70K words. I was halfway done—though at the time I thought it was more like 2/3, but that’s another story—and I was eyeballing that section I’d blown past which I knew wasn’t working. I had ideas on how to fix it, but they were story changes that would affect how the rest of the book would turn out.

It was a tough choice. Press ahead and finish a draft I could show my alpha readers, to get feedback while there was still time to act on it? Or go back and do some significant rewriting, so I could do a more final first pass at the rest of the book? It was especially tough because I had a deadline staring me in the face, and if I went back to rewrite, I’d miss the first draft milestone I’d set for myself.

I decided to rewrite. And it was the right choice. I had a much better sense of where I was going because I now knew where my characters had been. The new stuff I wrote when I caught up to where I’d been came out well on the first try.

Then I got almost done, and I hit another dilemma: I was writing the climax, and I was second-guessing my plans for the ending. I had ideas for more changes to that same @$!#$% section of the book that had given me so much trouble the first time around, and I also needed a sanity check on a few other elements of the book, and all of it might affect the ending.

So I sent the 95% complete draft to my patient alpha readers, with an incoherent email basically going “GUYS I DON’T EVEN KNOW IF THIS IS ANY GOOD WHAT IS HAPPENING I’VE BEEN WRITING ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND HAVE LOST ALL PERSPECTIVE HEEEELLLLP MEEEEEEEE.” And they were really awesome about getting back to me super quickly with encouraging noises and their thoughts on the various dilemmas I was facing. It gave me the clarity and morale I needed.

I had to go back and edit that one stupid section AGAIN, and then write the ending, and FINALLY I had a draft I could show my agent to get her feedback! It was much later than I’d wanted to get it to her, but… BUT… the draft I sent her was SO MUCH STRONGER than it would have been if I’d pushed ahead and finished that earlier draft instead of going back and restarting all those times. I’d worked through a lot of problems on my own, and the draft I sent her was in good shape and much closer to done. In the end, it SAVED me time.

So I guess my takeaway is this: Trust your instincts. If your instincts are telling you to go back and fix something before you keep going, DO IT. The rest of the book will be much clearer and better and more on track as a result, and you won’t wind up writing a bunch of stuff you’re just going to have to rewrite in the next pass. But if your instincts are telling you to press ahead, because you’ve got some other stuff you need to sort out first before you go back and edit, do that.

There is no magic in a completed first draft. It’s okay for the first complete draft to actually be the third, or the seventh. Or, hell, the fifteenth, if that’s how you roll.

This book will still go through a lot of revisions before it’s done. But I’m really glad I got some rounds of them out of the way when it was only 15K words, or 70K, rather than 140K!

The 15K Rewrite

First drafts are such a wonderful, magical thing, full of infinite possibility and the intoxication of the blank page. They are also, usually, crap.

There’s a good reason for this. We’re just getting to know the characters, find their voices, establish the story. Here’s an example of what the first several chapters of one of my first drafts might look like:

  • Let’s choke the voice to death trying to make it beautiful!
  • Who the hell are these characters? Maybe if they putter around for a while, I’ll find out.
  • Inciting incident… 2-3 chapters too late.
  • Now let’s talk about the inciting incident in such a way as to establish our characters! Because nothing gets you turning pages quite like establishing the characters.
  • Maybe we can talk about our backstories a bit, too. If we do it while walking around or eating breakfast, that’s not exposition, right?
  • Uh-oh, nothing exciting has happened for 4 chapters. ARBITRARY ACTION SCENE TIME!

…Yeah. Really gripping stuff.

But wait! By around 15K-20K, all this flailing around has actually accomplished something. I’ve got a sense of the characters and their voices. I’ve fleshed out the inciting incident and how it impacts them. I have a better sense of what their lives and goals were like before and how the inciting incident changes everything.

Time to start over.

For the past couple first drafts I’ve written, when I got somewhere around that 15K-20K mark, I opened up a new doc and tried again. This time, I was armed with a much better understanding of my characters and my story. I didn’t entirely throw out that first try — I brought the good parts over into the new doc — but I approached it like a from-scratch rewrite.

I can’t even tell you how helpful this was. Not only was that first quarter of the book immensely better, but I launched into the rest of the first draft after the rewrite with much greater mastery of the story. The first draft of the rest of the book was better for it. I’ve heard from other writer friends who’ve done the same thing, and they’ve generally been enthusiastic about the effect as well.

Right now I’m at around 16K on the first draft of my new WIP. I’ve just hit the point where I can look back at what I’ve written and go ugh, this could be better, and I know how. And I’m about to hit a really good break point.

It’s rewrite time.

Slow Progress Beats No Progress

I’ve been working on a new book lately, but the going has been slow because of pressing day job deadlines and other Real Life things. However, I have been trying to squeeze in at least a few hundred words a day. And I have been amazed at what a difference in my sense of creative well being, connection to and immersion in the new book, and overall progress those paltry 300-500 words a day have made.

In the past, I’ve often thought “Oh, I only have half an hour, it’s not worth trying to write. By the time I get into it, I’ll have to stop.” Now I’m seeing that while I still certainly prefer to write in long, uninterrupted chunks, every little piece of time I can spend writing is a gift I can and should accept with gratitude and use with care.

Of course, this is a first draft, and I’m probably going to throw out half these words anyway. But it feels good to get them down.