During my creative writing degree I had the following quote blue-tacked to my computer:

All first drafts are crap.

Oh yes, they sure are. I discovered how I write first drafts by screwing it up over and over again. How?
1. Editing chapters before the first draft was finished. (Stupid.)
2. Not researching before I started the first draft. (Stupider.)
3. Changing my mind a kazillion times and beginning first draft from scratch. Again. (Let me help you with that straight jacket.)

I now have a simple two-step process for getting through a first draft.

1. Research & Planning (approx 4-6 weeks)
My current book has a massive historical component as well as all the other random stuff that I need to become an expert in. This must come first. If you don’t research how are you going to know what to write or that what you are writing is even remotely possible?

My research includes reading a ton of similar fiction, textbooks, historical accounts, science blogs, news articles, modern scientific learnings and a field trip if I can afford it. All this information cooks up until I can start sketching out a plot and characters.

Eventually this turns in to planning and I can map out a list of scenes in order. This part is kinda fun but can also turn into one of those procrastination techniques. (You wanted another procrastination technique that you could pretend was writing didn’t you?)

2. Spew it out (approx 4-6 weeks)
I look at the list of scenes and start writing it from beginning to end with no cheating and no editing. (This is a tip I learned from Kim Wilkins and I found it to be true. Once I skip a hard scene, I’m not going back to write it later.)

I keep a progressive word count through the draft and I’ve learned that most writers do this. At this stage even if the writing is shocking and you are changing your lead from a ten-year-old boy to a seventy-year-old woman, at least you are still spitting out words.

The short time frame is really important too. If the draft drags out past the six week mark, the idea of re-writing and editing becomes way too tempting for me and I’m losing my concentration.

This is just how it works for me. I know people who re-write and polish chapter one before moving on to chapter two. I have tried this and it just about killed me. I can’t keep that much information in my head and I need more momentum than that.

Is this how you write first drafts? Think you can top my ‘first draft’ mistakes? Let me know.



  1. Wow, it’s like you looked inside my head and pulled out my thoughts. You didn’t did you? *quickly clears her mind of any incriminating thoughts, just incase*This is exactly my experience of first drafts. I even had Hemmingway’s quote stuck to my computer.I made the same first draft mistakes, but certainly others, too. One of my worst was not thinking about plot. I know. I laugh at myself now. Oh silly inexperienced Katherine. The plot of my mentorship ms actually started at chapter 15 (which had to be pointed out to me…) And writing fantasy without knowing enough about my world. My mind still boggles at the magnitude of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Bleh.Katherine

  2. I really enjoyed reading this entry,Kathleen. I fall into the trap of editing chapter at a time … grrr. But gradually learning not to do it. After 10 years!! (slow learner)

  3. From memory (which is always hazy), Sue writes like this. But she is lovely and brilliant and crazy! I’ve tried it and I suck. I’m telling you – write quick and you won’t have time to edit!!

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