Surviving a First Draft

As a writer, the spark of inspiration comes and goes. In its infancy, an idea is all potential, unmarred by doubt, criticism, or even logic. Untitled (the usual name for an idea) always seems like a potential best-seller.

Very few ideas make it from infancy to adulthood, though. Some of them shouldn’t. I have at least twenty bad ideas a day, minimum, and my kids more. Then, there are the good ideas that don’t make it. It’s hard to keep the spark of inspiration alive long enough to see a book through. Everyone has a different strategy. I try to draft quickly before the spark dies and I realize my idea really stinks. I seldom share my work in early stages. Sharing work in small chunks makes sense in some ways, but to me, protecting the spark is more important than filling plot holes early on.

It’s tempting to send a manuscript out too early. If you like what you wrote, there’s the “Look what I did!” feeling. Conversely, if you don’t like what you wrote, you might hope someone else can help fix it. But let’s face it, in its teen years, a manuscript has bad skin, awkward social skills, and definitely doesn’t listen. An honest critique partner, usually points this out. As the author, I know it’s probably a mess, but I can still see all the potential it has. For me, it’s best to just make a coffee and huddle over my keyboard enjoying the spark of inspiration while it lasts. When it finally burns out, I hand my flaming heap of a manuscript over to a few lucky individuals.

I’m sort of massacring this month’s theme: sparkle. I meant to go from spark to sparkle, but I don’t think I’m going to get there. Just close your eyes and imagine glitter for a moment. Moving on…

I currently have three manuscripts in different states of development. It’s been a rough go of it with these ones. I’ve been writing my butt off to meet deadlines in stolen moments every day. Feedback on my drafts has been mostly of the spark-extinguishing variety: “I hate your main character” or “I don’t think you know how to write a romance novel” (They caught me on that one. I don’t know how to write a romance novel, but who was I to say no to a contract!?)

After bad comments, it takes me a lot of chocolate, a few glasses of wine, and some Netflix binging to fan the spark of inspiration back to life. Writing through to the end after being clobbered can be painful. It requires a lot of fortitude and self-discipline. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, especially with three actual kids, no babysitter, and faltering confidence (inevitable). Those moments pass, though. I’m optimistic that the books will turn out okay. If writing a book is anything like real parenting, I might look like I’ve been through hell, but the kids always look perfect. Hopefully, the same principle holds true in book writing.


12 thoughts on “Surviving a First Draft”

  1. So true, Sam. Can’t speak to the kids part, but those early manuscripts…OMG. There’s a lot of Clearacil between first draft and final publication, and even then, sometimes concealer is required. Good luck with the three manuscripts. I know you’ll pull it off and make it look easy. You always do!


  2. First, I don’t kn ow much about writing romance either – that’s why a dead body always crops up (answering the question “But what are they going to do?”). Second, you are so right about early drafts. The are all too often pimply and obstinate, leading you to wonder why you did this in the first place.

    But third, and maybe most important – you will get there! Despite the kids and everything else. Because you are a great writer and I have absolute faith in you. Sparkle on, sister.


  3. Good luck with your manuscripts, Sam! It seems that the real work of writing begins after that initial spark of inspiration fizzles out, when you’re the only one who believes in your project enough to see it through. And, boy golly, do you need to have A LOT of faith! But it’ll be completely worth it, and your manuscripts will grow out of their Ugly Duckling phase 🙂


  4. Nothing chilled my heart as a mother as those words spoken from my teenager, “I have an idea.” I marvel at your ability to work on three stories. I’m currently muddling through an outline of one story and waiting for notes from my editor on another (finished, I hope) book. There is a third story beating inside my head but I’m telling it to quiet down until I get the outline finished. As for the fleeting ideas, I write a quick note and drop them in a box to look at some other time. Good luck!


  5. First of all, don’t listen to the negativity issuing forth from the comments you’re hearing. Instead, translate them into what it was that made those critiquers say such things. Keep plowing ahead! Good luck on those 3 manuscripts and 3 kids. You can do it.


  6. Thanks for all the support, ladies! I didn’t mean to be such a downer. I’ve definitely been stuck in the muck, though, of late.


  7. Love this! Love everything you said. My goal for my next one is to blaze through the first draft in record time. I’ve heard it’s easier to keep timelines straight and plot holes for opening in unexpected places.

    Three manuscripts would bury me, so more power to you!


  8. I’m with Keenan … I can’t imagine keeping so many stories juggling like that. I’m much more compartmentalized. In fact, when our first kid was born, I was a big, sloppy mess of waiting while hubs was a whirlwind of activity. I never knew that you could fill up a sink with soapy water, put the dishes in, then put the baby in the snugli and vacuum, then fold a load of diapers before getting back to the sink. Mind BLOWN!

    Self discipline is your salvation, though. I have faith in you!


  9. I’m in the midst of a first draft too and it’s hard. I started off so strong and now I’m struggling with the third act. Blech.


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