Monday, August 2, 2010

Completing a First Draft

Finishing one of these bangles only means
there are more waiting to be made
There was a blog entry today over at The Alchemy of Writing that asked about our reactions to being finished with a first draft.  The author of the entry described his elation at the moment he completed his draft, being overcome with a rush of nervous, active energy.

Me, I'm a bit different.

I'm about a day or two away from completing Draft One of the first of several MG Steampunkish stories.  My Draft Zero has been printed out and those pages have been marked up with my trusty red pen and I'm in the process of keying in those changes.

So how do I feel? Elated?  Nah.  Filled with energy?  Nope.  One step closer to being done?  Yes--but with qualifications.

As I've mentioned before, my wonderful wife is a jeweler.  She makes beautiful gold and silver jewelry using precious and semi-precious gemstones.  Shortly after we were married she convinced me to try wire-wrapping.  I did and eventually started making bangles like the one you see above.

My wife and I had very different approaches to completing a piece.  To my wife, each piece was an individual work of art, and as such, was never completed.  Her favorite line about this is, "An artist never finishes a piece, they merely surrender it."  To me, the bangles were not individual artworks, they were something I made in a one-mass assembly line process.  Completing one bangle simply meant there were more bangles to make.

(Yes, they're pretty.  Yes, they were reasonably priced.  Yes, we sold a lot of them.  Yes, I'm appreciative of every bangle I made and sold.  And, yes, I'm very glad I haven't had to make any of them this year)  (knocks wood)

My response to finishing my Draft One of the Steampunkish story isn't quite as bleak as my reaction to finishing a(nother) bangle.  I do see the story as something much closer to a work of art than something cranked out on the assembly line.  However, it is still something I'm referring to as a Draft, not as a finished manuscript.  There's the problem I have with the first five to ten pages, there are my questions about the end, there's a serious uncertainty about the two chapters that lead up to the climax...

In other words, it's one step closer, but I recognize that it's just that: a step.

I'll send it off to my beta readers early this week.  As responses start trickling in, I'll send out my list of follow-up questions.  When those come back, I'll review each of them, make some decisions and do some further editing.  Then it goes back out to a few of the beta readers for their take on the changes.

One step in an entire march of steps towards getting to a point where I can "merely surrender it" with a reasonably clear conscious.

How do you respond to completing a First Draft?  Any sense of elation?  Pride?  Do you have any celebrations?  I'm curious to know what you do.

-- Tom


  1. Whew, I'm with you. Finishing the first draft is really just the beginning. It's wonderful to write with "no rules," letting everything flow during a first draft. Then, reality sets in and there's a lot of work to do!

    Thanks, Tom!

  2. Nice, Tom.

    I think part of it, for me, is just that I've been pouring out this energy into a book, day after day. I produce this energy, it goes into the book. And then I finish. And the energy is still coming. What do I do with it? I have started right into the next draft, at times, which can work. But sometimes you need some space so you can see it clearly.

  3. How do I respond to finishing a first draft? Take a breath, send it off to trusted 1st readers, then get moving on the next one.

    Congrats on your 1st draft!

  4. Marissa: I tend to edit as I'm writing that Draft Zero. Sometimes I'll take a quick look at what I wrote the day before to put myself back into that writing voice and see words, phrases, sentences that need to be changed. Other times, the next day I'll realize something was completely wrong and I'm antsy until I can get back to my WIP and make that correction. (I threw out most of a chapter a few days before reaching Draft Zero on this one/ I realized my MC reacted in a way that was completely out of character and it needed to go)

    Thanks for commenting!

  5. Bryan: Thanks for the initial inspiration.

    After I've sent out a First Draft to my beta readers I usually take a few days off and attend to things I've been putting off for several weeks while I've been pushing to get that First Draft finished. I've done enough editing along the way so I know the story is in roughly the right shape. Other things, like the yard, the laundry...those things usually aren't in the right shape any longer and need a bit of attention.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Mohamed: The Victorian-era writer, Anthony Trollope, wrote for several hours every morning. Apparently, if he finished one book in the course of his morning writing, he picked up a new, clean piece of paper and started on his next book without missing a beat.

    I've found I need a few days to clear out all of the echoes of the story I just finished before I can turn my full time and attention to the next story. Besides, things around house usually needs some attention as well. :)

    Thanks for the congrats. Write well.