In this latest post chronicling the writing of This Sacred Isle, I'll be looking at writing the first full draft of the novel.
“The first draft of anything is s**t.”
Yes, you’ve probably seen the Hemingway quote before – rather blunt, perhaps, but he is bang on the money. Do not expect perfection – or anything close – on your first draft, do not even seek perfection. Your task is to get down as much of your story as you can; there is plenty of time for revising later.
Using my treatment as reference, I worked through the first draft of This Sacred Isle without stopping to polish or edit anything other than obvious spelling mistakes or typos. As motivation, I set myself a monthly word count target of 15,000 words (which roughly equates to 500 words a day). This was a stretching objective but one I was confident I could achieve, which indeed I managed to, producing the first draft of ‘This Sacred Isle’ (90,000 words) in six months.
What is my writing schedule? Well, it varies but I always remember the maxim ‘never a day without a line’ – this goes to the heart of one of the most important challenges when writing a first draft: you must sustain the momentum. Like many writers, I also work full-time, so seldom enjoy the luxury of a whole day concentrating on writing. However, I do try to take advantage of any small window of opportunity for writing and this was certainly true when I was working on This Sacred Isle. For example, in my lunch-break I would spend twenty minutes in the local library jotting down ideas or doing small pieces of research. If I was then able to write in the evening, I felt I already had a head-start, and if I couldn’t, then I had at least made some progress.
During a first draft you must expect to get bogged down, especially in the middle of your story. If beginnings and endings are tough, middles are for me like a lower circle of hell. Fatigue is setting in - the booster fuel of excitement at the start of the project has expired. Now you have to keep going, digging into reserves to get to the end. So, what do you do if you find yourself at this stage? My advice? Keep going. Expect this time. You don't have to enjoy it (you won't), you can even grumble about it (you will) but don't stop. Don't falter, not now. Keep going. For if you do, slowly, inexorably, the end will come into sight. And that is an energising moment. With the finishing line in view, you will find a fresh rush of creativity.
Writing a novel really is a job of a thousand small steps, so don’t try to do it one leap. Be honest with yourself and set targets you can reasonably manage. Keep chipping away, keep moving forward, and you’ll finish your first draft sooner than you think. And then, you need to start thinking about rewriting...
What are your experiences of writing a first draft? Which is the hardest part for you?