First Drafts and Avoidance


In a recent comment about writing queries, Sonya mentioned “the sprawling brain-dump of a first draft.”

I love that phrase. (Gee, you’d think she was a writer or something.)

Here’s the thing. I’ve had a germ of an idea for a novel for some years. I even wrote nine chapters of it and put it on my former writing journal (now purged and locked and all that) for people to comment on. And then, because I couldn’t see where it was going and I’m not great at outlining, I dropped it. A couple years later, I came back to the idea, wrote a full plot outline for it, did a bunch of research and reading about the craft involved (glassmaking and glassblowing), world-built a bit more, rewrote the first few chapters…and dropped it again.

For some reason, I’m frightened I’ll wreck this book by writing it. And obviously the fear has grown the longer I sit on the idea. It’s such a stupid, hilarious fear, since all I have to do to save this (obviously amazing, groundbreaking, award-winning, envy-inspiring) book is to not write it. How ridiculous.

But I’m also bothered when I see published fantasy books that feature glassmaking. (Because envy is totally the best policy.) I’m bothered when I think about the idea, and the words that I’ve already written (and still like!) and the bits of the story that come to me. Then I think that I’m just a slow writer and I need to take my time. That the fear I’m feeling is actually my brain saying No. It’s not ready, and you WILL wreck it if you write it before you give it a bit more thought. I wish I was better at knowing when to say, shut up, brain and just start–and finish writing the damn thing. No, not that. Finish writing the FIRST DRAFT of the damn thing.

So I promptly started a first draft of something else.

I realize this is bad writer behavior. I can only hope that one day the idea will just demand to be written.


13 thoughts on “First Drafts and Avoidance

  1. I can only hope that one day the idea will just demand to be written.

    Pretty sure this is what it’s already doing…


    1. Good point! I’ll have to tell this story to take its demanding style UP a notch–start withholding crucial mental information (like motor control or memory of loved ones) unless I start writing it…


    1. The participation requirements for your group–if I’m thinking of the right one? Other Worlds Writers Workshop?–scare me. But that’s an excuse. Have you had any troubles meeting that two-a-month minimum? Have you ever taken time off and returned? What super secret magical powers have you been granted through blood initiation into mod-hood? (Don’t try to lie, everyone knows it’s true! :D)

      For the moment, I will be over here, girding my loins (and buying trousers to back up my mouth) while I practice writing faster. But it sounds exciting.


      1. It’s not really as hard as it looks. It’s two a month average, and the mods generally use an informal rolling four-to-six-month window when considering. Of course if you join and do nothing for six months, you’ll probably get bounced; you have to at least step up the first month or two to show you’re going to participate. The two can be any combination of subs and crits (I’ve gotten by mostly on crits, since I’m an appallingly slow writer) so you can choose which fits you better. Definitly there have been months I didn’t hit the mark, but I try to keep that average up over time.

        I didn’t get any super-sekrit mod powers although I guess I’m less likely to get bounced if I fail to meet the minimum since I serve an actual function in the group :)

        I’d love to have you in the group — and there’s no shame in trying and failing, The first time I joined I didn’t make the minimum three months running so I bounced myself, but when I wanted to come back there was no problem. And the crits are generally VERY useful.


  2. Ha! I have actually felt the exact same way–like I have some brilliant idea that I don’t want to ruin with my paltry talent, so I’ll just “save it” until I’m a better writer and then write it then. I don’t really have any advice beyond the usual blah-blah of practice and the-more-you-write-the-better-you-write.

    Tigerlly, the novel I’m shopping around now, I first had the initial germ of an idea of it in 2002, started a draft in 2004 but only got about 35 pages in before I realized it was not ready. Started a new draft in 2007, finished it in 2009, but when I sat down to edit I realized, “Huh. This is actually just Part One of the story, and I have to write Part Two and Part Three.” So I did that, and finished writing in maybe 2011-ish, then then editing editing editing rewriting editing until 2013, when I finally started querying. And here we are! I’m kind of a slow writer, too.


    1. It’s true, the only real advice/answer is “Just write it already, will you?” I’m just whining, really. (Writing! So hard! Boo-fucking-hoo for me!) But I greatly appreciate the commiseration–it’s always nice to know this is not a special snowflake struggle, but as usual, something everyone deals with. N.K. Jemisin had a great post (can’t find it now) about writing a first draft of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms with a male protagonist, and then shelving it for, I dunno, five years or something? I’m sure it helped to have the thing written down the first time, even if she ended up scrapping a ton of it.


      1. Stephen King’s stock answer when someone asks, “How do you write your books?” is “One word at a time, man. One word at a time.”


  3. I don’t recommend taking that long, though. Since I wrote the story in fits and starts, it was kind of all over the place, and editing it into something cohesive was like trying to wrestle a bear into a tuxedo.


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