They are! Honestly. At least, I think so. I know some writers hate first drafts and can’t wait to get into the meaty writing process of editing, but I adore a first draft. There’s something so unapologetic and fresh about words as they just pour out.
I’ve spoken here and on Twitter about the days I get to write, and the three days a week I have are still really precious. And I really can’t write in the evenings – I’ve tried, and I’m just too exhausted. So I’ve started utilising a brilliant writing device:
My writing is character-driven as a rule, and I have a head full of characters who as yet don’t have a story. So plotting is really important to me, because if I didn’t plot I’d never write anything other than a character description and a bit of backstory. So getting a basic beginning-middle-end idea is essential for me to start writing.
In the case of the MS I just finished the first draft of, I’d had the characters in mind for years. Not an exaggeration, they were the subject of several spoken-word performances I’ve done in the past. But they had never had a real plot, only small scenes for me to perform aloud.
Once I decided to try writing the characters’ story as a novel, I mentally sorted through the scenes I had. I had plenty of middle, but no beginning, and only an idea of an ending that I disliked as it was very trope-y. The real problem was that I didn’t know one character’s motivation, and I realised that was stopping me having a real beginning.
As always, the answer came from fanfiction. I was bouncing ideas for AUs with a friend, and mentioned something almost as a joke. She asked if I’d thought about writing an original idea with that AU-setting.
Everything tumbled into place as I realised my lost character’s motivation. Then the beginning arrived, and the ending changed, because I finally knew what the characters wanted and needed, and how they’d have to change.
I still hadn’t written a word.
But it didn’t seem to matter I hadn’t written anything down in terms of plotting, because now I was bursting to write the whole story down. It was as though I’d been waiting for the breakthrough and now it had to come out or else I’d explode.
This seems to be the way I work, and why I find first drafts so fun. By the time I feel equipped to write them, I’m already in love with the story and characters and have to write them down because my life depends on it.
Because I was so bursting to write, I managed to get the first draft of this book down in 48 days.
Some of those days I wrote nothing. Other days I wrote more than 5,000 words. But every moment I wasn’t writing I was daydreaming of the story. I text people about it. I played out scenes in my head, memorising the dialogue I wanted to use, and the description I wanted to put in, so when I got chance to write, I could get a lot of words down at once – I was reciting the play I’d written in my head, like quoting a favourite TV show.
Of course it needs work – the whole thing is 99% dialogue at the moment, just because of how character-driven my drafts are. It needs work building the world and setting, and I’m looking forward to doing it because I want to polish the world for my characters.
First drafts are just you telling yourself the story, said Terry Pratchett.
First drafts are fun, precisely because you’re telling yourself the story. It’s your time alone with your characters, getting to know one another. And although editing has never been my favourite thing, I’m looking forward to polishing their world for them.