First Draft: Done

by jbloodwell

Well, friends, this morning I finished the last remaining scene of the novel I’ve been working on since some time in January. (I don’t know offhand how long this took, but based on this blog post I’d guess I started around mid-January, and was definitely at work outlining the novel by then. Four to four-and-a-half months is pretty good, in my experience.)

I’m very lucky to be leaving, later today, for a long period of travel: Germany, then Italy, then Las Vegas. Lucky to be going at all, of course, but in particular I’m lucky to have a natural break come up, to not even have the option of peeking at this draft for almost two weeks. Further, I won’t be able to do more than some intermittent, notebook-in-coffee-shop(-or-beer-hall, as the case may be) writing during this time; in the past I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by starting other stuff during my “cooling off” period just after finishing a draft, and coming back to these messy drafts a little less interested and enthusiastic.

In terms of interest and enthusiasm, I’m still excited about the novel’s potential. It’s way too long (it’s somewhere around 115,000 words, which comes out to something like 400–450 pages), and a lot of the scenes will need to be made more scene-like. It’s full of places where I wrote notes in brackets like “[what is friend’s name?]” or “[confirm this later].” Sometimes I thought I had a great handle on the characters, they surprised me, and at others I felt I’d completely lost the thread.

But that’s the nature of writing a novel. Even if you hate Ernest Hemingway’s work, if you’re a writer you should appreciate his two semi-famous quotes (i.e., famous among writers and writing students) on first drafts: “The first draft of anything is shit”; and “The important thing about a first draft is finishing the damn thing.”

Apologies for the noodling, barely-veiled-triumphalist feel to this blog post (especially as it’s likely to be the last one for a while). One further note, towards making this post interesting and useful to anyone else, is that (as mentioned here, at the outset of the novel) I used Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” of novel outlining, and it was really pretty helpful. The chronic problems of aimlessness and compulsory-feeling workdays didn’t disappear, but they were contained within each scene: I could make a character stare out a window, thinking, for a few paragraphs, but I knew that eventually he had to start walking again and proceed to point B. That was a big help in limiting the number of scenes that are themselves completely gratuitous and static (though given the length of this draft, I’m sure there are some of those, too). I had my reservations towards the Snowflake Method going in, but I found the questions it raised useful, and I expect a lot of the materials I generated—character sketches, brief and less-brief distillations of the novel’s overall trajectory—will be useful to refer back to, and probably amend, as I begin the long process of revision.

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