On first drafts and freedom

I realised a few key things today – about my writing, and about me as a writer.

It was three years ago, almost exactly, that I began to write the first draft of my first novel. In the time that has passed, I’ve written in the region of 200,000 words of fiction. They have, collectively, taught me an awful lot; and in doing so they have liberated me from some of the self-imposed rules that may previously have held me back.

Not just the words themselves, or the processes by which I came up with them in the first place, but also – perhaps mostly – the reworking that has happened along the way.

Most of 2015 was taken up with editing and redrafting my second novel. I didn’t enjoy it much – not as much as the heady excitement of the first draft anyway. And I’m still not entirely convinced that story is where it needs to be. But as my third novel gathers pace it is clear to me that it was an incredibly valuable learning process.


I am loving being back in the unknown territory where a new adventure is beginning to unfold. One where I know the final destination (or at least I think I do), but still have much to discover about the intervening terrain. And having spent so long agonising over the details of second, third and fourth drafts last year I really am relishing the freedom that comes with the first.

I realise now that this is where I get to try things out. That I need to be bold, and follow my instincts. If a scene wants to be written in a particular way then I need to let that happen – even if it doesn’t entirely fit with what has gone before. Last time round I think I worried too much about the finished product, even at this very early stage. I didn’t want things to be inconsistent, but in avoiding that I might have fallen into beigeness – I didn’t let myself  pursue my whims, figured I’d save that for later. But there is no better time to be true to your characters and their voice than the first time you hear them speak.

I’m letting myself be freer with the plot, too. I sort of know which way I’m going, but when I come to an unexpected fork in the road I’m more confident now to follow my instincts even if it means taking a different path to the one I’d thought I would.

And in fact the most important path – the overall structure that will eventually lead the reader through the narrative – is hardly featuring in my mind at all. In the past I remember deliberating for ages about where chapters should start and end, whether what was happening in this particular scene would fit with what the reader already knew. Now, though, I’m relinquishing control to the narrative itself. I’m letting that lead the way, and I know I will have plenty of time to mould it into a structure later.

I think that what I’m ending up with is more authentic, more true to me and my voice. It’s rougher round the edges than my previous first drafts have been, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing – potentially quite the opposite.

More than anything I am not allowing myself to be paralysed by the pursuit of perfection – either in what I’m writing, or how I’m writing it. This whole thing is just the latest phase in this epic learning journey I’ve entered into, and if I can trust myself and the words that want to flow then I’m pretty confident I’m heading in the right direction.


Writing Bubble

7 thoughts on “On first drafts and freedom

  1. caramckee

    I went to a writing workshop at the weekend and the leader described writing as akin to creating a sculpture. The first draft is your raw material, from that you form the sculpture. So I guess it is what it is (and I now feel a bit better about editing, and about my first draft seeming to be rubbish!).

  2. maddy@writingbubble

    Ah, the thrill of the first draft! Sounds like you’re doing the right thing following your instincts, freeing them up a bit and letting them take you on a journey. Who knows where it might lead? (But somewhere good I’m sure!) Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xx

  3. Carie

    Yay! That sounds like you’re really enjoying just seeing where it takes you! And oh do I think I need to learn not to be paralysed by perfection. It’s the challenge of remembering that done is sometimes better than good!

  4. Pingback: Keeping focused | Sophie is…

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