First Draft Euphoria

Or: Outlining? Pfft.

This week I completed the first draft of the novel I thought I’d never finish, nine months after embarking on a major rewrite. It’s rough, it’s messy, and it weighs in at a suitably epic 124k.  I’ve resisted the temptation to print it out. A whole ream of A4? Ouch. Enough paper’s been sacrificed to reach this stage, most of it dog-eared and no longer relevant:Image

A few lessons learned at this stage. All of them are highly subjective as with any creative process.

This project’s much heftier than previous novels so I’ve needed to keep track of world-building notes and plot details. Scrivener offers loads of options for keeping notes and adding meta-data and it’s taken time to fathom out which are most suited to my way of working. Hopefully for the next project I’ll be able to work smarter from the outset.

I started out with a core 50k from the previous draft. With hindsight it would have been better to ditch that and start from scratch as I spent a lot of time getting reacquainted with detail that’s ceased to be relevant as the story’s evolved.

Outlining’s been of limited use for this project. I feel like it should be some kind of magic plot bullet, but, no. Twists and turns emerge organically once I’m immersed in the writing. I’m a diehard pantser (I need a Bruce Willis-style vest* for writing first drafts). Whenever the drafting process ground to a halt it was because I’d outlined a development that didn’t tally with character motivation.

On the other hand, brainstorming possibilities and mind-mapping them has been tremendously useful. Everything gets jotted down, however daft or dull. Then you can drag them about, rearrange them, highlight the useful ones, cross things out and still have a record of where you’ve been if you need to backtrack. I’ve been using Scapple for this, it’s great value for money but Mac-only. The open source Vue is also very accessible and available for other platforms.

I’ve taken to working in 20-30k chunks, pausing to take stock and brainstorming the next section before pushing on. Freewriting’s been invaluable for pushing through the no-idea-what-happens-next moments. From feeling out of my depth working on a novel of this length I’ve stumbled on a process that works for me.

So, I finally got it written. Now to get it right.

* You already knew not to come to me for sartorial advice, right?