What I Wish I Knew About Drafting

2 weeks ago, I finished a rewrite of my novel. It wasn’t the first story I had drafted. Before 2013, there were at least 5 started and written to 10-25K word counts. It wasn’t even my first story idea. But it was the most I’d written on one project, and it was also the most complete draft of any story I’ve written. It’s a little different that way.

Before I started drafting that 3rd rewrite, I wish I had known—and I mean really known—a few things about drafting a novel. Nobody tells you how to draft a novel. Everyone has tips, or methods that work for them, or things they do without consciously doing them. But there is no one way to draft a novel.

However, there are a few things I wish I had known before I started drafting my novel. I’ve realised them now and I have hopes for the next draft! Though that story will be written entirely differently to THE PILGRIMAGE, I hope what I’ve learned will be helpful and relevant. Here’s what I learned about drafting.

The longer it takes to finish, the more variation in quality.

THE PILGRIMAGE started in the middle of 2013 and I finished it at the end of February 2017. I had undergone a few revisions, and the most recent draft was done from mid-2015 to now. The longer it takes you to finish the draft, the more obvious your growth as a writer will be within the draft. There was a reason I had restarted after writing 30K in one week in 2013. By the time I returned to the project 2 years later, I had learned more and improved my skills (and social awareness). Now, with the full draft done, I’m acutely aware of the differences between the scenes written in 2015 and the scenes written in 2017.

Next draft’s hope: I want to do a fast-draft of my next story so the variation in quality is less obvious when I revise.

It’s better to finish a full, terrible draft than to stop halfway and re-start.

Technically, I’ve written a few novels. But have I written them to a complete draft? *bitter laughing* No. No, THE PILGRIMAGE is the first story that has a draft that is workable for revisions. To me, a story is “full” when the characters have gone from point A to point Z—from start to finish—and the word count is almost passable. A 30K draft of a high fantasy novel doesn’t count as “full” from my fingers. I’d need at least 70K and a beginning, middle, and end. Even if the story is terrible, incohesive, stereotypical, cliched, and awful, I’d rather have it be a full picture instead of a shamble of sketches. This is why outlining was helpful for the finished draft this time.

Next draft’s hope: I want to finish a complete draft before I revise in any form, and I’ll do that with the help of an outline.

Don’t look back at your writing.

I’m prey to editing as I go, so reading scenes or lines I’ve already written is detrimental to my drafting. If I need to re-orient myself in the story, I’ll read the last few lines of the previous scene. Luckily, I didn’t review my work a lot for this draft. I was aware of this bad habit of mine years ago.

Next draft’s hope: I want to maintain my ignorance to already written scenes.

Outlines can change… and the organisation of an outline needs to accommodate that.

I knew going into the draft (and all of my outlined stories) that outlines and plans can change. The problem was that I didn’t take that into account when I outlined and organised my scenes. THE PILGRIMAGE has so many scrapped scenes and re-numbered scenes in my outline because I needed the scenes. But it ended up messy: I had quarter, half, and three-quarter scenes, and then no scenes from, say, 25 – 31. For the next time, I won’t be labelling my scenes purely by number. I’m going to use an “Act 1, Scene 1.1” approach of some kind. I’ll write up a blog post on this in the future!

Next draft’s hope: I want my outline to be more flexible in terms of its organisation and labelling.

Drafting is entirely different from reading, editing, and outlining.

I didn’t quite get out of the headspace of a reader, editor, or plotter. I kept thinking about my outlines and revisions while I was drafting and it messed me up. I would take a lot of time to finish a scene. I would get hung up on word choice. I would compare my outlined scene against the scene that flowed from my writing session. If there were discrepancies, my insecurity as a writer would creep in.

Next draft’s hope: I want to focus on telling the story rather than perfecting or reading it.

I don’t know when I’ll start the next project draft, but I’m looking forward to it!