How Does a Completed First Draft Feel?

It is done. The very last words of the first draft, complete. What a…well, I’m not sure really.

In the first case, it’s not actually the first time I’ve got to the ‘end’ of it, so to speak. I did that a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve read back through the whole thing and jiggled it about, written a surprising number of new scenes (this is what happens when you change your structure half way through) and generally moved stuff around a lot. But in this process, there are several things I’ve learnt about this process, and about the person doing it.

1. It’s all about plot

Yes, I know, a book is primarily a story, but in terms of just putting something together that makes any kind of narrative sense, I didn’t realise how long that would take. I’d changed names, had scenes happening on a Friday just after a Sunday, had the sun shining when it was supposed to be February. And those are just the little bits. More importantly, key scenes in the character’s journey were all lumped together, rather than spread out over the book, pulling the story forward. The beginning was a whole load of mush, floating about in the story space and not really dong anything. My re-writes, my shuffling, it was all about producing a coherent and sensible plot. The other stuff has to come later.

2. It’s hard to acknowledge it’s no good

Everyone tells you that first drafts are terrible. From Hemingway to Gaiman, they are simply telling you what should be obvious. But it’s still a little galling to have poured so much of your time, energy and brain power into something that is, essentially, crap. The theory of course being that now it’s all there, I have something to work with, rather than inventing stuff out of thin air. Now that does sound like a more appealing prospect.

3. I’ve barely begun

This might account for the lack of jubilance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited and happy that I have got this far, and not given up, but it’s difficult to think that I have scratched the surface in terms of producing a final manuscript. At the moment I hate my characters, think my story is stupid and each line grates on me because I’ve read it endless times. Distance, I think, is the key. I’m not going near it for at least a week. And even then, I’m going to focus on the opening for a bit. Shifting and changing my attention should allow me to get to the end with a workable piece.

4. It’s mostly important to you

My family and friends have been amazing. So much support, so many words of encouragement, no complaints as I once again moan about it, or talk through my plot (again) to try and figure out how I can make it work. But the final outcome, is only something for me. No-one else is really going to see it (apart from my tutor) and nothing will happen with it. I used to be a full-time teacher. That’s stressful, and draining, and all-encompassing, too. But when you finish, you get results, or levels of progress, or a class of people that know more stuff than when you first met them, or at least money. I’ve got a massive document full of my own words. Yeah, ok, that is pretty cool.

5. It’s a change

At about this time of year, two years ago, I decided to pack in my full-time job, take a Masters, and write a book. As far as targets go, I’m doing well in that area. Yes it needs more work, but I do at least have a first draft to work with, the prospect of getting my stuff in front of some agents, and a whole new group of friends. But it’s so different. In the build up to getting my first draft in, I spent 10 days straight (apart from one day of work) at my desk. Writing, editing, reading, going back over, covering my dining table with post-its, writing some more. It’s a draining process. I found conversation tricky. Yesterday I sat on my sofa and read Harry Potter. For hours. I couldn’t cope with anything else. Being inside your head for so long is tough. So is this what I want to do, full time? I don’t know yet if I will be given the option, but it does show that achieving the thing you always wanted to, is not necessarily what you thought it would be.

Now I have chance to take a breath, lift my head up and look around, I have to start making the slightly more scary decisions. Do I continue to put faith in my words, carry on tutoring and never have a lot of money? Do I go back to what I used to do, say ‘that was a nice break’ but nothing more? My reaction to those two statements definitely pushes me more one way than the other, but I have a feeling that a 9-5 of writing wouldn’t fulfil my need for people enough. We shall see.

In the meantime, it’s possible. I can do it. I’ve written a first draft of a novel.

You can too.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

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