by Diana Fox (Diana Stout)
In the beginning my first drafts were filled with holes, barely resembling the story I wanted to tell. The characters were cardboard, rambling mindlessly on far too many unknown paths, and usually ending up in a lagoon or bug-infested swamp with no where to continue forward.
Consequently, I hated writing first drafts. I abhorred them. I procrastinated writing those first drafts; and then when I would finally get started, it took me forever to write them. I think I would have preferred cleaning bathrooms all day. Seems there were some days I did.
Now, however, my approach to writing first drafts is totally different. I no longer dread them. I can’t say that I love writing first drafts because that would be an outright lie, but I no longer hate them. Now first drafts are actually fun to start, and I can’t wait to write that first sentence, first paragraph, first page. Once I’ve written that first page, I try not to stop until I reach THE END, and the faster I can get there, the better.
Why the change of heart? I learned what a difference pre-plotting can make. You already pre-plot, you say? That’s what I said too until I took a weekend-long screenwriting workshop and realized how little I was plotting and defining my characters. The different techniques I learned in writing a script, I found were techniques that I could apply to fiction writing, even nonfiction.
The secret? Basically, it comes down to creating a storyboard. I employed such techniques as using 3 x 5 cards or Post-its, then making an extensive outline once I’m satisfied with my story structure. Consequently, this pre-writing allowed me to write that first draft fast. I couldn’t help BUT write fast since all my thinking had been done in the plotting stage. Now I was just dictating the character’s speech and writing down how they moved across the stage of their story.
The last book I wrote, the first draft took me only four days to write. Granted they were long days: 18-hours, and a couple chapters missing. Astonishingly though, by the time I got to the end of the book at the end of that fourth day, I knew what needed to go into those missing chapters. I liked how I didn’t waste time wondering what to do next. I had skipped over that part, knowing I could fill it all in later. The process worked.
A second key component was that as I was writing the first draft and knew that I had to make changes to earlier dialogue or even plot structure, rather than going back and rewriting at that time, I simply make notes about those changes. By the time I got to the end of the first draft, half of those changes were no longer necessary, because I had made other changes that took care of those issues. Had I gone back and rewritten at that time, I would have been wasting my time, not to mention getting off-track from the first draft.
The best thing is that now my first drafts resemble what used to be my fourth or fifth drafts. I’m saving time.
I used to spend one-fourth of my time plotting, and three-fourths of it writing; now my time spent is flip-flopped. I spend three-fourths of my time plotting and developing my characters and only one-fourth of that time in actual writing.
Shitty first drafts? They’re a thing of the past for me, providing I do all the necessary pre-writing, which often can take a year or more and I ponder, research, scribble, and ponder some more. Consequently, my first drafts rarely find themselves stuffed in a drawer, ending up deserted and forgotten, which also means that I get that project out in the mail and get it sold.
That’s a great bottom line in my draft of a book.
Copyright © 1998-2008 Diana Fox (Diana Stout)
Used with permission of the author
All rights reserved
Diana Stout, who wrote this original article and has written romances as Diana Fox, began her writing career with a humorous weekly newspaper column, then wrote magazine articles and short stories, then published three romance novels, and optioned a screenplay. Her writing (fiction, nonfiction, drama, screenplays, and plays) has won awards, and she is a frequently requested speaker. Stout has a M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing, with a huge interest in Medieval Studies and Woman’s Studies. She has taught in the English departments at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kellogg Community College, and Davenport University. She taught online for a number of years privately, through the former Painted Rock writer’s colony where she taught Writing Fast, Creating Characters, Time Management for Writers, and other classes, and has taught on several other online writer’s websites. A professor of remedial English, composition, research writing, and business writing at Davenport University, she is also the Department Coordinator for English, Communications, English Foundations of Learning, and Foreign Language, overseeing thirty-plus adjunct instructors, covering Kalamazoo, Holland, and Battle Creek, Michigan locations. Stout is currently at work on a medieval mainstream novel.
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