It’s been almost a year since I finished the first draft of my current work-in-progress. During the ensuing months, I worked on a second draft that went way off track.

I conned myself into believing I was moving forward, but instead I fell flat on my face.

So, here I am, back in chapter one, getting ready for draft number three. This time, I’m fairly certain, I’m back on the right track. “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you.

I subscribe to the belief that you should write a complete first draft before editing. So, I wrote the story, and I kept writing it and I kept writing it – even when I had no idea where it was going – I kept at it. Eventually, I figured out who the bad guy was,  and discovered the dramatic, dark moment. I finished the book. And the truth is, it sucks! Not just a little – a lot. The plot line went way over the top and included a few farcical plot twists. Don’t get me wrong – I love the story and the characters, just not the writing. But, that’s okay. Good story and likeable characters are the main point of first draft.

I wrote drunk, exactly as suggest by Sam Havens, Professor Emeritus at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. (Not inebriated; uninhibited.)  I gave myself permission to ignore everything but the story. I finished the book. The middle was sagging, but the skeleton was in place. And that is what first draft is all about; turning off the inner-editor and letting the words flow without censor. Write all the farcical, totally-over-top ‘stuff’ that builds the skeleton. Ignore everything that isn’t story.

I like the drunk part! I love to follow characters down the primrose path and into the realm of What The Hell. (primrose path: a path of ease or pleasure and especially sensual pleasure: a path of least resistance). Every day is a new and exciting adventure as I open the document and wait to see what happens next. What will today’s adventure reveal? I become intimately involved with the characters and try to turn them into three-dimensional people. I throw problems at them, put obstacles in their path and I love finding out how they are going to rise to every challenge.   But eventually, like all good things, the adventure must reach The End.

And that’s when the work starts, at least for me — the not so fun part. Editing.

Editing is the reason my second draft died on the vine. I found a way to avoid the part I don’t like, yet still convince myself I was making progress. Instead of fixing what needed fixing, I started retelling the same story, in just a slightly different way. Not a better way. Not even a very good way. Just a different way. And that is not what subsequent drafts are about.

Second draft, or third or fourth or tenth, is an opportunity to polish the words on the page. Find the plot holes, get the smoking gun off the mantle and challenge every word. The story is already there. Don’t retell it, fix it.

Donald Mass says there should be conflict on every page. Did I do that?

Chris Voglers’s, Writers Journey identifies basic story structure – ordinary world, call to adventure, the point of no return, the dark moment – have I covered all the basics?

Cheryl Bolen edits to include all of the senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing – are they there?

Donna Maloy taught me about man speak – is my hero too verbose?

Pictures need to be painted, stages set, direction applied. Now it matters what clothes people are wearing and how hot it is outside. I have to write the transitions to replace the ‘note to self – move them from Point A to Point B’. Talking head scenes must go. The birds have to sing, the flowers have to smell and the hero has to have the same color of eyes on page three-hundred as he did on page twenty.

Now is the time to worry about having the word ‘she’ starting every other paragraph, to ferret out the run-on sentences, the overuse of adjectives, and follow all the basic rules of good grammar.

This feels like homework. I hate homework! I don’t want to do the hard stuff.

I don’t want to think about Strunk & White and their Elements of Style.

I’d rather shove the first draft in a box, ignore the homework and start a new project.

Except, I can’t do that anymore because some demented, I’m-not-sure-what-the-hell-I-was-thinking part of me challenged my friends to an ice-bucket challenge! If I don’t do my homework, write the next draft and work toward getting this book publish ready, I’m going to get ice-water poured over my head. Again. And again after that. And again after that.

To avoid the dunking, I have to achieve the goal I set for myself. I have to go word-by-word and do all that stuff I talked about. I also need to write a synopsis (much easier, now that I’ve finished the story, but still not fun). I want a scene-by-scene outline to help me trim the fat and firm the muscles. I, have, to, worry, about, the, damn, commas.

That demented part of my brain – let’s call it my evil-twin – has managed to hold me accountable. I finished the story – now I have to finish the book. Can anyone recommend a good locksmith? I want to lock my evil-twin in the dungeon!

Terri Rich

Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!


  1. This was so cool to read. As you know, I’m struggling with the it’s okay for the first draft to be crap thing. Interestingly, for me, my writing process is opposite yours in nearly every way imaginable. I’m a lazy plotter (working on the lazy part), and the “homework” part for me is creating something out of nothing, or writing the story. The fun part is editing. Still, it is so damn easy to find a million things that need to be done rather than get to that pesky “homework”, but damnit if my demented friend (some friend, I’m starting to think) didn’t make it so if I don’t “git ‘er done” then I will be kicked off the Dry Team. And I suspect if that happens, there will be an eager line of those willing to pour that bucket.

  2. Dear Lorinda – honestly, as I was writing this, I often thought about how opposite we are in our creative endeavors. What is FUN for me is WORK for you and vice versa. Maybe we should join together and be a writing team – I have this 1st draft that needs editing …

  3. I personally think we need those forays into the ridiculous from time to time. I suspect sometimes the Girls give us those crazy ideas because they’re pointing to something important we might not see otherwise — a character quality that needs to be brought to the surface, or a wild plot twist that would never work in a million years but perhaps has elements of excitement or mystery the plot is otherwise missing.

    That said, I hear you about finding the editing to be work. OMG.

    If the change is a tweak, I don’t mind so much. But if it’s rewriting a chapter or even a full scene, I get all antsy and self-judgmental: How could I have missed something so important? Why didn’t I recognize that gaping plot hole?

    Yikes. I need a pint of Chocolate Obsession to get over it.

    1. Kathie, I like to think of a quote by Loren Green – the producer of Saturday Night Live – “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; the show goes on because it’s ten o’clock.” If only this were true for our writing. The think is, we can revise and edit to infinity and beyond, because there is ALWAYS another way to say something OR another tweak to improve the plot OR if there are kids in the story, maybe their ages aren’t working for you anymore OR maybe you come back to add the villains point-of-view OR, OR, OR – books are NEVER finished. We just have to stop working on them and put them out there to sink or swim – kind of like with our babies. We get 18 years to get it right and then we have to let them go …

  4. Good for you for getting the “fun” part done. You are doing great. And if your blog is any indication, your book will be fun to read! Go for it! Try not to think of the editing as the homework-y stuff. Instead, think of it as fleshing out and adding decorative touches of color to your artwork. I promise you that you will end up changing and adding things as you go. Think of it more as a puzzle that you are checking to make sure it all fits together correctly. Make it a game to find all the disconnects before the publishing editor does. And just remember that all jobs and all hobbies, no matter how much fun they are, also have parts that are not fun. When I crochet, I HATE to go back over the piece and weave in all the ends of yarn where I have changed colors or started a new skein. But, I don’t allow myself to begin a new project until that one is completely wrapped up. That has inspired me to finish them. Even if it takes hours and hours of tedium. I get anxious to start the new thing, so it spurs me on. Otherwise, I would have a closet full of “finished” projects that were just not quite REALLY finished.

    1. Dianne, you have excellent suggestions! Thanks for all of them. If I’m honest, I have two boxes full of ‘finished’ manuscripts that aren’t REALLY finished. I do the fun part and pack that sucker away. But not this time! So, seriously, thanks for the advice! Now, I’ve got to get busy with the ‘tedium’!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: