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It’s a bit drafty in here.

1 December 2010

With NaNoWriMo ending yesterday, I thought it might be the right time to talk about first drafts. And please, NaNo folks, remember that what you’ve just finished is most likely a first draft. You’ll want to take another few hard looks at it before you start sending it to agents or publishers — 23-year-old me, who likes to make your mistakes for you so you don’t have to, begs you to do so.

Anywho, first drafts. They run the gamut from “Hey, this is pretty good!” to “Good Lord, this is fucking awful!” Sometimes they come across as a pretty complete story and need only minor tweaks and edits before they’re ready to go, but sometimes they’re barely readable (I mean, look at 200 Days, for crap’s sake). So how do you know when they’ve gotten out of first-draft status and are in the correct shape for other human eyes to see them?

Well, I’m probably not the best person in the world to opine on that one. For the past two years, I’ve been writing my first drafts online, putting them right out there as they pop out of my head. But that does give me feedback from actual person-units, and that feedback has informed a lot of what I do in editing. So, while you might not want to just throw your first draft up on the cold, unforgiving Internets and say “have at it,” a decent idea might be a troupe of beta readers — people you trust to give you an honest critique who can read the thing after you’ve drafted it a few times.

And, of course, take criticism in the spirit it’s intended. I know we writers tend to get emotional about our stuff, but at the end of it all, these people are trying to help.

So what about you, friends? How many drafts do you do? Are your first drafts as near-unreadable as mine?

Also, anyone (apart from Heather and Nate, who are already on the list) want to get in on the beta-read for the 47 Echo sequel?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 December 2010 0748

    I once had a friend ask me to proofread the novel he’d just completed. I agreed instantly, without asking any questions or requesting a sample chapter (because my 23 year old self also made mistakes so others don’t have to!). My punishment for this poor decision-making was to make it about a third of the way through this 150,000 word first draft, tell my friend I just couldn’t make heads nor tails of it, and offer some advice about transitioning from flashbacks and character continuity, only to be told I didn’t know what I was talking about because this was a finished product and he was going to shop it anyway.
    Outcome #1 of this: I no longer agree to read just anybody’s anything without knowing just what I’m getting into. When I do, I make it clear that I’ll be honest and that my comments are to be taken at face-value.
    Outcome #2: The friend is still shopping that same first draft, years later, still convinced it’s the publishers who don’t know a good book when they see it.

    As for my drafting, it just depends, on a case-by-case basis. For example, the supplement I wrote for 47 Echo, as it sits on your site, is a second draft. It came out pretty much how I wanted it to the first time and only needed minor tweaks. I didn’t have any beta-readers, since I figured you’d kick it back if you had issues with it. That’s honestly what I consider to be the best piece I have floating around out there just now. Another story though, took me a whole year to finish, being majorly overhauled multiple times with a few beta readers, and it’s sitting up on the SilverThorn Press site in a state I’m still not really happy with.

    • 1 December 2010 1115

      Sounds like someone was less interested in a critique and more interested in confirmation of his genius.

      Of course, when I was younger, I was terrible at getting feedback. I wouldn’t still be shopping something from that era, though.

  2. Trace permalink
    2 December 2010 0755

    It depends on the story. I’ve only done a few in the past couple of years. “FUBAR” on the 47 Echo short story collection is pretty much draft 1.5, but “The Day The World Went Away” is like draft 8 or something.

  3. Lisa permalink
    24 December 2010 1858

    Wow, I’m late on this! I don’t want to sound arrogant by saying that anything I’ve done stands out, but the story of Daniel waking up to breakfast is my most honest and risk taking. Again, not brilliant, but very much me. 🙂

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