When is a 1st Draft a 1st Draft?

I don’t write a writer advice column. An expert I am not. What I am is a writer exploring a fantasy world and working to perfect my process. That process, I expect, will still be perpetually under construction and vary from novel to novel.

Likely a lot of writers can find themselves in the above paragraph, which is why I like to share my experiences. What I’m hoping for is:

That wouldn’t really work for me, but if I changed this one element it just might.


Wait a minute, I thought we had to do it this other way. You mean we don’t?


None of this really helps me, but it does give me an idea for a tweak I can make to my own process.


That Christina Hawthorne, what an idiot.

Okay, maybe not so much the last one, but that’s the risk I run. That’s also why this isn’t advice, but ideas tossed out for the writing-approach salad.

I’ve never been a pure plotter or pantser. Instead, I’d plot a wiggly course down the middle. So, shove that first draft into the drawer? Well, maybe. Kinda sorta. Depends on what you call a first draft.

No matter how much I work on characters, until I throw them together and they interact in particular situations I don’t know for certain what to expect. How group dynamics play out depend upon who’s in the group. No doubt many writers have well-behaved characters who perform as expected. I don’t.

Cover Art: CA Hawthorne

Cover Art: CA Hawthorne

Kasaria Garthing made that abundantly clear in April. A character struggling with self-discovery, she tossed out my timetable and the following argument ensued:

She shook her head. “Too slow. I’ve a life to live. I need to find my way faster because of all the hurdles you keep tossing in front of me.”

“Gee, thanks, Kasaria. Love your spirit. On the other hand, you do realize that I’m, like, halfway through the novel?”

“And that’s another thing. My part in the first half? That’s all wrong. I don’t know who you were writing, but it wasn’t me.”

Yeah, April was a LONG month.

Now May is a long month because her spirit influenced another character, one who wasn’t supposed to have POV chapters. I changed that on the fly halfway through the novel (yeah, the midpoint was a drafting apocalypse). Of the eight characters who headed off on a vital mission I learned more about all eight. Four of them demanded significant changes. Whew!

All of which brings me back to my original point about setting the initial draft aside. I’m supposed to set aside that mess? When I know there’s some major restructuring and POV alterations needed and those changes are fresh in my mind?

I'm about completion, not numbers, but "winning" is always fun.I’ll describe it a bit different. (Even though I know little about pottery, I love pottery analogies…go figure.) I’m someone who likes to complete steps before moving onto the next. Would I start painting (revising) small fired figures when I could have molded and fired (drafted) them all at once and had them all ready for painting?

I don’t want to return to a draft where most scenes are worthy of revising and some are a mess. Too, those that are a mess, and I know are a mess, are flashing red now, but later…not so much. Later I’ll have to reread it and hope I’ll remember all the changes I wanted to make (changes this significant would take as long to detail in notes as to make).

Or, worse, I’ll pull the story back out in a month when the issues have faded (the purpose behind letting it sit, by the way), start revising, reach the seventeenth scene and freak.“Oh yeah, that’s right, this was supposed to be scrapped and parts of it placed in the scenes I just finished revising.”

For you numbers people, I want all 115 scenes 90-100% ready for revising and not at degrees of readiness stretching from 10-100%.

If you’re anything like me you’re going, “Yeah!” If you’re not like me you’re having the reaction I have to some other ideas which goes like this: “Huh?”

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne


Kasaria has forced me to up my game, to start tackling this problem with something resembling a loose plan. Extremely loose, but a plan nonetheless. And not a plan I devised. Instead, I’ve been paying attention to the steps I take immediately following every novel and have begun to recognize evolving patterns.

This post is already growing long so I’ll save the details for over the next week or two, but I can say it means strategic editing. I move, alter, and selectively edit to level the scene playing field before setting the draft aside.

Like I say, it’s an evolving process, but maybe it’ll help someone else, make others feel a little less like their on the wrong track, or both.

5 Replies to “When is a 1st Draft a 1st Draft?”

  1. Pingback: When is a 1st Draft a 1st Draft? | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. I’m like you, neither entirely pantser or plotter. I revise what I wrote last as a start to every day, so even my first drafts are never really first drafts. I have two approaches to other needed changes. If I need to revise major plot or character points to make the rest of the story work, I’ll stop and do it before moving forward. With more minor things (like, “Wow, I am not using these names consistently.”), I make a list of Revision Notes in Scrivener to worry about later.

    • My experience suggests there are few pure pantsers or plotters. It’s an either/or debate that should exist on a spectrum. It’s become overblown and, sadly, hindered some writers who’re convinced they aren’t allowed to move on the spectrum. That’s tragic because there are so many great ideas out there.

      I’ll make some changes while I draft, but they must be critical for me to stop. It might be the single greatest influence on how I work is Scrivener. For instance, I’ve moved the creation of chapters to later in the process.

  3. Pingback: Drafting Disaster! Yet I’m Smiling. |

  4. Pingback: Drafting Disaster! Yet I’m Smiling. | Christina Anne Hawthorne

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