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How do you approach your first drafts?

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mschenk2016

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I used to think you had to start at the beginning and write chronologically. People would always ask to see what I've written so far. That just made me freeze up and take forever, because if people were going to be looking at it, I wanted to make sure everything was perfect, and there was high prose, and good dialogue, and no plot holes. That's one of the reasons it took me years to finish my first book. Eventually I learned not to let anyone read it until I at least had a finished first draft. I can just get the gist of the story down and not have to worry about plot holes or good writing. If I get stuck on a part or don't know how to word something, I'll skip it and come back to it later. My first draft reads like an outline, very crude, and very slowly as it comes to me I make it longer and add in the dialogue and description and cut out stuff that doesn't work.
 
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NickyRainbow

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My first draft process is something I really feel as though I have to work on. I'm a plotter to the extreme — I start with a detailed chapter breakdown, character arcs, location descriptions, everything is planned to the most minute detail I can manage. Then I end up writing the whole thing very slowly and painstakingly, agonising needlessly over every paragraph, until my first draft is probably akin to most people's third draft. Sure, this saves me a ton of time editing further drafts, but it means the initial process of getting the story on the page and making sure it exists ends up taking literal years. By the time I reach the final chapter I'm a different person, and so are my characters! I'd love to try and be more laid-back and and practical with future first drafts, because my current method is just so inefficient!
 

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Reading this thread has made me so happy. I have never been on a forum before, and have been writing for many years but never attempted to have anything published until recently, which is why I joined here. When I write I just get an idea and go with it, and start bashing away at the keyboard until I've got the bare bones down, then add to it as I edit, then re-edit. I never knew if this was the right way to go about it but now reading this is how others do it has really given me confidence that I might actually be doing something right, thank you :)
 
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llyralen

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That's mostly how I do it, down to the 30K point. I do have distinct drafts, but it's mostly due to the breaks I take.

I have a general feel for the story from the very beginning, that I can't always put into words, or it can be very general and not worth writing down. Then I use scenes for brainstorming. I am most creative when I look at the world through my characters' eyes, and even just thinking about a scene is different from actually writing it down. When I am stuck, I often write throw-away scenes where the characters just sit in a white room and talk about the problem I have.
Mostly this is what I identify with, except I haven’t tried the white room. :)

In the early stages some of the characters that seem to appear in my mind might not serve the plot for what I want the book to generally “say” about life, so in the early stages I might discard characters for new ones, but at some point I will have explored the characters enough that they start calling the shots and the story changes to suit them— depending.

If I’m writing historical fiction then I have no choice, if I research something happened that doesn’t fit with the characters then I have to change the plot and characters. Some history has a lot of dark blank canvas and I can speculate and draw in what I want, but if I find out certain things happened then I have to paint over that part of the canvas with what really did happen and my MC has to be flexible and the other characters have to change as needed too.

When I’m in the middle of a story that’s when I have a hard time with figuring out the sequence of what should happen. I usually have already figured out the beginning and the ending but given myself a lot of leeway in the middle. That’s a rough bit of wrestling through that part. I hope to improve that process.
 
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Layla Nahar

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I take paper and pencil and start writing the story. Sometimes a character will pop into my head, or sometimes I 'look for' a character by picking a different sex/age/social status from the last MC I wrote about. I'll start writing about that person and see what kind of story is there. Sometimes I start from a title.
 
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TheRyustyNail

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It took me years and many manuscripts to finally sort out the system that works for me. I tried full-on pantsing, heavily plotting, and settled in the middle (as I think many writers do.)

I now do VERY rough zero-drafts. Some scenes may be summarized, there might be bracketed notes to myself like [go back and fix this in chapter 3], and they usually clock in at about 40k words or so.

Then I use that as the skeleton for a full draft before going into the rest of the beta reader and revision process.

Every writer is definitely going to have their own process. In my writer's group, we have everything from the 15-page-outline plotters to go-in-without-any-plan pantsers, and several of us in between.
For sure, everyone has their won process. I was curious to see how other writer's tackled their first drafts in hopes of getting ideas to increase my own efficiency. It's been a big help.
 

TheRyustyNail

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Mostly this is what I identify with, except I haven’t tried the white room. :)

In the early stages some of the characters that seem to appear in my mind might not serve the plot for what I want the book to generally “say” about life, so in the early stages I might discard characters for new ones, but at some point I will have explored the characters enough that they start calling the shots and the story changes to suit them— depending.

If I’m writing historical fiction then I have no choice, if I research something happened that doesn’t fit with the characters then I have to change the plot and characters. Some history has a lot of dark blank canvas and I can speculate and draw in what I want, but if I find out certain things happened then I have to paint over that part of the canvas with what really did happen and my MC has to be flexible and the other characters have to change as needed too.

When I’m in the middle of a story that’s when I have a hard time with figuring out the sequence of what should happen. I usually have already figured out the beginning and the ending but given myself a lot of leeway in the middle. That’s a rough bit of wrestling through that part. I hope to improve that process.
Most people, including myself, lag in the middle. That's where most of my editing time is spent.
 
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Cephus

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For sure, everyone has their won process. I was curious to see how other writer's tackled their first drafts in hopes of getting ideas to increase my own efficiency. It's been a big help.

It's a constant series of tweaks. I've written a lot of books and I don't think my process is exactly the same for any of them. I'm always making small adjustments to make it more efficient, to track more information, to increase my productivity, etc. My system today isn't the same system I had two years ago and certainly not what I had ten or twenty years ago. It's a never-ending sequence of improvements that will probably never end.
 

llyralen

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Most people, including myself, lag in the middle. That's where most of my editing time is spent.
I’ve only finished the one 15 K story, so I can really learn from others’ experiences.

I found that I badly needed some structure in the middle and I couldn’t wrap my head around how to get through from A to B. Then I realized one of my characters meets my MC 3 times and I thought “Why not just have the character make 2 date plans with my MC at the beginning, like in Dicken’s Christmas Carol how you expect 3 ghosts?” I always look forward to each ghost appearance and get a kick out of trying to remember which one Scrooge sees next. So why not let my readers know what to expect from the outset? I think it helped in my story. But I’d love to hear solutions you and others have come up with.

What do you guys do in the middle when you have things to show but they don’t have to come in any particular order? Tearing hair, crying, and giving up are so 2020…
 
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Cephus

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Most people, including myself, lag in the middle. That's where most of my editing time is spent.

If there's a place I ever really get stuck, it's at the tail end of the second act, just before I move into the third. Mostly, it's just going through and making sure I've tied up all of the loose ends and that can get in the way.
 

TheRyustyNail

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I’ve only finished the one 15 K story, so I can really learn from others’ experiences.

I found that I badly needed some structure in the middle and I couldn’t wrap my head around how to get through from A to B. Then I realized one of my characters meets my MC 3 times and I thought “Why not just have the character make 2 date plans with my MC at the beginning, like in Dicken’s Christmas Carol how you expect 3 ghosts?” I always look forward to each ghost appearance and get a kick out of trying to remember which one Scrooge sees next. So why not let my readers know what to expect from the outset? I think it helped in my story. But I’d love to hear solutions you and others have come up with.

What do you guys do in the middle when you have things to show but they don’t have to come in any particular order? Tearing hair, crying, and giving up are so 2020…
For me, it's just problem solving. How I go about structuring the story depends on the main problems the piece presents.

As an example, the horror story I'm working on 'Plague Bearer' starts with strong early characterization, but as soon as the monster appears, the pacing increases to breakneck speed. All of my beta readers wanted me to slow the story down in the middle, so I had to go back to the planning stage to brainstorm scenes to increase tension and dread for the monsters appearance. Hard work, but the end result is much better than my first draft.
 
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TheRyustyNail

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It's a constant series of tweaks. I've written a lot of books and I don't think my process is exactly the same for any of them. I'm always making small adjustments to make it more efficient, to track more information, to increase my productivity, etc. My system today isn't the same system I had two years ago and certainly not what I had ten or twenty years ago. It's a never-ending sequence of improvements that will probably never end.
I completely agree. As you work, your methods evolve with the hard won lessons of failure and success.

That's why forums like Absolute Write are so wonderful. You can learn from other writers that have already blazed the trail you are stumbling down.
 

llyralen

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For me, it's just problem solving. How I go about structuring the story depends on the main problems the piece presents.

As an example, the horror story I'm working on 'Plague Bearer' starts with strong early characterization, but as soon as the monster appears, the pacing increases to breakneck speed. All of my beta readers wanted me to slow the story down in the middle, so I had to go back to the planning stage to brainstorm scenes to increase tension and dread for the monsters appearance. Hard work, but the end result is much better than my first draft.
That’s another thing for me to work on… finding willing/ good beta readers. Is that something AW can help with?
 

TheRyustyNail

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That’s another thing for me to work on… finding willing/ good beta readers. Is that something AW can help with?
Sure. Absolute Write has a great community for finding critiques and beta readers, but I'm still new to the sight and I don't know how to link to different forums/ sub-forums. Sorry.

You already have 77 posts, so you can submit your work for critique whenever you want.

Another good resource for finding critiques and beta readers is the website Critique Circle. It's a tit for tat community where you earn credits by reading and critiquing other peoples work and then spend those credits to have your own stories posted to the site. Great community. I highly suggest it.
 

llyralen

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Sure. Absolute Write has a great community for finding critiques and beta readers, but I'm still new to the sight and I don't know how to link to different forums/ sub-forums. Sorry.

You already have 77 posts, so you can submit your work for critique whenever you want.

Another good resource for finding critiques and beta readers is the website Critique Circle. It's a tit for tat community where you earn credits by reading and critiquing other peoples work and then spend those credits to have your own stories posted to the site. Great community. I highly suggest it.
Would you suggest being a member of both sites? Is that what you do?

Today one of my goals is to figure out the best way to post something of mine in AW to get some good critique, but it seems like (here I’m probably going to sound like the ignorant newbie that I am) that there are secret forums with passwords underneath the regular forums and this is where you really want to be is the speakeasies. No? Yes? Or do I wait until I have friends so that I can say “Moe sent me?” Plus the short story I want help with already has a publication date set but I want to expand it to a book, so I feel like I need to be careful about where I post it. I don’t know if I’m wrong about all of this, or what…
 

Lakey

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Today one of my goals is to figure out the best way to post something of mine in AW to get some good critique, but it seems like (here I’m probably going to sound like the ignorant newbie that I am) that there are secret forums with passwords underneath the regular forums and this is where you really want to be is the speakeasies. No? Yes? Or do I wait until I have friends so that I can say “Moe sent me?”
Tap the ”Forums” button up at the top of the page. Then scroll down a ways to where it says “Share Your Work” and tap that. There is some information for you to read there, and below that are all the various areas arranged by genre. I don’t believe there is a password for this any longer (there was on the old server). You have actually posted in threads in the Share Your Work area, so you have already found your way there, though you might not have realized that is where you were.

:e2coffee:
 

TheRyustyNail

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Would you suggest being a member of both sites? Is that what you do?

Today one of my goals is to figure out the best way to post something of mine in AW to get some good critique, but it seems like (here I’m probably going to sound like the ignorant newbie that I am) that there are secret forums with passwords underneath the regular forums and this is where you really want to be is the speakeasies. No? Yes? Or do I wait until I have friends so that I can say “Moe sent me?” Plus the short story I want help with already has a publication date set but I want to expand it to a book, so I feel like I need to be careful about where I post it. I don’t know if I’m wrong about all of this, or what…
I would.

There's no cost and you get a ton of good advice and experience critiquing other writer's work without. Learning from both ends.
 
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Being a new writer or at least wanting to write more seriously, I find threads such as this very interesting as I have been fighting to create a system that will work for me.

First with my short story in mind I looked/tried outlining and got bogged down in detail, then I tried free writing and lost direction.

The best I've come up with so far is that I know the basic outline in my head, the story I want to tell, with the protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters in mind.

I then free write a scene, well I guess I over write a scene, then going over it I copy and past just the parts I want leaving out the bloviating or adding a word to connect or correct the phrasing then to the next scene leaving what I have for the first draft.
 

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I'm a discovery writer! Here's how my process generally goes:
  1. Jot down idea for the premise on Simplenote. I have three separate notes for YA, adult, and MG ideas, so I put it in one of those categories or just a general Premises note if I'm unsure.
  2. Eventually, a scene or line or bit of dialogue will pop into my head for that idea. So I'll make a new note dedicated solely to that story and start jotting down my ideas and prose.
  3. Once I finally get around to committing to drafting the book, I have many notes and likely a couple scenes or bits of scenes written.
  4. I draft using Google docs now because I can write on any device - desktop, laptop, or phone. (Mainly use laptop and phone.) I make a folder dedicated to that book and have a few different docs - one for notes, one for the manuscript draft (I do four-act structure and start a new doc for each act), one for what I call my "exploratory draft" which is basically a dumping ground for all the random bits of prose and scenes that I haven't gotten to yet in the manuscript draft, one for story beats, and one for my "outline" which is an ongoing list of each scene I draft. I update my outline AFTER I finish writing that scene.
  5. At this point, I may dive right into drafting or I write out my story beats. With one of my current WIPs, I wrote the first chapter and THEN wrote out the story beats. I like having an overview/roadmap of where I'm going early on, though.
  6. For my main WIP, I also have a "synopsis" doc that isn't really a synopsis, but it's where I headlights outline every upcoming scene. I do this in stages. When I start drafting, I might write a paragraph summary for every scene up until the Break into 2. After I reach that, I might write out every scene until the midpoint. Etc. I never force myself - I only jot things down so I don't forget my ideas! (Because I will forget.) And I never summarize every scene before I start drafting. I've done that once and it killed the joy of drafting for me.
So that's how I do it! It probably sounds like chaos, but chaos works for a chaotic brain! 🙃
 
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I put together a document with the premise, objectives, characters, relevant ghosts (magic systems, supernatural laws, etc), and an outline/event.

And then, when I'm done with my current project, I write.

I try to write straight through. If I get stuck on a scene, I'll sometimes skip ahead. And I stay on that project until it's done. And I try to stay over at least 2,500 words on weekdays (which works out to 2 hours on a good day, 3 hours on a bad day) and then I go heavier on weekends.

As I write, I'll go back and update my planning document with running changes (character descriptions, for instance) and notes. And I'll log my word counts, notes, etc, into Excel to track my progress. I'll have several counters in there with

In my current project, I've missed my 2,500 word daily goal once (on 8/20, when I was suffering from caffeine withdrawal) and I've been under 3k for 13/24 days I've been writing it... meaning I've been making rubbish progress. While I'm still over a 3k/day average across the entire project, I'm gradually slipping.
 

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I'm more a pantser than anything else but I'll think through a couple of scenes ahead each time I write a new scene.
 

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Since I began my writing journey, one of my greatest struggles has been finding a comfortable way to approach the first draft of a new project.

It's taken many months and hundreds of thousands of words, but I've settled into a routine that I'm comfortable with. After outlining, I dictate my work using the "Landscape Method" and churn out as much prose as possible without stopping to edit. The goal isn't to create art, but, instead, to design a skeleton that I can later flesh out to meet my desired form and function.

The process has served me well, but I always seek to improve my craft and to grow as a wordsmith. So, my fellow denizens of Absolute Write, how do you approach your first drafts and what techniques have given you the most bang for your collective buck?
I'm probably going to be an odd-one out, but I'm really just going with the flow. When an idea comes to me but doesnt neccesarily fit into the story line at the moment I still get it down. Sorting out the timeline can come later, I just never want to miss creative ideas that turn up. Even if it's just a sentince I get it down. I find most times a sentince will then turn into an entire paragraph.
 
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I'm probably going to be an odd-one out, but I'm really just going with the flow. When an idea comes to me but doesnt neccesarily fit into the story line at the moment I still get it down. Sorting out the timeline can come later, I just never want to miss creative ideas that turn up. Even if it's just a sentince I get it down. I find most times a sentince will then turn into an entire paragraph.

I start out with scraps of scenes or just single bits of dialogue I know I want to use. Most scenes are just two talking heads with minimal action description. Also, lots of notes to myself as to what the scene will end up looking like. And I have a bunch of Google Keep notes with single lines of dialogue that hit me randomly throughout the day.

My writing process is a mess. I accept this.
 
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KoffieKat

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I start out with scraps of scenes or just single bits of dialogue I know I want to use. Most scenes are just two talking heads with minimal action description. Also, lots of notes to myself as to what the scene will end up looking like. And I have a bunch of Google Keep notes with single lines of dialogue that hit me randomly throughout the day.

My writing process is a mess. I accept this.
I completely relate. I have many rough rough rough drafts. I just keep rereading and adding to it when/if new ideas I want to add arise. As I do this I put scenes in order and weed out information that is unimportant.
 

AlanHeise

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I have been writing for 'myself' for years on one book story-line. I used a short form outline and have added to it as I go. I use third person, as I have many characters to write the story-line through. Three characters are the main ones of the book. I wrote and when coming to a new character thought about who this character would be, and then added that info into their character name and listing on a separate list. I wrote the first three chapters and then second edited. Then I added another chapter and then edited. Fourteen chapters later, and at least 20 edits, as I am always trying to improve the story and characters. This has been my process. I am now 4 chapters into the second book of this series. I have always had in my head, the nearly whole rough story line, and can see this becoming at least three books, as my plot line keep coming into my head to drive the story further. I guess I mostly a pantsing writer.
 

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