The Writing Process – Part Three – The First Draft

Previous posts and posts to come in this series:

  1. Research & Preliminary Plotting
  2. Outlining
  3. First Draft
  4. Second Draft
  5. Third Draft
  6. Final Draft

Getting to This Point

So, in the previous two posts in this series, I covered the very basic ideation and top-level plotting, as well as the in-depth character creation steps, and followed with a second post on making a scene-by-scene “storyboard” of the novel.

All of that leads to this next step, which is creating the first draft.

It’s particularly fitting since we are now at the end of NaNoWriMo.

Although, this was as close to NaNo as I was able to get this year as I was quite busy moving into my first house and starting a new chapter in my professional life as a marketing manager for a financial firm soon.

(Keep an eye on my LinkedIn profile for that update!)

Writing the First Draft

With each scene carefully laid out and the plot hammered out, things should be easy peasy to just spit out 100,000 words, right?


Let’s face it, that little flashing indicator in any word processing program when you start a fresh, new page that has nothing else on it is still as intimidating as hell. You can, and will, get stuck in the ever-revolving rut of not even wanting to start creating because “What if it sucks?”


Yes, I suffer from the same… all the time. It’s a nagging little devil on my shoulder.

As a note, this is usually why I do all of my plotting and research and outlining before we hit this point. That indicator is not quite as intimidating.

The other half of it is the very reason we’re talking about a first draft during November and during NaNoWriMo.

The nice part about NaNoWriMo is the support from other writers in the exact same boat. Not only that, because the challenge is all about starting and finishing a full novel in the span of 30 days (basically all of November and only November) you don’t have time for the doubts to creep in. It’s a frenetic and frantic race to just slam words down on a page, never mind the grammar or mistakes… just get them down as fast as possible… before the clock strikes midnight on November 30th because December 1st means you lost the challenge.

Having a plan means you don’t write yourself into a corner or get stuck.

Just look at the plan, slam those words into that word processor as fast as your fingers can type them (or as fast as your speech to text recognition can keep up… or as fast as that pen and paper allows you to…) until that novel is written.

Granted, for NaNo, you only have to have 50000 words to make it.

However, slamming words into Scrivener is the point of the first draft.

It’s been said (can’t remember by who exactly) that the first draft is where you tell yourself your story. It’s absolutely true.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

What counts is that it’s done and not an outline anymore. Rewrites and revisions can come later.

I know some writers revise as they go. I generally don’t… mostly because NaNoWriMo doesn’t really grant that much time. I may, if I noticed something glaring, fix it as I go but only if I notice it. Considering I never aim for the basic 50k but a complete novel and each novel in The Rangers of Walden was never less than 100k, it means I’m typing my fingers off on any device with a keyboard within reach during every waking hour I’m not working to pay for that house.

If my coworkers are reading this – yes, this would be why I look a bit frazzled, wear far less make-up, and go through more coffee than usual. I’m not texting on my phone during break… I am probably writing.

Once I’m done with the entire first draft, there are a few other things that do need to be done.

What Do I Do Once That First Draft is Written?

The first thing I do is I read through the entire thing once and compare the scenes I have written to the outline. Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, in the process of writing you can go off into a tangent… especially during NaNoWriMo with its myriad of entertaining writing challenges meant to spark creativity and bust through Writer’s Block. Sometimes, in later revisions, these will be edited out but in other times the challenges serve to spark a direction or solve a problem.

(*The character of Eric Kovach came from one such challenge. Eric is a member of an online NaNoWriMo group and he issued the challenge one year that everyone had to kill him off somehow… I think we all know I went one step further.)

I should point out that I don’t do any major revisions unless I really do see something major that isn’t working. I will fix a few things that really jump out at me and then leave it.

Wait, what?

I mean it – I will not touch my first draft for at least a month after I have declared the first stage of this done. I compile it from Scrivener into Microsoft Word, back it up into a few places, and I even send it to print at a local print shop.

I’ve had data and hard drive failures and they’re devastating. I make sure everything is backed up and that there are printed and on CD copies… Just in case.

I call this whole stage, first draft and all…

The Development Edits

After letting the book rest for at least a month, I will finally go back and re-read it.

The steps I take here are:

1 – Rest

I let it sit for a month or two so that when I do go back to it, it’s with fresh eyes and a mind that doesn’t remember each and every detail. I let my short memory work with me instead of against me. This allows me the same fresh eyes as a first-time reader.

2 – Read it Through

I read the whole Word document through and use the in-program revision and comment tracker to take note of what needs to be changed, tweaked. Leaving it sit, as I said, gives me fresh eyes and I notice a whole lot more than I would had I not given myself a chance to rest.

3 – Summarize

I create a summary of each scene into the Scrivener index tiles for the scenes in question, making sure I followed my own rules in creating the scenes.

Then, I close Scrivener and reload a copy of the project files into Aeon Timeline. Aeon is a software that creates timelines using actual dates, or relative dates, to create a visual timeline for the story. Each scene index card becomes an entry which will allow me to see if I’m mixing up a timeline (which can sometimes confuse a reader if not done right… a “mixed up” timeline that worked was the recent TV serialization of the Witcher. In most cases, however, timelines should flow from one point to the next in perfect relation to each other). I will note where things are in weird relation to each other.

With the primary file open on one side of the screen and Aeon the other side, I compare the Aeon Timeline with the Scrivener Project and tweak the index cards and chapters as they need to be so that timelines sync… or revise scenes that can’t be moved around to make sense into the timeline.

4 – The Last Compile & Getting a Second Opinion

I compile the outline out from Scrivener into Word and let a second, trusted, set of eyes read over the outline, including Reactive/Active notes. The second set of eyes will give me valuable feedback on whether things make sense or not or if things still need work, and then I give that same second set of eyes the first draft. Most of the time, if I’ve done my job correctly up until this point the second opinion is favourable… but not without their own set of suggestions or tweaks.

I look at my notes, the notes from that second opinion, and I recreate the tweaked outline.

I add any scenes that are required, note changes that need to be made, fixes in plot, how things are executed, timeline, etc…

I compile everything out one last time as a Draft 1.2 (We’re not quite into the second draft yet, but not quite midway into revising the first draft either).

5 – Starting a New Scrivener Project

And then I create a new Scrivener Project fresh and physically type in the notes and new index cards to match the notes and revisions. I

Any research, character notes, etc, that need to be moved over to the new file are moved over.

And the old Scrivener file is closed forever (quite possibly even deleted!).

What I have now is the most recent complete draft (let’s call it “1.5” and a fresh Scrivener Project with only notes and research… almost like I haven’t even started writing yet.

That gets closed because now I’m heading into Celtx

6 – Create a Screenplay Draft from the First Draft

I then completely rewrite, using the notes and the old First Draft, a screenplay. This forces me to pull only the dialogue out as a script and then visualize and place what the characters interact with and visualize and map out where everything takes place.

At this point, I usually find that my dialogue doesn’t feel, or sound, like dialogue. It’s not natural and it feels stilted – or it doesn’t give a character their own voice. This is why I like creating a script. You hear your character and see them in the storyboard. With the focus on the dialogue itself, you can hone into any problems that could crop up.

It usually helps to read the dialogue out loud, and even borrow help from family and friends to take the parts and do a read-through. What sounds normal to me may suddenly sound completely off when someone else tries to read it with any inflection.

After fixing the dialogue and scenes using Celtx, I compile that file into PDF and put it on one half of my screen. On the other half, I load up the fresh Scrivener Project.

7- Novelize the Screenplay

I then rewrite the book using the screenplay and tweaked outline. No copying or pasting… just a fresh new novel using the notes created.

What I have now is a fully revised, rewritten, and solid First Draft.

8 – Another check with another set of eyes

To protect this from losing it, I again compile out of Scrivener into MS Word into the cloud. I’m not quite ready to do the print back-up yet, but I at this point I will let another “Alpha” reader have a look (and maybe even the first one have a second look) and ask them the following:

  1. Does the plot make sense?
  2. Is it easy enough to follow?
  3. Does the timeline feel like it bounces around too much?
  4. Are things too obvious? Not obvious enough?
  5. Did I leave any storylines unfinished? Did I drop any?
  6. Are the characters in character?

I’m not looking for style so much as making sure characters enter and exit properly, or that there aren’t huge plot holes.

If, at this point (and it should be good to go after all of this), the scenes work, the storyline makes sense, etc… then I compile everything out into MSWord, PDF, print and CD-Rom.

The First Draft is now completed and ready for the next step in the process.

One response to “The Writing Process – Part Three – The First Draft”

  1. […] The Writing Process – Part Three – The First Draft […]


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