The Road to Publication: Remember, the first draft is always sh*t

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just start writing and everything that came out of your head arrived in beautiful prose? That the ideas just kept flowing, and it all made perfect sense? How do other writers find it so easy?

The answer is they don’t. Most of the work to produce a novel comes after the first draft, in the seemingly endless rounds of edits.

The best piece of advice I ever received about writing was from a tweet by Caitlin Moran describing her first draft as ‘word vomit’. The idea that a first draft is always sh*t is quite reassuring.

The problem is that you are probably comparing your first draft to a published book which will have gone through several drafts and editorial stages. The finished product on the shelves looks very, very different from the first draft on your computer.

So, let your characters change age, name and gender half-way through. Relax when your setting changes from the South of France to Southport, when your plot veers in strange directions and hangs on unlikely coincidences, when you’re convinced that what you’re writing makes no sense whatsoever and never will.

In your first draft you can leave out scenes altogether and skip to the more interesting parts. You can add backstory that you know you will end up cutting. You can type XXX when you need to do some research. You can bring characters back to life if you killed them off too early. You just have to keep going!

I am nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I hope to have it completed by the end of January. And it is very much ‘word vomit’. It’s not something I would ever let anyone read.

But it’s easier to edit 80,000 of word vomit than it is to edit a blank page.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The Road to Publication: Writing a first draft

I am currently writing the first draft of Book Three, as yet untitled.

Every writer is different, but I usually take around six to eight months to write my first draft. I aim to write 3,000 words a week for around 30 weeks, but life sometimes gets in the way.

I started writing my first draft on 1 July and so far, I have written 24,000 words so I am about on target to finish by the end of January / early February.

I will then take a break for around six weeks while I do some research before tackling my second draft. It’s usually after the third draft that I feel comfortable showing it to anyone.

You may have heard of ‘pantsers’ and ‘planners’ but I’m neither. I like to have an outline to work to, but I don’t plan my books too much before I start. Otherwise I feel like I have already written it and I quickly lose passion for the story. Likewise, I can’t just start writing with no idea where I’m heading so pantsing doesn’t work for me either.

I like the snowflake method of writing. If you haven’t heard of it, there is a very good ebook available which explains the method. You basically alternate between developing character and plot and work from the very essence of the novel outwards, writing and plotting as you go.

I have also recently read Save the Cat, so I am trying to structure my book according to the 15 story beats. A lot of writers struggle with a ‘flabby middle’ (where nothing really happens in the book), so I think it’s important to have a good midpoint twist. I’m quite excited about mine!

I’ll keep you posted how I get on!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Places that inspired ‘The Trip’

In October 2017, my husband and I embarked on a backpacking trip around South-East Asia. It was a place we had visited a few times before but always on holiday. We sold our house, gave up our jobs and spent seven months exploring Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.

In my backpack was the first draft of a novel, which was then called The Pact. A psychological thriller about a student who goes backpacking with her friends after leaving university and is involved in a tragic death. Five years later, she receives a photo that proves she lied about what really happened that night…

The story (and the title) had changed quite a bit by the time my novel was finally published in February 2020, but I hope these photographs give you a flavour of how our travels inspired the novel.

If you want to read more about my adventures, please visit my travel blog: www.diaryofamiddleagedbackpacker.com

Cambodia

The characters visit the ancient temple of Angkor Wat
Holly and George go out in Pub Street in Siem Reap. The bar that features in the novel is fictional.

Vietnam

The characters take a boat trip around Halong Bay. We didn’t visit this area on our backpacking trip but we took the same boat trip in 2015.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
Hoi An in Vietnam – another significant scene in the book. Holly and George take a trip along the river in one of these canoes.

Thailand

The Beach in the novel is fictional but I imagine it to look a bit like this.

Yorkshire Dales

Holly lives in the Yorkshire Dales. The village in the book is fictional.