The Eight Stages of the First Draft

I’m in Milton Keynes on Saturday! Yes. If you’re in the area, pop along to Waterstones between 12 and 2pm and I’ll totally draw a dragon in your book. At some point I will do a proper blog about the release of The Iron Ghost and how ridiculously fabulous it has been, but until then…



You have been waiting to write this book forever. You have been cradling this first chapter in your mind-bosom for months, and finally it is here. The first ten thousand words or so pass as if in some muffin-scented dream, and everything about this book is amazing. This is it. This is the book that expresses your soul in its purest form. Your writing has never been better and nothing can stop you.



The initially euphoric energy has been expended, and you start to slow down. Plots and characters are marching along certain paths now rather than running giddily around open fields, but that’s okay, because there is The Plan. It’s mostly composed of the densely written post-it notes that cover your corkboard and fill your groaning notebooks, and it will sustain you through this tricky period. Okay, so you might have had to go back and make some adjustments already because The Book is already veering away somewhat from The Plan, but that’s alright because this is the first draft and that kind of crazy, seat-of-your-knickers thinking is what the first draft is for. Everything is fine.



Everything is not fine. You are perhaps just over halfway through the book, or at least so far in to the draft that starting all over again feels a little like throwing yourself willingly into the Sun, and abruptly nothing makes sense. Why are the characters behaving like this? You have no idea. What happens in the next few chapters? The Plan is suspiciously silent. You realise that you’ve forgotten about at least two characters who last made an appearance thirty thousand words ago, and the names of several key places have changed at least twice. What is this staggering pile of nonsense? In fact, there’s this other book project that you’ve been fiddling about with in your time away from this book, and that one is starting to look a lot sexier. And easier. And like it would make a lot more sense than this current appalling mess. Temptation eats at you, but the wordcount, the wordcount won’t let you go. You take to forcing yourself to sit at the desk, even if you end up spending half an hour glaring at your laptop and rage-eating Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats. The Plan gets revisited, half of it is thrown out. You change the ending. You change the beginning. You change your trousers.



Breakthrough! You are having a shower or rooting around behind the Playstation trying to find a lost Lego figure when BOOOOM part of the book-jigsaw randomly slots into place and not only does the book make sense again, it makes sense in ways you could never have imagined! You scramble for notebooks and post-its, grinning manically as you joy-scoff at least three Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats. You cover the corkboard in your most neon coloured Post-its (possibly enhanced with felt-tip pen), blithely covering over old, stupid bits of The Plan with the new, excellent bits. You contemplate that this feeling might be the best part of being a writer – finding the solution that makes it work – and how frustrating it is that your mind likes to drop it on you while you’re thinking about something else, and not, for example, during the three hours of resolute glaring at your laptop. You are still a genius though.



Serious, unending, stoic-faced graft. You are pounding out the words, putting the hours in, and this book is getting it’s ass written, baby. You nurture the idea that you are dedicated and selfless, that every inch of you is a writing machine. You imagine friends and family gently taking your arm, genuine concern writ large on their faces. “But please, don’t you think you should rest? I know you are doing important work, my darling, but…” You brush their cheek, your eyes full of gentle regret. “I cannot stop,” you say, staring off into the distance. “Dragons do not write themselves.”



Things are out of control. When will this book ever end? The Plan does not say. The Plan promises there are only a handful of chapters left, but this is a blatant lie. Subplots need to be resolved, new characters are turning up out of nowhere, you’ve forgotten the place names again and replaced them with new ones, and your desk is awash in Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kat wrappers and dirty mugs. You don’t know when it will end, but you need it to, and soon. You rearrange the toys on your desk with a perplexed, faintly stunned expression on your face – when did I buy this My Little Pony? – and periodically stand up and wander around the room. You feel as though you have come unstuck in time somehow. Have you always been writing this book? Are you in fact trapped in a black hole somewhere? Will the Chunky Peanut Butter Kit-Kats run out one day?



The last chapter is here. You storm through it, alternating between laughing wildly and sobbing uncontrollably. Now it’s here, you are sad to see it go – sad to see the characters go, who have been with you all the way: doing their own thing, surprising you, putting up with you when you forget their names or how many weapons they own or what sort of injuries they’ve sustained lately. How will you cope without them?

You write the final line – something pithy and emotionally impactful, which you know in your heart will change at least six times before anyone else reads it. You pour yourself a drink, and contemplate the Book of Your Heart. You shed a tear or two, and consider giving up kit-kits. At least the chunky ones.



The edit. You don’t remember writing any of this, for fucks sake…

7 thoughts on “The Eight Stages of the First Draft

  1. I usually get to stage three, run out of kitkats, decide that I’m hopeless at EVERYTHING and promptly give up.

    Then come back to it six months later with a fresh supply of chocolate.

  2. Hi, I have just been to Waterstones to purchase your new book. I noticed the sign on the table with your books on. I have to tell you they need to sack the marketing manager there, it was a most underwhelming effort to be sure, lol :). I am gutted as I work in MK but I do not live here, and will therefore miss an opportunity to meet you in person. I will endeavour to get over this by reading your anticipated novel. I have no doubt that your novel will be the ying to the stores very yang adverting scheme :). Good luck on Saturday, I will not wish you luck with the novel as if it is half as good as the copper promise, thankfully it will sell its self on the merit of its content. :)

  3. This is so true. It made me chuckle! :’D Thanks for writing it. Aaaaah it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one. Stage 8 is my favourite – I genuinely don’t remember writing half my stories when I come around to editing them!

  4. This is fantastic and so so true. I am currently stuck between stages two and three. Maybe I should grab a chunky kit kat as that seems to make everything better.

  5. Pingback: A Brief Sentimental Post on Finishing a First Draft | Jennifer Williams A Brief Sentimental Post on Finishing a First Draft |

  6. I just bought Iron Ghost and I’m less than halfway through Copper Promise! So thanks for the awesomeness. Also I’ve looked you up and ended up on here, reading this article and even commenting on it like some kind of LOON. This is what happens when I take a day off work. I’ve spent the entire day swapping between reading Copper Promise and playing Pillars of Eternity. Not even put on real clothes (obviously I define real clothes as having some kind of zip or button fastening instead of elasticated waist)
    Also the tuck shop at my work, which I can see from my DESK, sells peanut kitkat chunkies and they are the DEVIL.
    Wonderful author photo, rocking exactly the same expression my Mum does in all photos ever, including when I was born.

    • Loons are absolutely welcome at all times 😀 If there was a tuck shop at my work place, and it sold peanut butter kit-kats, I would obviously be in serious trouble.

      I am so pleased you are enjoying the book, and thank you for finding me here! I’m actually in the midst of sorting out a new author photo, and in every one I’m making that exact same face…

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