The Depressive Void of the First Draft

There is something you should never do straight after writing a draft and that’s read it. I had never followed this rule before because it never bothered me when I thought it was bad…This book, however, I care about a lot. And it’s terrible.


I have written a decent amount this month. It’s NaNoWriMo and for the first time I am joining in. It is not the 14th of November and I’m at 31,000 words.

It feels good to have written so much. I’ve been working on a story close to my heart. The characters are so vivid in my head and their stories make me laugh and cry. I love this story, and for the first time in my life I feel like it was written for me. By this I mean that I haven’t been thinking about publishing or agents or anything – every day I have sat down to write, I thought about the story first.

31,000 words marks the halfway point of the book. I have written the major scenes and some of the minor ones, but I skimmed over my words yesterday and I crashed.

There is something you should never do straight after writing a draft and that’s read it. I had never followed this rule before because it never bothered me when I thought it was bad. That work was always for someone else, whether it be a university assignment or literary magazine. I’ve never really cared for anything that I’ve written.

This book, however, I care about a lot. And it’s terrible. I have about 30,000 words remaining to complete the first draft. Scenes need extending and new scenes need writing. I know that there is a lot of restructuring to do – there is a lot to do! There is a part of me that is excited for the first draft to be done so that I can dive into the second draft and bring the novel together into a concise, ordered, and more coherent manuscript.

I just can’t bring myself to do it though, as much as I really want to. I know this might sound odd. I think it’s odd too, hence this blog post. I need a way to explore my thoughts.

The idea of going back to the story to add scenes and write new ones, knowing that I’m only adding to a draft that I am really not happy with, is daunting. Yesterday, I allowed that feeling to overwhelm me so I only wrote 74 words. I spent the rest of the day doing other work. I tried to start a new story to take a break from the other one, but I didn’t have the energy or inspiration for it.

Today, I have thought of a way to move past my insecurities and anxiety about the draft. It will probably mean that I won’t technically complete my NaNoWriMo goal, but at the end of that day, my writing is more important than a goal set by someone else. This is about me, and I have to be aware of that. My writing, my story, belongs to me.

I’m going to start the second draft now.

It sounds a little crazy when I put it like that, but here is why I think that is the best idea for now.

I have the bare bones of the story already written. I have 31,000 words that I can rewrite. I have an outline now, so I know what happens in each chapter and scene. I can pick one and work on it. I don’t have to jump back to the beginning, I can write any scene I want and come back to the beginning when I feel ready to.

To prepare for the redrafting of my story, I have around 6 A4 pages of notes on which I have organised the scenes into a more coherent structure. When I look at them, I can see the incredible possibility of my novel being complete. Finally.

Yes, after I have finished the second draft I will need to write a third, but I know that this draft is the hardest, because I have to pick apart a story I love to make it the novel I would want to read.

Writing this blog post has been so wonderfully therapeutic that I think I will write more updates on my writing in the future. Instead of letting the thoughts swirl around in my head, spiraling out of control and not allowing me to write, I will come here and find a way out of the void.

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8 comments on “The Depressive Void of the First Draft”

  1. This is why I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. It’s an artificial constraint. I don’t write that quickly to begin with, so I could never produce 60,000+ words in 30 days, but even if I could, why would I require myself to do so with a time limit? The novel I recently finished (and I finally do think it’s finished) took me several years to get done, and I was writing an entirely new chapter at the end. Sure, for some, a month is a workable target, but given how many people don’t reach their NaNoWriMo goal, I don’t think it’s a reasonable mechanism for production.

    1. I completely agree that it doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve found it motivating in the beginning, but after a while it becomes too demanding, and then I begin to stress about or even hate my work – that is not something any writer wants to experience. I see no issue with people participating in nanowrimo, so long as they don’t take themselves too seriously, and just remember that they are writing because it’s something they enjoy, not because there is a tight deadline.

  2. *shakes fists at your word count* Wow, 14 days in and you got 30,000 words? Impressive! Keep going.

    Reading back the first draft from the very start while drafting is indeed a bad idea – something which I was prone to do, as well. The most I try to read back in my current project is the latest chapter, at least to re-familiarize myself with the events when I pick it up again to write.

    But in any case, NANOWRIMO is, and should always be, a fun challenge. Take the fun away, and you might as well not take the challenge at all. I like being compelled to write, and hence, I will continue.

    Have a nice day, and I hope your second draft goes well.

    1. Thank you! It’s the life of a student that allows me to have such a high word count!
      I totally agree and hope you continue to enjoy your nanowrimo challenge 🙂
      Thank you for your comment, and thank you very much – I’m sure it will be at least bearable!

  3. In Bird by Bird, a WONDERFUL book about writing and life, Anne Lamott says, “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are dong it right. Just dance” (112). So dance into that second draft, Tommye! What counts is what works for you.

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