A first draft is like good whiskey, it needs to age. You can’t just finish the thing, put a stamp of approval on it and send it out into the world. You need to barrel it, distil it and you forget about it. Yep, forget about it like a girlfriend that broke your heart, forget about it like you’ve forgotten about Phantom Menace, forget about it like… well, you get the idea. Once I finish writing a first draft I try my hardest to forget it even exists at all. I go to the bar, I play pool, I read more books but the single most important thing I do, I start another project.
After I finished the first draft of The Adventures of Abigail Storm, the very first thing I did was start a new project. Now that I’m trying to forget about that, it’s time to crack open the barrel and retrieve Abigail.
Here’s a couple of things I learnt while reading the first draft of The Adventures of Abigail Storm.
- Come armed with coffee.
- The first draft is always shit. No matter how much I hope that the novel has rewritten itself in my absence, it’s never happened. I expect the worst, from typos to clunky writing, to embarrassing dialogue and logic holes the size of that asteroid in Armageddon.
- Lock the door and turn off the phone. I’m only going to get the chance to read the novel from beginning to end for the first time once. For me, this has to be done in one day. It’s one very long day, but that way I can see the flow of the story in one hit.
- The first paragraph isn’t needed. This has been consistent for all my books. I spend hours crafting that first paragraph to perfection like a fine artist in the first draft, only to come by a couple of months later with a red pen and kick it out of the novel. First paragraphs in first drafts are almost always never needed.
- Cut ten thousand words, at least. If that sounds like a lot, it is. Ten thousand words is roughly forty to fifty pages and probably a week’s worth of work. Right now this novel is on the fat side and I want it lean and mean and precise. Every single word needs to earn its place, every cliff hanger, every joke and every single word needs to earn its place if I want the reader to turn the page. There’s no room for useless words.
What if what I read is bad? See point number 2. IT IS BAD! But don’t cry. Have a beer. Get up tomorrow and rewrite that bastard.