What Is A First Draft?

There is a misconception among people who don’t write for a living that a professional writer’s first draft is basically the story the writer wanted to tell, only with a few spelling errors and some places where the writer didn’t get the style quite right.

In readers’ minds, the final draft will be like the first draft, only prettied up a bit.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I can’t say that all professional writers’ first drafts are wrecks.  I can say that, with the sole exception of Sympathy for the Devil, which was published with only a couple of lines changed from my first draft, all of mine have been.

In my first drafts, I’m still finding my story the whole way through the book, finding my themes, pursuing characters who shift and change as I write them, working toward the final forms that I frequently don’t even figure out until I write the ending.

So let me define WRECKED FIRST DRAFT for you.  In the majority of my revisions, I add about 30%-50% to the length of the manuscript, rewrite about 75% of the story, delete whole chapters, eliminate and condense some characters, change themes, completely toss much of the beginning (the part of the novel furthest from my final vision of what the book should be) add in world details…

The list goes on.  It’s a long list.  I only do one major revision per novel, but it’s a massive undertaking.  (If you’re curious, I list out everything that a revision of a first draft requires here. This goes to the course description for the revision course I created.)

Why am I telling you this?

Because I received a nasty little note from someone who’d been reading the TalysMana first draft, and who wanted to make sure I knew my writing had deteriorated from finished work like The World Gates novels and The Secret Texts.  She wanted me to know she wouldn’t be reading any more of my work.

In fact, I’ve learned a lot about writing in the years since I wrote those books.  However, first draft is not the place for refined prose.  If you try to revise a novel before you’ve finished writing it, you’re just going to screw yourself and the story up.

First draft is the place to figure out what the story you’re telling needs to become.  It’s the place to make mistakes, to try out new ideas, to explore variations on existing ideas.  It’s a place to break things, and move on knowing they’re broken, writing until you discover the way to fix what broke.  First draft is a rough sketch, nothing more—and in spite of the fact that my first-draft prose is mostly pretty readable, it’s nothing like complete, and bears very little resemblance to my final draft work.

So while you’re reading TalysMana, keep in mind that this is the rawest of raw first draft.  I haven’t even bothered to check for spelling before posting.  I wanted readers to see how a first draft comes into being—including all the wrong turns, the places that break, the thin worldbuilding, the little sparks of themes that will become brilliant torches in the revision.

First draft is an adventure, and just this once, I wanted to share it.  (I don’t even let editors or my agent read my first drafts—ever—so this is way outside anything I’ve ever shared with readers.)

Read, enjoy, cringe when things crash…

Just don’t mistake this for the book TalysMana will be when I’m done with it.  This isn’t even close.