Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Letting Your Novel's First Draft Simmer

You've gathered all of the main ingredients of your main dish (novel) and scattered them on the counter.
You've prepped, chopped, grated, stirred, sauteed, boiled, and now, switched the heat to low.
The recipe recommends you let the mixture simmer.
(If writing a novel was like following a recipe, 
we'd all create #1 bestsellers!)
Unfortunately, writing a novel is not that easy.
So, how long does a writer let their 1st rough draft simmer?
One thing I know for sure, is it's best to put it away for "a while". But, what is "a while," and how long should a writer wait to open the draft and begin revising? I love using Google, and I'm known to literally type in my question and hit, search. Here's what I typed:
Length of time to let a novel rest before second drafting
Below, is a chunk of information I stumbled upon (on the first page of my search) when I Googled the above question. Imagine how mortified I was to read this:
  • Almost every writer does revision wrong, by starting on page one, line one, and "fixing" the story one sentence at a time.
  • Almost every revision kills most of what's good in a novel without fixing what's bad.
  • Almost every first draft never makes it to second draft.
  • And almost every first novelist abandons that first novel forever, tucking it (and the opportunity to learn the most amazing part of writing fiction---how to turn first draft-dross into final-draft gold) in a box under the bed.

    Right along with his dreams of writing something worth publishing. 
UGH! Is that scary or what?

George Orwell says this about a 1st rough draft: "  Of course the rough draft is always a ghastly mess bearing little relation to the finished result, but all the same it is the main part of the job."

I found this piece of advice on

First, make sure you know how and where you work best. If you like going to a coffee shop or would rather stay at home and sit at your desk, do that. Next, just read through the novel and correct grammar and the little things you can mark up on the page. Second delve in deeper and have a notebook where you keep notes on plot points that get lost, characters who’ s name changes, or situations/ideas that need more explanation. Those are things that you may need to add a new scene in for.

I confess, it's been two months since I typed my last period on the first draft of my YA novel. I'm sending it in large chucks to a few readers. I tried getting myself involved with a couple of other projects, but I'm itching to get back to Josey and her adventures.

Let me hear from y'all. How long do you put your first draft on the back burner to simmer before bringing the pot back to a rapid boil?


  1. I responded to your post on this subject on SheWrites "First Novel" group, but my--what a lot of negative content out there on the web about first drafts! I had no idea!

    I like your quote by George Orwell and the advice the hub pages gave you. I think it really just depend on how much time you need to "Rediscover" your great ideas again! Go into the reading of your first draft with a notebook, looking for the flow of the plot. Look for the good things about what you've written, not just the flaws!

    Good luck! And happy writing!

    Laura @ Literary Legs Blog

  2. Laura, thanks for stopping by! I've got a notebook on standby, I'm just terrified to get in there and see the mess I produced! Will I hate it? Will I just toss all 120,000 words in the trash can?

    You've put quite simply for me. Grab a notebook, look for the flow, good things, and not just the flaws. Thank you for that!

    Btw, I just signed up to follow your blog. Love the title, and I enjoyed your cousin's post!

  3. Go with what works for you. I set mine aside and write on something else, then go back later, or if something clicks in my mind that would work (better.)

    Once I pick it up for a thorough edit though, that is it until I pronounce either it or me done. :-)

  4. Thanks for stopping by, nellewrites! Great point about following through with the edit until it is done (or I'm done in!)

    I've been working on several other things, mostly on a rose rustling book I'm writing (non-fiction). It's keeping me busy. I just find my mind drifting back to the characters in my YA.

    I think I've decided to give it another month or so, maybe two. Thanks again!