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writing process: writing the first draft

April 24, 2010

3. Writing the first draft

After I finish plotting and doing character biographies, I start writing the first draft.

A novel of a thousand pages begins with a single scene. ~ James Scott Bell.

Once I get going, I write every day. Yes, sometimes I have to force myself to sit down and write a few hundred words. Other days I enthusiastically type out up to four thousand words.

I only write when I’m inspired, and I make sure I’m inspired every morning at 9 a.m. ~ Peter DeVries.

I no longer write longhand. Typing is faster and that means I can keep up with my ideas and lines of dialogue that pop into my head.

Every day, I start by reading what I wrote the day before, adding a word here or a sentence there, deleting or changing others. But I try not to get bogged down in editing mode. By the way, I had Jorie, my writer in Second Nature, use the same method. She re-reads and does a quick edit… but then she starts the typical writer procrastination games: doing a word count, removing a comma, doing a word count again, adding a hyphen, doing a word count again… anyone else ever found herself doing that kind of thing? 🙂

Speaking of word count… I have an Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of my word count and produces a progress graph for me. Very geeky.

It usually takes me four or five months to finish the first draft of a 140,000-word novel. I finished the first draft of Second Nature in three months, while Backwards to Oregon took eight months. Then it usually takes at least that long to get from the first draft to a manuscript that is ready for submission.

So, the writers among you, how long does it usually take you to write the first draft?

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5 comments

  1. First draft of “Turning Point” took me twenty-five weeks. I was writing crazy, every minute of every day I could spare, working an 80-hour a week job. I pretty much ignored food and family. Lost my grandfather during that summer, traveled to Louisiana to bury him and was still writing in and around the whole thing.

    The first part of “Turn for Home” (coming soon) was part of that draft. What became the second half of the story probably took me about 6 months to write. And then after “Turning Point” was published, with its changes, “Turn for Home” had to change too. That took almost 9 months to revise — I drafted probably another half again of new material.

    My current WIP has taken me the better part of 2 years, and I keep scrapping and starting over. I can’t even settle on a title I like.

    So, short answer made long, it depends.


  2. Interesting how different it can be with every book. Also, it seems rewriting and polishing as a rule takes longer than writing the first draft. That’s as it should be.

    What’s the current WIP about, if I can ask?


    • Basic plot is a rural waterfront Florida Sheriff’s Deputy (Kennedy McMasters) has to solve the death of the harbormaster when his body turns up in a fishing net in the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way to solving that mystery she has a witness to protect while holding the woman at arm’s length despite a distracting attraction, her father (a retired deputy) who keeps interfering in the case, and problems within the community and sheriff’s department to work around/through to get the investigation done right and catch the killer(s).


      • Lara, that sounds truly interesting. Would be right up my alley — a romance novel that is not just a romance novel. Or maybe a mystery that is not just a mystery. So I hope the writing will go smoothly now, without you having to start all over again, so that we can read this newest novel soon.


  3. I’m curious – why does the word count (versus, say, chapter count) interest you, since LBook doesn’t have a word count threshold?



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