This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
by Anna Bell
I’ve written before about the psychological mind games I have to play in order to finish the first draft of a novel, and my current WIP is no exception. The most important rule I write a first draft by is that I only go forward and never ever go back to tinker and change things.
No matter how much I plan, there’s usually a storyline that doesn’t translate well on paper or a new storyline that needs to be added. I’ll be writing the draft and something won’t quite click, but then further down the line an idea on how to solve the issue will pop into my head. With my golden rule of never going backwards, I apply the storyline or the change from that point on and I add a reminder in my notes to make the change in the edit.
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The reason I don’t go back and make the changes at the time is that I don’t want to get bogged down in editing during the first draft stage. I write a quick and dirty first draft that is usually an awful mess, but it’s about putting down placeholders and getting the story lines straight in my mind. There’s also a fear that I might go back and change or add the storyline only for another problem to crop up later on in the draft and then it will need to be amended or cut. By not going back, I save all the edits for the end and keep the writing momentum going on the first draft.It occurred to me recently that, if I got hit by a bus, anyone reading my WIP would think I was on drugs. Storylines disappear and events, which haven’t even happened, are referred to. Character’s personalities also change. A major storyline in my new novel is my protagonist’s mission to get her ex-boyfriend back. I initially wrote the ex as a mean jerk, yet I later realised that this leaves the reader wondering why the protagonist wants him back. Future scenes with him have showed a more caring, affectionate side, which hopefully makes readers understand why she is doing what she’s doing. Reading my draft without editing the earlier references make it seem like he’s had a complete personality transplant.
I also use the going forward rule to write through word slumps. Even when something isn’t working, I try and keep going, hoping it will be fixed in the edit. I was writing a chapter about my protagonist learning to ride a motorbike and it was like I was writing it in Dutch. Nothing flowed. It wasn’t funny. It didn’t move the story along. It was repeating other things that had happened already in the novel, and in short, it was boring. Yet I wrote it, even though I knew that it would all be edited out. Sure enough, when writing the next chapter, it hit me that the situation needing changing. My protagonist needed to learn to windsurf instead of ride a motorbike. Now subsequent chapters are littered with references to this windsurfing event that will magically appear in the edit, which will hopefully work a lot better.
Do you ever go back when writing your first draft? Do you tinker and edit as you go? What’s your biggest rule when it comes to writing a first draft?