So, yesterday I finished the first draft of my current project, Masked Queen. It is 74k words long and probably the worst thing I’ve ever written, but I’m quite proud of having actually finished a wannabe novel. I’ve been writing for years – which doesn’t mean much when you’re only 20, I guess – but until now I had never completed a project, even the first draft of one. I’ve written more, of course – an old WIP was 160k words long at some point and I was half way done with it only. But I was 15, so my grasp of how long a novel should be wasn’t the best – but it feels different to write a beginning, a middle and an ending, it doesn’t matter how ugly they are.
I started writing MQ’s first draft during NaNoWriMo, which was at the same time a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I don’t think I would ever have finished it if not for the whole let’s write! excitation of November, and a curse because I planned the novel the day before November 1st and didn’t do a good job out of it (I’m a planner. Like, all-scenes-need-to-be-planned kind of planner), so the structure of this first draft is far from good. But I wrote 60k words in a month, which was a new record for me, and even though I only wrote the last 14k words in the past 9 days, it was worth it. The thing is finished. Amen.
But there is so much wrong stuff in it. Believe me when I say that it is the worst thing I’ve ever written. Some examples of how bad it is:
- Characters mention scenes that never happened throughout the book. Because I realized too late that I needed these scenes.
- Characters that didn’t exist in the first 50k words become important in the last 24k. Because I realized too late that I needed more characters (and yes, the already existent characters talk and mention these new characters as if they already knew them since the beginning of the book).
- Character A didn’t exist but is suddenly dead in the place of Character B and even though everyone saw Character B die they still act as if Character A is the one dead. Since Character B died because of Character C, I figured it would be better if the dead character was important to Character C (and thus Character A came into existence) (God, this is confusing).
- Characters are beautifully inconsistent. Because I changed my mind about their personalities at least five times while I was writing the book.
- Dialogues that are so out of character they make me cringe. Because I wanted to be done with this draft and after all it is meant to be shitty anyway (aka I was lazy).
- Small chapters because I wanted certain scenes to be from a character’s POV, but they weren’t enough to, you know, become a real chapter.
- Character development that is sudden and nonsensical. Because, as I will talk about later, this draft was much more about plot than character.
- Awful pacing. See the small chapters above.
- Cliché plot points and situations. Because I just wanted to give information and went for the easiest way to do it.
- A lot of unnamed characters (Name 1, Name 2, etc, Name 8). Because I’m just too lazy.
- Awful worldbuilding. Because This Draft is Only About Plot ™ (and I had 0 worldbuilding when I started – remember how I decided to join NaNoWriMo the day before it began?).
- Awful writing. Okay, so, my writing in Portuguese is kinda decent, but my writing in English? Horrible. Now take this consideration plus how I just didn’t care for writing anything well and you have a draft that is a crime against literature.
- Characters who disappear without explanation. Because I realized I didn’t need these ones.
- Magic system that is pure shit. Because I had no idea of what I wanted/needed for this story until I wrote it.
- Characters who suddenly knew stuff at the ending when they didn’t know this stuff and talked about not knowing said stuff during 80% of the book. Because I realized that if I wanted to make smart characters it didn’t make sense that they didn’t know what was right on their faces.
- Characters who are in scenes but that disappear from the dialogue/description. Because I was too busy writing about the characters that are important to the scene instead of remembering these other characters are there too (which probably means they shouldn’t be there at all).
- Secondary characters who are so flat they make me feel bad about every flat character I’ve ranted about in my life. Because This Draft is Only About Plot ™.
- Relationships that are utterly undeveloped. Because This Draft is Only About Plot ™ and also the characters are shit. For now (I hope).
- Characters who suddenly know important stuff to the climax during the climax without a explanation (they just know it. How do they know it? I have no idea). Because I realized they needed to know this stuff too late.
- Awful structure. Like I said above, the structure is shit. If the first acts takes 10% of the book I’m being generous and the second act takes at least 70%.
And much more, believe me.
I had already heard about how some writers only get one thing more or less right in the first draft, but doing it myself was… interesting. I know for some it’s characters or writing that they get right, and for others it is plot, for example. For me, obviously, it is plot. If I don’t have the plot I can’t build the characters around it because I have no idea of what is going to happen (even with an awfully long outline – I need to know what these things will feel like, you know).
So, now that I have the first draft, I have to start preparing myself for writing the second. I’m much more excited for it than I was/am about the first draft, for obvious reasons (… it is shitty, after all…), but also because I’m the kind of person who loves organization, so the idea of taking all the scenes, making summaries of them on colorful sticky notes and then thinking about each character’s motivation in them is something that makes me go [heart eyes]. Also, this second draft is probably the one I will send to my friends so they can read and criticize it, and I’m the kind of writer who thrives on feedback (years of posting original stuff online made me this monster).
But I still have lots of things to do before starting to write it. Like working on that worldbuilding, you know, or on the secondary characters. Or doing some extensive research on PTSD and depression, since one of my main characters has both and I don’t want to get anything wrong.
Being honest, I don’t think I’ll finish this second draft this year. I won’t work on it on Camp NaNo or on NaNoWriMo because I want to take things slow and actually pay attention to everything I’m doing. So it’ll probably take a while for MQ to become an actual book that looks like a book and not an horror movie gone wrong.
Will it be the last draft? I don’t think so, but it’ll probably be the last one I write from zero, as in, I’m not going to use anything I wrote for the first draft in it because I want this one be good and not shitty. So the third, fourth, etc, drafts will probably be based on the second & on the feedback my friends/betas will give me.
I learned a lot while writing this first draft. I never finished anything in these years writing because I always thought everything I wrote was trash after some chapters, so I just gave up and started again. The old project I mentioned above? It has eight unfinished drafts, some long (160k, 120k, 100k, 80k, 60k) and others short (10k, 20k, 35k). I have been rewriting it for years. That’s how bad I am at finishing things.
But! Now I know from experience that the first draft sucks. It’s not something I just heard people talking about but didn’t take seriously because what? No. I want this thing to be perfect from draft 1.
Which is kinda ridiculous, but I was young(er).
So, lesson learned. Finally.