My first drafts are ugly. I have friends who talk about plotting and planning for months before they ever write a word on a new manuscript. I can’t see myself doing that. I’m getting better at plotting but even so, it doesn’t seem to matter how much I plan and ponder, dream and think, my first drafts are still rough.
For me, a first draft is largely an exploration of the plot. It’s also about me trying to get to know the characters. It’s not until I’ve gone all the way through a draft that I start to get a handle on the sub-plots and themes, and it’s only then that I start understanding my characters. So my first drafts are perhaps more what other people call planning.
I’d love to be one of those writers who can complete a manuscript to satisfaction in just a couple of drafts. It usually takes me about three drafts to really nail down the plot and it’s only then that I can start worrying about the details – sensory, emotional, visual. This is when I start looking at issues like what time of year events occur in and what the weather is like. For some reason, my characters are always trapped in an “unseasonal heatwave”. Here in Australia, we have very hot summers so perhaps this is the reason for my obsession with heatwaves. At about the dozen draft mark, I start feeling comfortable with what I’ve written and it’s really only then that I start to feel like I have a manuscript that’s getting towards being half decent.
I’m currently working on the first round of edits for a manuscript that I meticulously – for me, at least – planned prior to writing. I even used index cards – lots of them – and I thought I did a much better job of laying out the plot than I ever have before. However now that I’m finally re-reading this draft for the first time, I’m realising all that planning has left me with a first draft that really isn’t any better than what I usually produce. There are still massive plot holes, contradictions and things I just haven’t figured out yet.
So I’m wondering whether all that planning was a waste of time. Perhaps this is just the way my brain works. Maybe I need to go through that process of laying the story out, in the form of a first draft, to get my head around it. Perhaps what I’ve been thinking of as a first draft is really my planning stage. Other people use index cards, character notes, and synopses for planning. I guess I’m doing much the same, only mine is 80,000 words long.
So I’m wondering whether I’m approaching this the wrong way. All this time I’ve been telling myself I need to plan better, but perhaps what I’ve been thinking of as a first draft really is my planning process. It’s just a little longer than what some other people do. But then again, maybe I’m kidding myself. Am I just being lazy and avoiding planning properly because I find it so difficult? That’s the problem with writers, isn’t it. We can convince ourselves of just about anything by justifying it as our “creative process” instead of laziness.
So tell me: what planning process do you go through prior to writing your first draft?