Held Together With Paperclips, Clothespins, and Craft Wire

I’m sure there are some people out there that can put together an amazing first draft.

I am not one of them.

Mine looks more like this:

Yep, novel I finished looks pretty much like this. If you look closely, you can pick out the knight and wizard. Look close. Very close.

Yeah, not exactly the image of the chivalrous knight in shining armor or the powerful prince in line to be king.

How did I end up here instead of with a smooth refined work?

It’s a first draft, and I don’t do much editing as I write because it slows me down. I need to write while my muse is whispering to me. Let the creativity flow. I managed to put together 60,000 words in 6 weeks following this method. Yes, it needs rewriting, but I have a starting point.

Revision pulls out my analytical side, and this crushes my creativity. So, when my first draft is done, my work is held together with a lot of paperclips, clothes pins, and craft wire.

Yes, I can already hear many of you now. Write an outline! Not sure an outline would help my first draft get better, but . . .

Outlines Don’t Work for Me

I know, blasphemy. Almost every bit of writing advice I’ve ever heard has included this. I have yet to make it work.

I start with an outline for a story. I’ll even do character sketches and map out their arcs, blurbs for secondary characters, the whole thing. But I’ve never finished a story I first outlined.

The more I try to force myself to outline, the more rote and dry the story feels until my creativity has abandoned me and my writing feels about as interesting as eating sand.

This is my analytical side shining through. Once that comes out, you aren’t putting it back without a fight. My day job demands I be analytical, methodical, and precise. That side of me has been well-honed.

If you invoke that analytical side, I will follow that outline at hell-or-high-water.

Maybe not that high of water . . .

I tried slogging through and forcing myself to stick to the outline on four different novels. I now have four half-finished books that will probably never be completed. Unless I run out of ideas and make myself go back to them.

I have since learned to let the story morph. To let it go places I never intended and watch my outline crumble.

Watch characters change in ways I never expected. Watch them reveal things about themselves that crushes my Author-God plans and means a rewrite must happen in the beginning to lay the groundwork for it. Or possibly a bigger rewrite as the character I planned to write is not the one that exists in the story.

I try very hard to turn the Author-God mode off and let things flow. Yes, it creates rewrites later. But at least there’s a finished version to rewrite.

I’ve come to accept that rewrites just are.

We’ve all got our process, and mine doesn’t have to mirror yours. It’s about getting it done, and I’m sure as I get more experience, my methodology will change.


How about you? Do you write polished first drafts? If so, what’s your secret? Do you write outlines? Do you stick to them if you do?


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7 thoughts on “Held Together With Paperclips, Clothespins, and Craft Wire

  1. I’m working on a rewrite, and this is a full rewrite. I feel like I’ve kept small lines of text and little else. But the story is sort of (weirdly) intact so far. Now granted I’m only like 6 scenes in, but hopefully a lot of the rest will be substantively the same. So I have both the old scene and the new scene up at the same time in Scrivener and then I’ve been through the notes a thousand times and I reread them again at the start of each writing bloc.
    I basically just rewrite with the old draft 1 as …a guide? But lots of new stuff happens too. I’ve added 2 side characters already. 1 will be a recurring character and 1 was just a one off one scene extra with 2 lines. But I didn’t have much of that at all. (That’s the short story/flash writer in me.) So adding them and those interactions was important.
    I’ll start a scene with knowing what needs to be accomplished. Sometimes it flows longer or shorter, I’ve cut some old scenes and added some new ones. But it is basically coming out the same but (hopefully) better.

    1. I need to check out Scrivener. Word is not so kind.

      But yes, part of rewriting for me is fleshing things out. Adding the five senses. Bringing scenes alive, and maybe adding more of a look at characters’ feelings. And yes, I’ve been known to add a character or two on a revision!

  2. I wrote my first draft just as you describe here. Quite a challenge rewriting/editing. I am trying one using a very sparse outline for NaNoWriMo and find myself wanting to run off course.

  3. BTW Scrivener is a great tool. I find it lets me move things as I need to during the editing. Word was too restrictive for my use.

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