First Drafts ~ The Agony!

Imposter Syndrome is real and I think most, if not all, creative types suffer from it at one time or another ~ that you're not good enough, nor ever will be. We ask ourselves, why do we even bother? Writing is a contradictory process and first drafts can really make you question yourself and your choices!

The Joy of First Drafts.

Let's not forget the joys that is first drafts, where we are simply in the process of getting our ideas down; laying out the story, warts and all.  Did I say simply? Hah, far from it! What is true, first drafts are where our mistakes are made. First drafts are rough and (not) ready, raw yet beautiful. You will have too many words or not enough. Maybe non descriptive, or too much purple prose (my personal bugbear). This rough version will only bear a resemblance to the final product as further drafts and edits will transform it into the jewel you know it can be. It takes time. It's hard, frustrating work. I've metaphorically thrown my work in progress (WIP) across the room more than once in frustration.

Here's a tip: Trust your instincts in knowing what's working and what's not ~ your gut will tell you the true barometer of your work ~ and of learning the art and  craft of writing.

Here's another tip: Trust in your ability and learn not to share your work too early ~ no matter how anxious or keen you are for feedback. Wait until it's the best you can get it to at that moment in time before seeking advice and / or beta readers.



It was Toni Morrison who said,

"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it."  

Wise words.

It was this picture of the bicycle appearing on one of my social media timelines, that  triggered my imagination in creating an idea (sorry, don't know who to credit for the picture). Don't ask me how I made the leap from this bicycle to a story about two sisters, it just happened. The nuggets of my idea would be setting the story in Dartmouth, Devon (an area I know well), and how this bicycle would trigger an estrangement between the sisters that would last decades.

I've always had a curiosity in the dynamic of female relationships, sisters, and  friendships that sustain, support and endure, or otherwise, challenging circumstances. The dynamic tension of long term friendships ~ older women who are thriving (more or less). Women who come into conflict with other women. But I despise the old narrative that women are ultimately competitive with each other for male attention, or get into catfights. Please! I like strong, capable women that are flawed (as we all are), and won't entertain ageism ~ partly why my main characters are older and not thirty somethings.  

First draft changes

The working title is My Absent Sister. A story of two estranged sisters who haven't spoken in decades, but are reunited at their mother's funeral. I love a dysfunctional family. How lives are not lived as the other characters think. The secrets, lies and deceits kept hidden over the years, the skeletons in the cupboard.

I'm very much a planner (allowing for creative flexibility) ~ it's all in the detail and I do a lot of research to ensure  those details are correct.

All well and good until a couple of weeks ago  I became frustrated ~ I was stuck (refuse to say writers block) and couldn't figure out why. Maybe it was our unseasonably hot and humid weather. Maybe it was COVID crisis overload. Whatever the reason I knew the overall story arc would work  but couldn't seem to move forward on the nitty gritty. I'd already changed the POV from first to third ~ much as I like using the first POV as you can really get inside a characters head, in this story it simply wasn't working. I couldn't engage with the perspective and some scenes just weren't right. Then, lightbulb!

You're not supposed to edit as you go in first drafts ~ but rules are meant to be broken.

I printed off what I had written so far and took a long hard look and this is what I discovered, in no particular order:

What wasn't working?

  • I'd started the story in the wrong place. This turned out to be one of the key factors in stifling my flow.

  • Therefore, it turned out the following chapters were in the wrong order ~ in the way that wouldn't hook a reader interest (it wasn't doing it for me, so you know, it wouldn't be doing so for a future reader).

  • Rearranging the opening chapters meant I had to double check and tweak the chronological order to ensure the 'hooks' and 'red herrings' are in the right place and flow correctly. 

What was working?

  • The POV was the correct  one ~ and I'm now telling the story from both sisters point of view, all the better to capture the twist and turns.

  • The setting is in the right place ~ the geography and landscape add to the story line.

  • The overall storyline and plot points are working (relief I can tell you).

  • Carefully going back and forth in time without causing confusion ~ an important, essential factor.

So pleased I trusted my instincts to stop and reflect, and remove the stumbling blocks. I now really enjoy once more the process of sitting down each afternoon to write. Oh, it's now become a 'domestic-noire,' rather than a  jolly trip to the seaside!  I like my stories dark.

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