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First Drafts & Rewrites

July 21, 2014

Ok, so you’ve done all your research. You’ve defined all of your characters. You’ve created the world in which they will live. Now you’re ready to start writing, right? Yes. You’re ready. Except that you’re only three scenes/chapters in and you’re stuck. You’re looking at your outline and your story has taken an unexpected turn. You’re not sticking to the story you originally had in your head, so you go back and start rewriting those first scenes/chapters. No! Don’t do it! In the infamous words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

If you go back and start rewriting before you’ve finished your story, you’ll never finish it. Your goal, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to complete your first draft. Keep writing until you’re done. Don’t go back and reread what you’ve already written. You’ll be too tempted to try to fix things and that will lead you in a never-ending spiral. You’ll never complete your story. Instead, keep writing and go wherever your characters take you. Allow them to guide you. They know what they’re doing, trust me.

You may end up with something completely different then what you initially set out to create, but it will definitely be the story you want to tell. This is the fun part, the creative part of writing. Allow that side of your brain to take control. Once you’ve finished it, then you can go back and fix things. And you will have plenty to fix, but that’s ok. The organized side of your brain can handle that.

The rewrites will be the hard part. You will be forced to destroy much of what you have written, but the good news is that it won’t be completely destroyed. There will be lots of good stuff you can pull from the rubble. You just have to find a different way to express it. You have to find out how it fits into your story and rework it. This is where the work comes in, the actual “work” in the joyous profession of writing.

The first thing you should do after finishing your first draft is create a reverse outline. Go through your story scene by scene and write bullet points describing what those scenes are about. They should all connect to your theme and your conflict within the story. If they don’t, don’t be afraid to kill them. Strike the scene. Eliminate it. Even if it’s some of the best writing you’ve ever done, if it doesn’t fit your story, remove it. This doesn’t mean you should put it in the circular file. Set it aside. It might be inspiration for another story. Once you’ve gotten the usable bits from all that writing, you can start your second draft and do it all over again.

It’s a process. Some of it is fun, some of it is work, some of it is challenging, but it is all a wonderfully blessed experience. Creating a world for others to play in, to escape to, to enjoy and be entertained, this is the reason we do what we do. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in a comment below or send me an email. But whatever you do, keep tuning in each month. I’ve got tons more advice to give.

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