First Draft Dread - The Stages

The subject of this post arises just about every time I start a first draft. It’s like I’ve never written one before. It’s like I have amnesia. But, the truth is, I’ve actually finished a book or two and they’ve been published. So?

These are the stages I go through:

Stage 1. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. It’s like sitting in a rowboat without oars, watching a small hole in the bottom grow.

When that happens, grab a life vest (never write a draft without one). A life vest may consist of:

– Taking a short, and I mean SHORT, break, preferably outdoors, maybe skygazing, birdwatching or just casually strolling. Even whistling or singing a jaunty tune can change a mood.

– Reading something by someone you admire or that gives you a lift. Anything that promotes constructive, positive thoughts

Stage 2. Why is it taking me so long? I can’t believe the words don’t just pour out of my fingers by now. Haven’t I learned anything? I have learned at least one thing: that I need to be kinder and more patient with myself when writing the dreaded draft. And I need to unlearn or cast aside the thoughts in Stage 1.

Stage 3. Before I start writing the draft, I tell myself, “I’m glad I created an outline for this installment. It’ll make writing much easier!” Once I start writing, I tell myself, “I’m not using the outline. It’s not fun to know what happens next.” Translation: I prefer to drive myself crazy. What I should be thinking is: flexibility and readiness to change are superstar attributes. They also help the flow of creative juices. Yes, go with the flow.

Stage 4. While writing the draft, I keep thinking back to the opening chapter. It’s too dull. Nothing happens. Then I firmly remind myself: once you finish the WHOLE draft, the welcome mat for revisiting will be awaiting. That’s exactly what I did on Books Two and Five. I went back and created new first chapters. Multiple changes are permitted. No one’ll ever know or care. Here’s a secret: you actually can make that and other changes any time, if it helps you forge ahead.

Stage 5. The dialogue stinks. Everyone sounds the same. My reply: So what? Because, you can…refer to Stage 4, the last three lines.

Wasn’t that simple? Excuse me, I really should get back to writing my first draft.

Writing is hard, but the more you write, and enjoy what you write, the better it gets. (Alice Munro)

Higher Qualities of Writing

As I sit at the cusp of a New Year, rather than resolutions, I’d like to list qualities I’ve been honing, to carry over into 2022. Qualities to help writers write and beyond:

1. Courage: When we summon up our inner courage, we’re able to blot out worry, anxiety, nervousness and a general scattering of the mind. Can we write without courage? No. Can we truly live life without courage?


2. Steadfastness: To complete our writings, we must be steadfast, persistent, consistent. This doesn’t mean we can’t take breaks. A hiatus can be wonderful for clearing the mind of clutter, for freeing ideas and for sparking imagination. When my breaks go too long (two weeks or more), I feel a little empty. I miss the opportunity to tune in and shine my creativity, writing-wise.

3. Self-discipline: When we write or undertake anything of importance in life, we need discipline to spend our time wisely and get the task done, and done right. If I don’t brush my hair for a couple of days, I get knots and they’re not pretty. They can also be painful. So I brush daily. Briefly, sometimes. And I’m happily knot-free!

4. Gentleness: I’ve been known to walk, move, and act too quickly. I’m working on slowing down. It promotes calmness, relaxation, clearer thinking. I’m a better writer and a better human when I’m calm and gentle toward myself and others. Plus, gentleness feels kind of marvelous. Taking time to appreciate nature, animals and other humans. You notice more; the senses become acute and when relaxed, solid writing thoughts emerge.

5. Patience: What does patience look like? Patience can be as simple as a sweet smile instead of an unkind word or expression, a fragrant bloom waiting to see if anyone notices its quiet scent, or a long road awaiting a traveler who’s taking the time to appreciate the unfolding scenery.

These are a few of the qualities I’d like to carry in my pockets at all times. I find them reassuring and life enhancing. How about you?

Research: Friend or Foe?

When I started writing fiction, I’d assumed little-to-no research was necessary. After all, we fiction writers make things up. Research belongs in scholarly, non-fiction pieces. Not so.

In my upcoming, GAMBLING WITH MURDER, #5 in my SoCal Mystery series, I researched everything from the setting to lockpicking. I learned more than I thought I knew about the setting, and now I know how to pick a lock! 

In real life, I don’t live from far the setting.

But I view the locale as a resident, not as a sharp-eyed, super sniffing, noise sensitive, tactilely inclined writer who needs to bring the setting to life for readers. To do that, I paid a visit just to carefully examine details that I’d likely ignore as a casual observer. By details, I mean:

– the sounds;
– the smells;
– the scenery; and
– the surroundings.

The location I selected had been locked up for some time, which meant I couldn’t actually walk the grounds. But I could linger around the perimeter, jotting notes and snapping photos. This is what I noticed with an author’s eyes and mind:

– The many winding brick pathways, filled with shadows and hiding places.

– The abundant and lush plant life, the surrounding structures, and so many different scents! A buffer between the main building and the road contained a small wooded area that I’d never noticed. That area played a part in an incident that occurs in my book, which led me to study neighboring structures. Would people nearby see enough to help find the culprit? 

– The constant roar of the highway, the hum of small planes and the gently splashing waves of a golden sandy beach that disappeared during high tide.

Even when I can’t visit a setting in-person, I have the luxury of viewing almost everything on the Internet, thanks to Google Maps and a multitude of photos.

I researched seniors and gambling, both of which figure big in the book. I spent hours, maybe days researching different topics, just to ensure I viewed the big picture. This means I gathered excess information. You never know what may play a starring role in the story. Research that takes hours may take up a few lines in the book…or play no role at all. But one thing’s for certain: a way to breathe life into a book is through research. To make fiction seem real.

I’m always amazed at how much knowledge I absorb through research. Writing books is, hopefully, making me a little smarter. :) Or a possible future Jeopardy! contestant.