The slow progress of a first draft

Pages written 1

Well, as you can see it’s a very crumpled messy piece of paper but it is the start of my manuscript with the working title of Paris Next Week. As you can also see the first two and a half pages were written over three years ago on the 5/8/2013. Being Australian that means the 5 August not the 8 May. On the 25/2/2014 I ended up with 43 and a half pages. Not a bad start but overall the slowest first draft I’ve ever written, However keeping a record such as this does help remind me of several things.

Firstly, as you can see near the top of the page there is a gap of three months. Not sure why now but probably had to stop and really think about what was happening with the novel and to check that I was heading in the right direction after the excitement of getting those first five pages down.

Secondly I can see now where I took breaks of over a week or two for research. These are breaks that I couldn’t be avoided by using hashtags (see my earlier posts). In May 2014 I took two weeks off looking for a suitable chateau by a river in France. In early October of the same year I took a week or so off researching Kings Cross. And then from late October 2014 to early July 2015 I didn’t write a page. I was doing a major rewrite of a previous manuscript for a couple of months and then during the first half of 2015 I was quite ill suffering from a severe flareup of eczema.

During 2015 and early this year I also wrote three short stories featuring a brand new character called Zach. More breaks to research Sydney Theatres and quite a long break researching 1920s actresses and their famous roles and also looking for 10 locations that my main character Sarah’s grandmother would have been tempted to sketch in the 1860s in Paris. Whew!

Pages written 4

Above is the home run with the very last entry written sidewise just last week, 4 and a half pages finishing the final chapter entitled S S Ormonde. I also did some editing checks and eliminated two words that I used a frightening number of times – one was the word ‘word’ and the other ‘beautiful’. I’ll be doing a lot more of this type of editing in the next draft but these two jumped out at me and I felt compelled to reduce them drastically.

And this is what makes it all worth while. A list of all the chapters and a rough page count.

List of chapters

35 chapters, 255 pages and 70,687 words. The page numbers are pretty much screwed after chapter 27 because I did add a page here and a page there to some scenes that had to be rewritten but it is close enough. This sheet is one thing I don’t keep up for the next few drafts as the manuscript is in a state of flux with rewriting and researching going on but I do tend to write another one of these up for the final draft.

Would love to hear how you all keep a record of your drafts. Probably not as old fashioned as this but the result will be the same – words into sentences, paragraphs into scenes, transformed into chapters to form a complete first draft of a manuscript. Happy writing and a Happy New Year!

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9 thoughts on “The slow progress of a first draft

  1. Interesting process, Debbie. I have to confess that I don’t keep a record at all! After doing a very thorough outline, I just write day after day for as much or as little time as possible 🙂 Congrats on getting your WIP finished.

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    • It’s so fascinating hearing about everyone’s methods. I would feel really strange not keeping a record of the first draft. After that of course when you are dipping here and there it doesn’t matter so much but I would be really lost not knowing the approximate pages of each chapter.

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    • Thanks Lisa. I’m just so surprised at the amount of writers who don’t keep track of the pages they have written. I wouldn’t know where I was! Often when I do the second draft I will hone in on that last page of all the chapters and look at the really short chapters to try and work out if they need expanding amongst everything else of course. And what do you mean you’re not a writer! You write a blog.

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      • *blush* These days now that I’ve retired, when I’m asked what I do, I say that I’m a writer but I used to be a teacher. If they press me, (and most do) I say I write book reviews but LOL they always want to know if I’m writing a novel.
        The Tax Office certainly thinks I’m a writer, I declare my income every year…
        BTW There’s a program called Scrivener which I’ve never come to grips with, do you know if it tracks the history of the writing that’s been done, in a similar way to your method?

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  2. I’m a hobbyist writer as far as the Tax Office is concerned, lol. I’ve got Scrivener and I used the “cork board” for an image in one of my posts but I haven’t been able to load the novel into it yet. Hope to do so soon. Not sure about what it tracks in that respect but I do know it does track usage of words which I’m really counting on. I’ll let you know how I go with it. Have a Happy New Year, Lisa

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  3. Everyone’s method is so different isn’t it? I would be lost without writing down the chapters. The next draft though I will probably hop around a lot, checking all the different research points.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your writing process Debbie. I love reading about how other writers work.

    I write non-fiction so my process will inevitably be different to yours. I depend heavily on my computer. I have a folder with my book ideas. In it I keep scraps of ideas of opening paragraphs. I have also done a number of drafts of my chapter outline which just recently I consolidated into what looks like being my final. I also have a folder for each chapter. Each chapter has its own document. The file for each chapter includes the chapter title followed by ‘draft X’. Each draft has its own file. I have a folder on my computer for each topic or theme in my book and for storing secondary sources such as my notes of books I have read and journal articles. I also have another big section on my computer for my primary sources etc.

    In answer to Lisa’s question, I have used Scrivener but I found it cumbersome so stopped using it. Lots of people rave about it which is why I tried it.

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