First thoughts reading my first draft

On 31 May, I wrote ‘The End’ on my work in progress. Since then, I’ve been ‘letting it breathe’ like a wine, but unlike some wines which improve with age, my story is just the way I left it.

This week, I commenced the ‘First Official Edit’ which can be abbreviated as FOE because editing is the Enemy. (Not really, just a humorous acronym).

I’ve been doing as editor Nicola O’Shea suggests on writer Allison Tait’s blog:

Put your manuscript completely away from a month, then read it through in one go – preferably on hard copy and resisting the temptation to tweak.

However, I documented some thoughts I had while reading through my manuscript. For posterity.

I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you:

  • I’ve read the beginning so many times that it no longer holds any interest for me.
  • Too much dialogue and not enough ‘in between’ information.
  • Amateur hour.
  • Clumsy sentences galore.
  • I wish I could erase my brain so that I could see the story with fresh eyes.
  • I hate it.
  • Why is there a chapter break there?
  • Some of this is okay.
  • Why is everyone so sweaty?
  • I seem to be able to read this faster than I would a published book. Why?
  • Why is this character tooting his car horn when there is literally no one else in the street?
  • Ooh, I did some good foreshadowing. Give myself three points.
  • I thought I was bad at scene setting but it’s not as terrible as I thought.
  • There’s a decent sentence on this page.
  • Cliché city.
  • Points for using the word ‘festooned’.
  • I think if I didn’t already know what was going to happen, I’d be curious here.
  • My main character is a buffoon.
  • Why isn’t there a chapter break there?
  • It’s weird to describe a magpie as sturdy.
  • Boring.
  • Too much Story B.
  • Why is everyone placing their hands gently on main character’s shoulder?
  • Two characters are supposed to be fighting, yet a few scenes later they are friendly again with no explanation.
  • I thought I was good at sentence structuring but lots of backwards words seem.
  • The middle isn’t saggy, but it is daggy.
  • Should this be in first person?
  • In an attempt not to laden story with too much backstory, there is now no backstory and it doesn’t make any sense.
  • The chapter I thought I would delete, is actually my favourite.
  • I counted and there are ELEVEN similes in my work in progress. I thought there was only one. One terrible one. But there are eleven. Eleven terrible ones.

Side note: My husband did an impression of the face I was making while I was doing my read through, and apparently it looked a bit like this:


In summary

I’m proud to announce that my first draft is pretty crap.


Although I remain unconvinced that Stephen King’s first drafts are crap, it is more likely than not that most published authors don’t churn out beautiful pieces of prose on their first attempt.

Allison Tait shares what she learnt after participating in a writing webinar:

 …even the crappiest piece of writing, there was always one line or underlying concept that was an absolute cracker. And how a whole new piece could be written around that line or concept. And that’s when I came to appreciate the magic of the horrible first draft. That sometimes you can’t get to the cracker concept until all the crappy words have been poured out first.

The next steps

On her blog This Itch of Writing, writer Emma Darwin calls what I’m currently doing ‘revising’ rather than ‘editing’. Editing is what editors do, and I’m a writer. According to Emma, whatever you call it, editing or revising is where the hard work really starts:

Now that you know what the story’s really about, did you ask yourself if you’ve told it through the right pairs of eyes? In the right tense? Started and finished it in the right place? When did you open your ears and ask yourself if the voices are voices that a reader is willing to listen to, and for a whole novel?

The next step is to uncap the red pen and ask myself those questions. This baby is going to be littered with comments in my pursuit of ‘cracker concepts’.

What did you think of my first impression of my work in progress? Have you had similar thoughts when reading your own manuscript? Please let me know in the comments below.


28 thoughts on “First thoughts reading my first draft

  1. Hi Alyssa, This was very funny and relatable (not laughing at you but with you!). I’m not writing a novel but when I write a story it is often so bad in version 1 that I struggle to continue with it. I sometimes cut all but one or two paragraphs. So I empathised completely with the swinging emotions you described.
    Thank you for being so honest about how you felt – it often feels like everyone else is doing this writing thing more easily and smoothly and I think it’s lovely when other writers are frank about the struggles.
    Hope your revising is satisfying and that you start to smile when you read your version 2 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Fiona! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s good to hear you are finding the ‘cracker concepts’ in your stories. I’m sure we can’t be the only people making that face when we read the first versions of our work! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Eleven similes!!?!? Woo hoo! I wrote ‘insert simile here’ the other day. I hated my main character by the end of my read through. I changed her name and she has improved out of sight! But yes, I relate to all those dot points

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Eleven TERRIBLE similes. Is there a sturdy magpie in your manuscript? I’m glad your main character is more to your liking now – it’s a lot of work to get them to where they need to be. They can be unruly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Alyssa, loved this post! I can’t wait to get to this stage. I’m having all those thoughts in the middle of writing my first draft and having fun telling myself to shush and get on with it. Exciting times 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t call it ‘revising’, I call it ‘rewriting’, because I often change the story completely. Removing entire characters from the story, adding in a new family, who actually becomes the whole point of the story after about 8 rewrites. I also do my research after the first draft, when I find out things like the town didn’t have cars in 1932, so my story line revolving around a mechanic’s garage in town is redundant.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Oh yes. I’m nodding my head off my shoulders! I’m deep in editing my 8th draft and I am so sick of my story that I want to stick my head under the doona and never come back out. But I have to. I’m looking forward to finishing this edit/revision and having my editors fresh eyes and feedback. I think. Ah, the life of a writer hey?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. An 8th draft is an amazing accomplishment! Hopefully you will feel more motivated and inspired again when you have your editor’s comments to work from. That’s very exciting!


  6. I love the way you inject humour into your posts, Alyssa. Yep – I can relate to most of those dot points. In fact, after working solidly on my Richell Entry for the past three months or so, I am no longer in love with it. I’m sure it just needs to sit in time out until I’m ready to deal with it again, but having read some excellent published writing lately, I’m wondering how on earth they do it?!
    By the way, top marks on Festooned, buffoon, FOE and those 11 similes!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Marie. I’m glad you liked the post and can relate. I feel the same way as you when I read published debut novels. There are so many amazing ones and it’s hard for me to believe their first drafts were anything like mine. Good luck with the Richell! (Maybe #FOE can be a thing – haha).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, this made me laugh! 😂 It’s also incredibly accurate- and I’m sure every writer relates! I didn’t have sturdy magpies, but I had hair ‘gushing’ from a character’s head. Love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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