The Importance of Drafting

This post was used by permission of award-winning novelist T. Davis Bunn and originally published on his blog as “The Hardest Thing A Novelist Faces” on August 6, 2013.
During the creative process, there are going to be moments when you have explosions of bliss. For the Christian writer, this is a feeling of moving into the presence of God. ‘Self’ disappears and you become one with the idea you are constructing on the page.

And then there’s the next day.

The next day, you go back and re-read what you write yesterday, looking for a cheap high. You want to feel those energies again.

When you start to re-read, you’ll notice a thread that’s dangling… an imperfection. And so you drop this; you change that. All of a sudden, the beautiful tapestry you put together yesterday is gone. It’s dead. It’s just words on the page. You’ve lost the ability to use the momentum of yesterday to begin work on a new empty page.

Many beginning novelists fear that their draft is doing to require changes, and so they start making the changes as they write.

Don’t do this.

What you’ll find is that you’ll feel compelled to change it again and again. Instead, finish theYoung Girl typing by -Marcus- Freedigital photos story. If possible, I urge you to not even re-read your work until you finish your first draft.

The hardest thing you will face as an artist is the empty page. But you will never establish your “voice” through re-writing. It comes through first drafting.

The importance of drafting

Too often, an author mistakes their early book for their profession. It’s not the same. You need to be establishing the discipline of regular output, not just in terms of pages, but in terms of stories. You need to be able to see yourself as growing, through the story, into the next story – into becoming a commercial writer.

A successful novelist has to be convinced that this is a great book and that what you are doing is what you should be working on now, and that you are the person to write this story. This drives you through the first draft.

The second draft is all about doubt. You question everything. I suggest approaching the second draft from the standpoint of developing your creative concept into a product. These two need to be separate entities.

You write the story and it’s your baby until you hit the climax.

Then you set it aside… you divorce yourself from the project, preferably by starting your next book. And then you do the re-drafting. Until you have identified yourself with the next story, you should not begin the re-drafting. What you’ll discover is that re-drafting is more of a refining process than a drastic alteration.

How I draft stories

During the first draft, I write in blocks of about 40 pages. I make constant notes at the beginning of each of these blocks. By the time I’ve finished writing a story, I will have as many as 10 pages of notes for a 40-page segment. In my notes, I write out, in dialogue form, actual passages I’m thinking of inserting, but I won’t try to find where those passages should go in the story. I won’t look at anything until I’ve finished the story.

If I’m thinking of making a big change, such as deleting a character, I will make a note that indicates at which block the character no longer exists. But I will not take the character out during the first drafting process.

The result is not just a heightened flow; I’m able to maintain the sense of confidence in my storytelling ability through that first-drafting process.

I can doubt the story and myself when I start the second draft. But not during the first draft.

What about you?

What technique works best for you when drafting a story?

Photo above courtesy Free digital photos