Writing the first draft
‘You have to write the first draft of your novel to find out what the b***** book is about.’ Tom Keneally at the 2010 Adelaide Writers’ Week.
Writing the first draft of a novel or short story can be daunting, scary, puzzling, confronting or fantastically exhilarating. Often all those things at once!
When I was writing my novel last year I was pushing the limits of my writing abilities. I had a strict deadline, I was recovering from a serious illness and I was frankly terrified that I wouldn’t get finished on time. The adrenalin was pumping overtime, but I did it. I found that once I built a little momentum in the first few chapters, the story and characters took over. Where normally I can often struggle to produce a thousand words in a day, I found that the momentum built to such a degree that I was sometimes churning out over 2000-3000 words in a day. The feeling was great and the story quickly took shape, structure and character.
I did have a sort of outline for the story. I didn’t have a strict plot as such. Instead I let the story write itself. Events I had planned had interesting consequences that I hadn’t thought of in the planning stage. I find that this form of writing works best for me. I’ve never been one to plan out every element of the plot, every aspect of each character or even how it will end. In that I can understand the Keneally quote at the beginning of this article. Writing a novel or story can be a journey of discovery.
On the other hand I can also understand those writers who must plan every part of the storyline and do extensive character studies before they write even one word. This process is distinct from the research stage. I had to do a great deal of reading in my research phase because my novel was set in a country where I had visited but not lived. I didn’t take many notes from my research. Instead I preferred to merely absorb the culture, the environment and the nature of the people.