Jen Meyers Official Author Site

On First Drafts

First drafts are crap.

They just are. And the crappiness of this first draft is driving me crazy. A part of me feels deep despair at how clunky and awful some of it is and another can’t wait to be done writing so I can revise, edit, fill-in, fill out, and polish the crap out of it. (Literally.)

I didn’t feel this way when I wrote Intangible. I didn’t really worry about how crappy the first draft was or even notice. I mean, I KNEW it needed work. I KNEW it was rough. And it went through an immense metamorphosis from first draft to final published book.

And perhaps that is what’s tripping me up now. Coming from polished and practically perfect to first draft is jarring. It’s playing with my confidence that I can actually do it again—write another good book.

Perhaps this is just a part of ANY artistic process. I’ve certainly felt this way with each drawing I’ve ever done. (I draw pencil portraits. Oh, look. There are two of mine below.) I’ll finish one, happy with the result, and when I start the next I’ll worry that maybe I won’t be able to do it again. If I can’t get the ear to look right or the eyes or the hair…maybe I won’t be able to capture the person this time. I ALWAYS have that fear. With every drawing. And I’ve never not been able to pull one off.  (Thankfully.)

So maybe writing is exactly like that. With each book I’m going to feel like maybe I can’t do it. Maybe it won’t turn out as wonderful or as interesting or as surprising as the last. Or I’ll worry that I’m going to let readers down with the choices I make.

And maybe what I need to do is stop worrying and just do it. Just write. Get through the crappy first draft and then craft it into something beautiful. Spend the time filling it out just like I do a portrait. And making those tiny adjustments near the end that make all the difference in a drawing—they work the same way in a book. Every little piece, every shadow, every glint of light makes up the beauty of the whole.

Just like that first outline of the drawing, before any shading or shaping has taken place, a first draft is the necessary first (ugly) step. Getting that structure in place allows me to fill in all the details and round out the drawing. Or the story. That’s what I’m doing right now with this first draft—I’m building the structure.

I’ve just got to keep reminding myself of that.  :-)

Have a great day, everyone!

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11 thoughts on “On First Drafts

  1. kindlemom1

    Hang in there! I can’t even imagine how much work and time and sweat and tears goes into any book but I know your work (from the first book) and I know how great the second book will turn out in the end!!

  2. Sarabeth Burke

    I think everyone goes through something like this at least once or twice or even three times in there life. Just do it as Nike would say-start it up even if you feel it’s terrible and do craft it into something beautiful-just like you said. Keep your head up this time will pass and i’m looking forward to another book from you when you are ready. You are simply intelligent and it will come to you!!!

    PS-I just love those portraits! You are brilliant!

    Sarabeth

    1. j meyers Post author

      I’m getting there, Sarabeth—only 6 chapters to go to just get it done. (Whew!) But I have a feeling I’ll be going through this *every* time I write a book. Which is okay. I just need to believe in my ability to craft it into something beautiful after that first draft is done. (Maybe once I do it with this book I’ll believe.) :-)

  3. Ksenia Anske

    I’m still working on my first novel (3rd draft), can’t imagine how scared I will be when I get to my second! Nice to know there is someone out there whom I can ask to hold my hand, when I get there. How long did it take you to do the first book, from start to finish?

    1. j meyers Post author

      It took me a little over 2 years–about a year to write Intangible and then another year to revise/edit and the polish it for publication. It went through 8.5 drafts. :-) And I’m glad I didn’t rush it. Putting out your best work is so important.

      (So glad to have met you today!)

      1. Ksenia Anske

        Same here! Let’s absolutely stay in touch! So, do you mind me asking another question? How many hours a day did you write? A week? I write every day for at least 4 hours, sometimes up to 7, and try to read for at least 2. Take weekends off to spend quality time with kids.

        1. j meyers Post author

          I wrote Intangible in the evenings once the kids were in bed—so I was writing anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a night, I think, several nights a week. Near the end of writing the first draft I hadn’t written for an entire month (between Thanksgiving and Christmas–too much going on in life) so I spent January working every night, trying to write at least 10,000 words a week to just get it finished. And I did. I think I got the last 35,000+ words written that month. It was a crunch, but it felt good to just get it done.

          Now I try to get up way too early in the morning and write before the kids get up in an effort to get my writing in AND be able to spend good time with my family. (Balancing writing and family/life has not been easy for me. But I’m trying.) We homeschool, so I don’t have any time when my kids aren’t here. (Which I LOVE, but it also makes this more challenging.) So far, these early morning writing sessions seem to be working better for everyone…except when I stay up too late. ;-)

          I also read EVERYTHING during those two years and the year before I started writing it. I devoured YA books like crazy, trying to get a feel for the genre, to know what worked and what didn’t. I still do, but I’m also now a very picky reader because I don’t have time to waste reading something that I don’t like or that’s not written well. I’m quick to toss a book aside if it just isn’t doing it for me. I use my reading time to not only enjoy a good story, but to also study beautiful writing and figure out how to make my writing beautiful too. :-)

  4. Ksenia Anske

    Sounds like me, a lot, except that I’m on unemployment since May and I started writing like crazy, up to 7 hours a day, in the fear of unemployment ending before I finish. That’s my motivator :) I also read a lot, but not just beautiful books, I offer rookie writers like me critique. I found it helps me NOT to make mistakes they do – but it’s hard! What are your absolute favorites? The books I love are a bit dark – here is my list: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/10221719?shelf=favorites

    1. j meyers Post author

      I started out reading everything for that very same reason: didn’t want to make the same mistakes. Now I just can’t get past the mistakes to enjoy the book—they make me crazy, so I just. can’t. read them. :-)

      I haven’t read any of your favorites. :-) Here are some of my favorite YA books:
      Chime by Franny Billingsley
      Blackbringer and Silksinger by Laini Taylor
      This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn by Aidan Chambers
      The Attolia series by Megan Whalen Turner
      The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
      Graceling by Kristin Cashore
      The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart

      Also, Sarah Dessen writes sweet contemporary YA about slightly damaged protagonists with some of the best dialogue around and is a master at creating quirky secondary characters. Not dark at all, but definitely worth a read to study the way she does dialogue.

      Also, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire is well written, well told, and darker (really disturbing relationship). It’s an indie book that was recently picked up by a big publisher.