Finding Treasure in Your First Draft

Saturday, January 29, 2022
Many of us have heard over the course of our writing life that first drafts are meant to be terrible. Many authors, ones more successful than me, have said that is the key to getting them done. Let them be awful! And that's true. Except sometimes we get stuck so far down on the road of revision we lose sight of some things in the story that was so important before. 

Recently, I've talked about my journey to revise a story that has had a character that felt underdeveloped to me. Nothing felt right in my tweaking, and I decided to go back to earlier drafts. I wondered what happened along the way that I lost so much sight of my story and my character.

In the midst of feedback I had received a couple of years ago, I found comments that were like diamonds in the rough. Many people had said about this earlier version that they liked the characters and the pace of the story. How wonderful to read! And quite the opposite of some recent feedback I received. These previous comments actually just mentioned that my ending felt a bit abrupt and just not enough. 

Keeping this in mind, I looked over the story once again and realized that somehow in the midst of revision I had taken away some of the good aspects of the story in order to make it fit what I thought was a better version. 

The revision process can be a bit like Frankenstein making his monster. You think you are going along a good path, and then you get lost along the way. You remove the wrong thing and keep the things that should have gotten plucked out. 

So, now I go back to that earlier draft. Not quite the sucky first one, but it's likely the fourth or fifth revision I thought wasn't good enough.

If you find yourself stuck along the revision process like me, look back over those earlier versions. Maybe somewhere in there you'll find some treasure and build it back into your newer version. Maybe somehow you can make things right again.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Excellent point, Nicole! I've done that, too--sucked all the good parts out of a manuscript while revising. That's why it's so important to save everything; you never know what gem maybe be unearthed when you go back to earlier versions.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I had to laugh when you said Frankenstein making his monster! We published an article called "Help! I've Frankenmonstered My Manuscript! What to Do When Your Revision Techniques Need Revising" by Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, and it describes what you're talking about. It's still my favorite header artwork because it makes me laugh. I put braces on the woman, lightning, the typewriter, desk, and crumpled paper. Lol!

I used to hate revision for exactly your reason. If I revise it too much, I lose that initial spark. Even now that I've learned to appreciate revision, I only revise a piece maybe 3-4 times before letting it go. There is such a thing as over revision.

I'm glad you found your earlier version and the comments! I agree with Cath! It's smart to save everything.

Renee Roberson said...

I've had the problem of not saving earlier drafts AT ALL, and then getting frustrated with the revision process and giving up on a project altogether. Thank you for the very important reminder to save every single draft no matter what. There's no telling what gems you may find in there! I'm happy to hear going back to some of your earlier drafts has re-energized you.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I'm not going to say I save every draft. But then my first draft is full of notes to myself. FIX THIS. WHAT WAS THE TECHNICIAN'S NAME? ADD A WORTHWHILE TRANSITION. My first revision is often just fixing those.

But you can revise the life right out of a manuscript. I'm glad you had your earlier drafts as a touch stone.

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