Finished the First Draft; Time for the Real Work to Begin

Yesterday, as I predicted, I finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. And there was rejoicing throughout the Hills of Surry.1 Well, at least throughout my little corner of it.

It’s the first solo novel I’ve written since Liar which I finished lo those many years ago in 2008. I shall admit that given the RSI and other injuries and annoyances I had begun to wonder if I was ever going to finish another solo novel again. Had I lost my mojo? Would I have to do collaborations for the rest of my career?2

But I have my answer: I can! I did! All is good!

Pretty much every moment up until the completion of the first draft I am uncertain that there will be a finished book. But once I have a complete draft I know it’s going to happen. Even if it is radically rewritten. Even if I have to throw away large chunks. There will be a book.

I love this part. Because this is where I get in and get dirty. The real work of taking those words and turning them into an actual novel of goodness. As opposed to a novel-shaped thing.

Finally I have all the bits of the novel. I know what it’s about, who all these people are, and what they want. Now all I have to do is make it so people who aren’t me know and care about all those things when they read it.

Back in the day it used to be that I liked writing first drafts best of all. Rewriting was an onerous task. I wrote the book already? Why do I have to do any more work? Waaaahhhh!

Mostly I hated it because back then I had no idea how to do it, which is why I wrote a guide to doing so. In fact, before I was published I was barely passable at rewriting. It’s the part of my writing that has improved most dramatically since I started working with professional editors. Wonderful editors like Eloise Flood, Liesa Abrams, Jodie Webster and Anne Hoppe are the people who taught me how to rewrite.3

I slowly transitioned from someone who hated editorial letters and dreaded the whole process to someone who couldn’t wait to get started rewriting. Who viewed the first draft as the thing that had to be done before you could get going on the hard work of making a novel.

Don’t get me wrong writing the first draft can be a lot of fun. But it’s no where near as fun. I always find that tickle of uncertainty of whether I actually will finish the damn thing tugs at me in sometimes uncomfortable ways when I write the first draft. But once I’ve written that draft I am all certainty. No matter how many drafts it takes to make this as good as I can possibly make it—and on track record it will be at least five—I know it will be done.

What parts of the novel writing process do you like best?

  1. As in Surry Hills in Sydney. Not the hills of any other Surry around the world. I hear there other ones. []
  2. Not that there’s anything wrong with collaborations. Writing Team Human with Sarah was a joy and I’m dead proud of that book. []
  3. Listed in chronological order. Eloise and Liesa worked on the Magic or Madness trilogy with me. Jodie on all my books after the trilogy and Anne on Team Human. []


  1. Abigail Owen on #

    This blog absolutely resonates. Especially the uncertainty about a book getting finished or not. I probably have fifteen unfinished books languishing on my hard drive. And I’ve just recently found my editor, Wendy, who has turned the editing process into my favorite part. Congrats on finishing the first draft!

  2. Carole Wilkinson on #

    Totally agree, Justine. I’m working on a second draft now. It’s all there. I don’t have to replot. I just have to make it better. And it’s fun.

  3. Justine on #

    Abigail: Thank you. And good luck with finishing some of those incomplete novels.

    Carole Wilkinson: Absolutely. I have no idea how I could ever have preferred writing the first draft. So. Weird.

  4. Peter on #

    Hate rewriting. Hate it. I know that it makes it better and notes help and the first draft of everything is shit. But still, to me there is no joy like that first draft when I can do what I like and I don’t have to change anything. It’s pure Fun. Everything after that is Work. Which has its pleasures and is rewarding and engaging. But still Work.

    I am fortunate to have a project with a partner who *loves* rewriting. So I do the first drafts and she does the rewrites. Amazing.

  5. Justine on #

    Peter: Thank you. I know heaps of writers who loathe rewriting. I was hoping someone would say so in public. And what a cunning plan having a writing partner to do what you do not like.

  6. Peter on #

    Justine, I think it’s ego, really. I’ve written it and it’s perfect as it is and what the hell do you know telling me to change this and that. Objectively, I can see how much it improves with redrafting, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

  7. Lori S. on #

    I don’t hate rewriting, but that’s because it tends to be easy and quick and businesslike compared to the highs and lows of getting a first draft out of my system.

  8. Jack Heath on #

    Draft number 2 is the most fun. You don’t have the uncertainty of the initial writing process, but you’re not sick to death of the story yet.

  9. Justine on #

    Lori: Angst-free rewriting? Well done.

    Jack Heath: I often continue that love a few more drafts further than you. Though draft no. 2 is particularly splendid.

    However, there does come a point with the rewriting when I NEVER EVER WANT TO SEE THAT BOOK AGAIN EVER!

  10. Jenny Davidson on #

    Pure thrill of discovery in the first draft – I much prefer it to any other stage. (Well, best of all is reading and research!) I don’t mind the craft of rewriting (and I like rewriting sentences) but there is a good deal of tedium to the endless tinkering, and not enough intellectual/imaginative stimulation; I always seem to need multiple serious rewrites that I am often trying to crank out in the middle of a busy teaching semester & which then end up getting shortchanged since I have too many other things going on, whereas I am much better at truly clearing mental and actual time for writing my initial draft. That said, now and again a really good idea from an editor can make me excited about some aspect of rewriting…

  11. Ashley Hope Pérez on #

    I, too, love re-writing. Finally, I get to unleash my inner psycho, critical editor, that b**ch that I’ve been beating back to get out a zero or first draft. Finally, she becomes an ally.

  12. Alisa Alering on #

    I used to love first drafts and loathe re-writing. The freedom of the blank page, the whole marvelous story world lying blank before me, the thrill of possibility. And then….the impenetrable black fog of rewriting, of taking that unschooled abundance and trying to figure out what it is I actually meant.

    Now that I’ve cried and sweated through the re-writing process enough times to know that I CAN pull sense out of first drafts (if forced), I loathe it a little less. But the side effect? Now I fear first drafts.

  13. Rebecca Leach on #

    When I’m writing a first draft, I like rewriting better, and when I’m rewriting, I pine for the days when I was just writing that easy first draft.

  14. Elizabeth on #

    I hate rewriting. The fun part is discovering the story, and once the first draft is done, it’s not fun anymore.

    Though there’s a certain satisfaction in turning a first draft into something other people can read and (if I’m lucky) enjoy.

  15. Miriam Forster on #

    I like rewriting best, always have. Something about having to create a story out of nothing is immensely stressful to me. I rearranging existing stories and making them better.

    That said, I am kind of in love with this first draft I’m writing now, even though it refuses to be written quickly and is trying to drive me crazy. Still, I can’t wait until it’s done!

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