"Five Things I Should Have Done in My First Draft": An Article by Kate Jay.


Hi everyone! It’s lovely to meet you. I’m Kate, your guest blogger for the day!


First drafts can definitely be scary - there’s many things that run through your mind when you’re writing them, which can lead to forgetting various things, or neglecting others. I wanted to share a few things about my own first draft for this article - you see, when I first started my novel, I had no inclination to do any planning or outlining. I’m now on the fourth draft for that very same story, and looking back, I can see the areas that I should have paid more attention to. I realize I could have saved myself a lot of trouble - and had stronger work from the beginning - if I had done a few simple things in that fated draft.


Disclaimer: everyone writes stories differently, with their own processes and methods. This is just what I personally discovered after reflecting, three drafts later.


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1. Giving My Antagonist A Motive


What I Did:


Essentially, I got stuck in the typical trap of making my antagonist ‘evil’ - and stopped there. My villain quickly became the flattest character in the story, which was a big problem. Personally, I find that the antagonist should be just as strong, if not stronger, than the protagonist or any other character. Conflict typically comes from their opposing views, but it’s difficult to achieve that if your antagonist has no motive, no backstory, and no character.


What I Should Have Done:


Before I even began the story, I should have taken the time to give my antagonist just as much thought as my protagonist, and allowed her to have that depth. Once I did this, later in my second draft, my antagonist instantly became a threat. As well, it strengthened my protagonist too - by creating a drastic conflict between the two, they both were able to create their own life.


2. Actually Completing Research


Disclaimer again: by research, I don’t mean the little details that can be fixed with a quick google search and can lead to a rabbit hole of internet surfing - I’m referring to big details that alter the plot.


What I Did:


For me specifically, it was the battle scenes, which were very influential to the story I was trying to tell. I didn’t know anything about hand-to-hand combat or weapons, which meant that I ended up guessing… and of course, I was wrong about pretty much everything. This meant that come my second draft, I had to rewrite - and even change plot points - in order to maintain that authenticity.


What I Should Have Done:


Well… research! I knew, going into the story, that I needed these integral scenes. Before I even put pen to paper, it would have been a much better idea to take some time and look into what I needed to know. It would have enabled me to write these scenes better from the beginning, and I wouldn’t have had to change my plot in order for it all to fit.


3. Trusted My Instincts Over My Head


What I Did:


An occupational hazard of jumping into a story without a plan, is that you need to make important decisions as you go. Of course, that isn’t immediately an issue - in fact, I enjoyed it! Surprising myself with each idea helped to keep me engaged and interested in the story I told. What was an issue, however, was that when it came time to make those decisions, I did what was easy - what my ‘head’ suggested.


What I Should Have Done:


Ignored those thoughts. The first draft was, and is not, the time to be worrying about word count, sounding cliche, and being interesting to other people. Rather, the purpose of a first draft is to get your ideas out, find those fundamental plot points, and tell yourself the story. It’s hard to do that if you don’t allow yourself to freely write. The one time I did trust my instincts, it was one of the best decisions I had made for my novel - introducing two new characters that brought many different subplots, and resulted in a much more dynamic story.


4. Keeping The Balance Of Reading And Writing


What I Did:


In my opinion, the balance between reading and writing is crucial. Reading doesn’t only expand your vocabulary, but it also exposes you to different styles of writing, plot types, tropes, and ideas. On the other hand, the best way to improve your writing is to practice - it’s a balancing act. I tended to do all or nothing - which not only was bad for my writing, but also for my mental state.


What I Should Have Done:


Once I finally found that balance, I became a much more rounded writer. If I had done that from that beginning, I would have had much more to offer my first draft - an awareness of various styles, an example of how different ideas can interconnect, and the importance of subplots.


5. Wrote How I Wanted To


What I Did:


With self-doubt always at the forefront of my mind, I spent way too long worrying about writing the story the way that I thought others would want. Personally, this didn’t mean that the content in the story was altered, but it did impact my writing style. By focusing on what others wanted, I wasn’t able to fully develop it. Though style is one of those things that tends to develop with time and experience, I still missed an important step in discovering my writing voice.


What I Should Have Done:


I can’t express this enough - let yourself have fun with your first draft. Allow yourself to develop that style, and indulge in your story - worry about approval from others later, if ever. I know it’s much easier said than done - but once I let that go, I had a draft that I was much happier with, and something I truly loved.


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Of course, all first drafts will need to go through edits - that just comes with the territory! And what actually needs to be edited and changed is going to be different for each writer, based on their individual processes and methods. These are just my own personal recollections and struggles, and hopefully they’ve helped you, as well!


All in all, I am very proud of my first draft, and how I have been able to build off of it. It’s enabled me to have a story to work with today, and I truly am thankful for my whole writing journey - including all the struggles! I sincerely wish you all luck with your own paths, no matter where you are in them.


A big thank you to Madison for giving me this opportunity, and to all of you for reading… until we meet again!


- Kate ♡


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