When is your first draft "done"?

When I type “the end” on a first draft, the story is basically finished.  All the plot points are there, the characters are developed, the fight scenes are fleshed out, as are the make-out scenes.  🙂

I thought this was pretty typical for writers — that we all get to ‘the end,’ then we go back and add details, work on descriptions, nail down character tics, looks for redundancies and stupid mistakes. 

Apparently, I was wrong.  As I get to know more writers, beta read,  and blog stalk, I’ve learned there are a lot of ways to get to the end of a draft.  Some of them leave notes like, “Fight scene occurs.  Jack’s nose is broken.” Or, “They kiss.”  (Although, why you would delay writing a kissing scene, I will never understand.)

At first, I thought my way was better.  That you’re not really done until every bit of information is in the story.  Then a friend explained it to me like this:

“Sometimes I get stuck.  I know what has to happen, but the words don’t fall into place. Instead of beating myself up about it, I just move to the next scene that wants to be written.  That way I don’t lose momentum.”

This person also averages three-thousand words a day, compared to my measly one thousand. 

Maybe they know something I don’t.  And I’m guessing that you probably do to. 

What helps you get through a first draft?  Do you skip parts of the story that are difficult to write, or do you get every bit down? 


  • prerna pickett

    i skip around and make sure to leave a note behind to remind me what’s going to happen that way I don’t get confused by the jumps. I used to think I had to get every detail in there before it was considered a finished first draft, but I’ve learned to be a bit more flexible, but it took time to get there.

  • Redleg

    A long, long time ago (15 years?) I learned about cookie scenes. When you get stuck, you just write a scene that you REALLY want to write (a cookie) that occurs later in the narrative. You can always go back later to do the scut work of connecting points A and B. It’s great because:

    a) it gives me a better idea where I’m going narratively

    b) it helps me realize what I need for the connective tissue (i.e. he needs a gun to fight this guy, well, now I need to write a scene where he got the gun) and maybe the connecting scene won’t be so crappy after all

    c) best of all, sometimes you don’t need connective tissue after all, you can just leave it implied that they walked (or whatever) from A to B

  • Charlotte Brentwood

    I think it just comes down to how you define what the first draft is. I also put in placeholder scenes (and I write out of order), but I don’t call the first draft done until I’ve gone through the whole thing and finished the actual writing. Then the second draft is when I re-arrange, delete, refine, correct, polish, etc.

  • Lexa Cain

    I always write in sequence and sometimes no more than 250 words a day because I edit what I wrote before. My first drafts take time, but I never have plot holes, character arc mistakes, or lack of atmosphere. 🙂

  • William Kendall

    I’m largely linear in writing, but if I get into a bit of a slow period with writing, I might try a writing exercise to pull myself out of it- either a character blog, or some passage for a future novel.

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