On first drafting…again

I was at Varuna The Writer’s House for a week and could not bring my thoughts together enough to write a blog post last weekend, and besides, was busy writing other words. The trip was to attend a masterclass. I paid to stay there and I took a week’s leave without pay. With flights, trains, additional accommodation and all other things that happen when we leave our houses, it was an expensive exercise. And, it was a lesson from the writing universe and when I say ‘lesson’ I mean ‘a slap upside the head’.


The wonderful Varuna.

Let me skip to the end with the good news. I’ve just today met with my wonderful writing partner and she read a new piece of work and exclaimed it ‘mature’ and ‘brilliant’ and I was so relieved but also I knew I was on to something because Varuna is nothing if it is not a place to make writers. As painful as that ‘making’ may be.

And, okay, perhaps I was a tad presumptuous to think that I would go there, have a delightful week of writing and walking and talking about writing and books and words. I can’t say it wasn’t that but it was more difficult than that.

But what is writing if it is not difficult?


Still easier than novel-writing.

Just before I left for Varuna I started a new project. This wasn’t an idea or a scene or a character, it was a full, complete novel idea. I just went with it even though it seemed to be taking me away from the novel I’ve been working on for the past two years because, I reasoned, words are words.

What I came away from Varuna with was a fierce belief in this new project (which, turns out isn’t that far away from my previous project) and words have been tumbling out of me ever since. I’m slightly concerned I am just a ‘first-drafter’ (is there such a type of writer?) and will never move beyond that, but at this point there is nothing to do but go with it.

So, in the interests of first drafters everywhere, I thought I’d explain a little about how I’m going about this.

One. I’m writing everyday. I have a goal of 1000 words and at this point it is easy to reach this in 45mins or so. I used to write 600-700 word scenes but I now find they are generally around 1000 or are made up of two 1000 halves. Either way, 1000 words is a bit like a 30min walk for me: my day feels weird without it.


Some kind of metaphor…

Two. I keep a tally. I have a calendar under my keyboard and every day I write down the total words I’ve written. I’ve been doing this for years. Since July 16 my totals are (with some days missing due to the mini breakdown at Varuna):

  • 1030
  • 1052
  • 1203
  • 1498
  • 1043
  • 1237
  • 1083
  • 1042
  • 1009
  • 1437
  • 859
  • 1061

Three. I pre-fill in my scenes in Scrivener so I have something to write. And I leave the next to write scene open on my screen when I go to bed so I get straight to work when I get up in the morning.

Four. I have written a full synopsis. I am a planner because I find it torturous to think of endings and I know I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there and everything in between. There is much to allow the muse to create as I go (and the magic in that is a joy) but I have to have a plan.

Five. I have a set of rules for myself that sit on my desk and, hopefully, save me from straying too much into over-written, irrelevant codswallop (though there is still plenty of ordinary codswallop).


Current rules. Subject to change at any time.

Six. I STAY AWAY FROM THE OPENING OF THE NOVEL. That is to say I have written an opening but I already know it isn’t the actual opening but I am literally banning myself from going back there even though I desperately want to (because playing with opening scenes is one of my most favourite things). STEP AWAY FROM THE OPENING.

Seven. I enjoy myself. Today I wrote a scene that was a delight and I’m still on a high from that. I’m stopping myself going back to write more now because I want to have this feeling when I come to it tomorrow morning.

Eight. I try not to get ahead of myself. I write my 1000 words. If I feel like writing more, I generally don’t, even if I have time and ideas.

Nine. My notebooks are completely unorganised but an essential part of the process. I usually come up with ideas or plot fixers or character traits or whatnot while driving to or from work, or while watching TV at night. Notebooks are essential.

Ten. I keep going.


Drafting at Varuna.

I’d love to hear how you draft!


3 thoughts on “On first drafting…again

  1. Pingback: 37 895 words later… | Jennifer Mapleson

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