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  • Writer's pictureVendela Ahlström

What I did wrong after I finished draft 0

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Photograph by David Travis
Photograph by David Travis

Something I wanna make clear before I get to the “I finished my first draft” moment:

I was pushing myself for a deadline that was so not even needed. I wanted a proper proofread draft to give to my dad for his 50th birthday (about a month and a half from where I was at the moment of where this story takes place). I wanted to give him the draft of the first thing I’d written before my critique partners tore it apart. I just wanted it proofread and formatted, a cover designed (by myself) and then have one copy printed.

To begin with, this was such an unrealistic thing to get done, and also I got so distracted by the book cover and everything else that I forgot to finish the bloody draft! That’s one thing I did wrong. Setting myself a deadline that wasn’t even necessary and getting bogged down with everything unimportant that came with that deadline. But lets talk about the actual draft.

Mistake no. 1

The first thing I did wrong was ask my boyfriend (with his MA in Creative Writing) to start editing, or giving me feedback. Before I was even done! This was the absolute worse thing I could’ve done.

This was a huge mistake. Adam, wonderful as he is, obediently sat down and started workshopping (I didn’t even realise this was a necessary step of the process at the time). He used a green pen, bless him (as supposed to red) to stay positive. But I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I was constantly seeing how far he’d gotten, seeing how many comments per page there were, and I was still not actually done with the very draft he was reading. So sooner or later he was going to catch up with me, and I just could not concentrate on my work.

Now, you’re probably thinking: ok, but this blog title says “What I did wrong after I finished draft 0”. This happened while she was still writing. And you’re right. Eventually I got so paranoid that Adam stopped feedbacking. He kept reading out of interest so we could later workshop it and ball ideas back and forth and whatnot, but he put down the pen so I could relax and finish the damn thing.

Mistake no. 2

Ok, fine, you’re thinking. So what happened after you finished it? Well, I went straight for the pages he had feedbacked on and I went over it with red. As in, I started editing my text. I looked at his notes, took them into account and started editing.

When authors say you need to put your manuscript aside for two weeks and relax and then return to it… listen to them! Do not, and I mean: DO NOT start editing your text on the same day you finished it. For f**k sake, you just finished writing a novel! Well, a novel length draft. Perhaps not publishable just yet, but still a manuscript. Most people that say they’re gonna write a book don’t make it past the first few pages. So cut yourself some slack. Have ice cream, down a bottle of wine, binge watch your favourite series, read a book for pleasure, have take out, or dress up and go out. I don’t know, play Skyrim! Do anything. Absolutely anything. But DO NOT look at your draft. You need to give yourself a pat on the back and actually celebrate the fact that you accomplished what you set out to do.

And I don’t say this because all other authors out there are telling you to give it two weeks before you start workshopping your manuscript so you can return with fresh eyes (your eyes will never be fresh when it comes to your own work anyways, but whatever). I’m say this, because I didn’t take on that advice and I should’ve. Because this is what happened.

I started taking everything Adam had written in green pen personally and I couldn’t sleep. I felt like a failure. I regretted giving my work to my boyfriend because I literally cried myself to sleep and he didn’t know what he’d done wrong. If anything he had done everything I wanted him to do. I just hadn’t realised that perhaps I shouldn’t have asked for those things. Don’t worry, we’re still together and it didn’t actually harm our relationship. But I just should have given my draft, and myself, enough respect to allow us rest before giving it to a new pair of eyes.

I started doubting myself big time, thinking I’d have to rewrite the whole thing. And I am rewriting the whole thing now, and it really isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m actually having a lot of fun! So letting someone else look at your work before you’re ready, and starting editing before you’ve given yourself some rest really isn’t something I’d recommend.

Now, as usual, this is my personal experience. My own advise to new authors. These are not actually rules written down in the Author's Bible (which doesn't even exist) so take it or leave it. You know yourself best!

Mistake no. 3

But that’s not all. When I started editing (on the very same day I finished the first draft of my freaking life) I wasn’t workshopping, I was editing. The language. Sure, I edited some of the story and structure, each chapter on their own as supposed to the whole novel, but mainly I edited the language.

Which was totally not what I should have done. I had no concept of workshopping before now. No idea what it even meant to pick my story apart to find the faults. I didn’t think my story was great, but I couldn't think outside the box of what I already had. I didn’t understand that two of the characters actually weren’t working and needed rethinking. I didn’t get that the story structure was all over the place.

There is no point editing a draft on a language basis when the story isn’t even working properly. I obviously know that now, since I am rewriting the whole damned thing. But I wasted some precious time editing those first three chapters, but it’s ok. You learn and you move on.

So what have I taken from this? What should I not have done when I finished draft 0?

1. First of all. I should’ve finished draft 0 before I even allowed anyone to look at it. Now when I’m working on draft 1 (with proper characters and a stronger plot) I do have critique partners that look at the next bit in the story every month and that’s okay because it’s via a course and I’m mentally ready for it. At the time of letting my boyfriend read draft 0, I wasn’t. My work was too rough. I was too fragile and I had very soft skin. I’m much more open to feedback and help now, and can work with it as I go.

2. I should’ve left my draft to cool off before I went straight in to edit it. I think I could do it now. But this was my very first draft! The first complete draft I’d ever completed. I needed to allow myself to celebrate! I was shaking when I closed down the document. I should've had cake!

3. I started editing it the wrong way. Ok, don’t take my word on this, because I have nothing to back this up apart from my own experience and those I’ve heard from others. But the second draft (draft 1, that I’m writing now) is not about sentence structure and grammar and fixing those typos. It’s about finding the faults in your story from a plot and character perspective. At least it was for me. So to sit and edit the language of a ‘down draft’ really wasn’t the right way to go.

There you have it. The three things I did wrong with my first draft. It wasn’t even about the writing, but how I treated the draft and myself as an author. Respect yourself and respect your work. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Upwards and onwards!

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