The Funny Thing About First Drafts

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just started writing the first draft of a new book. When all's said and done, this will end up being the sixth book I'll have written for my publisher, Bethany House.

I spent a couple of months this past summer doing the research for my new book. Then I plotted out the chapters because my publisher wants their authors to turn in a synopsis of the book before we start writing it.

No, you didn't read that wrong. I have to write the synopsis first, before I begin the first draft. I'm expected to flesh out my book idea and get it "approved."

Yes, I realize some writers might balk at the idea of having someone else approve their story before writing it. Some may think that's too controlling, that it denies self-expression, or inhibits creativity. At times I've even heard writers sarcastically say something like, "Do those publishers believe they're God, thinking they know what readers want and telling authors what to write about?"

The truth is that in traditional publication, the publisher DOES make it their intimate business to know what their readers are enjoying, especially what's selling and what's not. No, they're not God. But they try to keep a pulse on the industry, and they usually have a big picture of sales and trends that help them make decisions the average writer doesn't always understand.

The beauty of today's market is that if a writer finds the process of traditional publication stifling, if they don't want to have anyone else telling them what to do, if they want to write the story that's burning inside them regardless of what anyone else thinks, then they can.

With the ease of self-publishing, writers can publish anything they want and get it into readers' hands anyway. They can even prove that readers truly are ready and willing to try new things. It's possible, but not necessarily easy.

On the other hand, traditional publication requires team work. My editors and I have the same goal—to publish a book that my genre readers will love. I come up with the ideas and the story, but then they're able to give me the necessary feedback on what will work and what won't (and that process isn't always flawless, because even after all the feedback, sometimes books still flop).

I've learned that the more detailed I can make my synopsis the better. The one I recently turned in was approximately seven pages single-spaced.

My editor takes some time to read the synopsis and then offers his feedback either via an email or phone call. He shares his concerns. And then we often brainstorm together ideas that may work instead.

Finally, I revise my synopsis and resend it to him. At that point, I'm ready to start the first draft.

But a funny thing happens with first drafts . . .

Even with the best laid plans, once you start writing, the story takes on a life of its own.

When we let go of our plans and get into our creative zone, when we allow the breath of life to blow into our words, everything takes on a new dimension. And it's at that point, when the story comes truly alive, that I find the most joy in the process of writing. I love when a story evolves and grows, turning into something more complex and beautiful than I could have imagined when it was still just a dream.

I've learned that "letting go" during the first draft is a skill we have to hone just like all the others. When we first start writing, perhaps we're nervous, wondering if we're doing everything "right." We second-guess ourselves a lot. And in the process, we inadvertently let our internal editor out too soon.
And when the internal editor comes out, it can zap the joy of writing and dry us up until we feel like we've got nothing left to give.

Over the years, I've had to consciously make myself NOT stop, NOT nit-pick, and NOT worry about my first draft. I've learned to release the need to make the first draft "fit" my pre-conceived plans or to make it perfect.

Instead, I let the first draft be a time of falling in love with writing all over again. I use my synopsis and plot plans as a guideline. But I give myself the freedom to make mistakes, to try new things, and most importantly to let the ever-formulating new ideas bring extra depth to the story.

Yes, that means my synopsis and my first draft don't always match perfectly. And it means that I may get off track with what readers expect and like. I've come to accept that I'll have to make some adjustments during the rewrite phase.

But that's okay. When we can truly find joy in the writing process itself, then all the other difficulties pale in comparison.

How about you? What is the first draft experience like for you? Are you finding joy in letting the story come to life? Or are you too worried about how it's all going to turn out?


During the month of September, I'm sharing secrets about myself during my "Fun Secrets" Blog Tour. On each blog stop, I'll also be giving away a signed copy of my newest release, Unending Devotion:

Thursday, Sept. 13: Secret #8: My worst injury. Faye Oygard’s blog

Friday, Sept. 14: Secret #9: An aspect of my personality that I’ve struggled to accept. Jill Kemerer’s blog

For a list of all my secrets, check out my Events Page!

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