Just Write the Doggoned Draft!

old typewriter by menken at

photo credit: menken at

Everything I am about to say can be boiled down to the title of this post. Just write the doggoned draft! But I can’t post that all by itself, right? I need to expound a little bit.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of handwringing online and in various places about “Am I writing this the right way?” Questions like these:

  • How long should my chapters be?
  • Can I write a prologue if I want one, even if literary agents say they don’t like them?
  • What should I name my characters? Is such-and-such a good name for a hero/heroine?
  • What point of view should I write this in? What if my editor likes first person and I hate it?
  • Do I have to write the first draft in order or can I write chapters or scenes out of order as I think of them?
  • How about tense? Should I write in present or past tense?
  • Do I have to wait till the very end to edit or can I edit after every page?

My philosophy when it comes to first drafts is to write however you need to write to finish the darned thing. You can revise even the worst spaghetti-like scramble of prose, but you cannot revise something you never wrote. 

If you write a whole novel and decide you don’t like the characters’ names? Change them. Easy. If you write a prologue and then decide you don’t need it, kill it. Add the bits you need to the body of the novel. If you want to keep it, keep it. (My own preference is not to write prologues. Just start where you need to start and call it chapter one. But that’s just me.) If you start writing in first person and find you don’t think it suits the story, change it – in the draft, and when you finish, go back and revise to bring the earlier part of the story into line with the latter part.  Same with tense. You can ALWAYS fix things.

As to editing after every page, in my opinion, you can do some. I edit as I go, cleaning up bits of grammar or finding a better word here and there. I do it every day when I start work, going back over yesterday’s work and tidying. I don’t do major revisions or go haring off down rabbit holes. That way lies the road to Never-Finishing-The-Doggoned-Draft-Land.  Other people work well by doing a first draft that is filled with bad grammar, clunky phrases, and notes of “Something Needs To Go Here When I Think Of It.” 

As a friend of mine, a very good writer, is wont to say, “There is no one true way to write.” I agree with her absolutely on this. What works for you might not work for me, and vice-versa. The trick is to write until you figure out what does work for you.


Then revise it as needed.

Then write another book.

The Backstory Blues


Kristen Lamb: Instead of dumping a crude flashback in the beginning so your reader will understand Such-and-Such…let them wonder. It’s good for them and it’s good for your career.



Backstory is the part of the story that takes place before your novel, novella, or short story begins. It’s the past.

I’ve heard writers say, “But if my readers don’t know all the events in the past that lead up to the events in the book, they won’t understand.”

Now it’s true that some parts of the past must be made known, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend pages and pages dropping that information on the reader’s head. Pick a few details, a few important bits, and sprinkle them through the book. Do it when and where the reader needs to know. And give the reader only what she needs.

Too much backstory will bog a novel down and throw your timeline all out of whack.  It will kill the forward momentum of your story. Nothing — or almost nothing — will provoke me into throwing a book across the room and marking the writer down as one I’ll never read again more quickly than too darned much backstory.