Laura Howard: Surviving Your First Draft


Surviving Your First Draft

Welcome to my spot on the official Just Breathe Tour featuring
one of my favorite people on the planet, Kendall Grey!

Fasten your seatbelt and prepare to be amazed as you learn Kendall's tips on how to dig in and hammer out that beastly first draft!

My first experience with drafting a book was pure heaven. I had no inhibitions, no worries, no clue what I was doing. I didn’t get hung up or stressed about making the book perfect. I focused on getting the words out. When I finished, choirs of angels sang. Rainbows beamed from my head. Disco balls twirled.

Then other people read the book.

And hated it.

Apparently, the beautiful baby I created wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I thought. I locked myself in self-torture chamber of humiliation and shame. After a few weeks of self-loathing passed, I emerged from my hidey-hole, tail between my legs, and humbly sought advice from other writers who told me to pull up my big-girl panties and deal with it. Writers must accept things they don’t want to hear. Like, “Your baby is butt-ass ugly and needs a major facelift.”

Eventually, I grew enough courage to seek out a critique partner, who helped me tremendously. Over the course of thirteen rewrites (not revisions, REWRITES) spanning four years, the story improved. I self-published INHALE in May 2012.

But when it came time to draft the second book in the series, doubt paralyzed me. What if this baby was even uglier than the first? What if I had to rewrite the book thirteen times again? I didn’t think I’d survive another ripping. I considered quitting before I even started.

I scrounged more courage and drew on my experiences with writing the first draft of INHALE. Instead of worrying about writing a book that would please everyone else, I wrote the book for me. I wrote it as if no one else would ever see it. The change in focus gave me the freedom I needed to push the limits and let my imagination go crazy, just like I did the first time around.

And guess what? The second book was better. Yeah, it was still ugly and required a lot of make-up before it made its first public appearance, but this one needed less work. Reviews for the second book are better than the first, too. I must’ve done something right.

My advice for surviving a first draft is:

  • Write for yourself first. If you don’t enjoy your story, it’ll show, and readers won’t enjoy it either.
  • Practice patient persistence. The more you write, the better you write.
  • Accept the fact that when you’re done drafting, you’ll have a lot more work to do. Drafting is the easy part, so enjoy it while you can. Revising takes twice as much time and concentration. Don’t like revising? Tough.
  • Trust your critique partners—they have your back. Don’t fuss over little things like word choice and grammar in a first draft because your story is likely to change in the revision stage anyway. Crit partners will help you fix the big issues first. Worry about the details later.
  • Keep your blinders in place. Don’t get distracted by Ms. Prissy Pants Author’s glowing reviews, rankings, and sales. You’re not her. Focus on your work. She’s irrelevant.

Hard work pays off. You might not see the fruits of your labors right away, but if you keep at it, your writing will improve, and so will your chances of selling a lot of books down the road. :-)


a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Oh thank you for this! I'm currently rewriting my second book and I've felt like this. Paralyzed by Fear, panicked over the most minute of things... and then finally, freedom came in the shape of a swift kick in the butt courtesy of one my friends.

    The best thing I've done so far with Fissure is to let go. I'll worry when my editor gets to read it LOL.

  2. Marilyn, I've found that if I don't just let go, the book will never get written. The old adage "You can't edit a blank page" is *SO* true. Sometimes just pushing past the self-doubt and finding a way to spit the words out -- no matter how ugly they are -- is the hardest part. But once they start flowing, it becomes so much easier. Best of luck with FISSURE!

  3. What are the best places to find a critique partner?

    1. BookCupid, I joined Romance Writers of America and found some crit partners through one of their special interest chapters. I'm certain you could find CPs that way if you're an RWA member. There are probably a lot of other sites outside of RWA too. It's just a matter of searching. Yahoo Groups might be another place to look. The trick is to find someone who has more experience than you and who will be honest without being mean. You may have to go through several people until you find the right match. And there's nothing wrong with saying, "This isn't working out" if that's the case. Good luck!

  4. I'm saving this post. It's just what I experienced with my first book. Now on my eighth-or-so rewrite. Thanks for the encouragement to wake up and write another day.

    1. Hi Dana! It feels kind of good to know you aren't alone when you're ganglia-deep in the water torture of your own brain, doesn't it? ;-) So many doubts seep in and make us question ourselves. Quitting is the easy way out, but it doesn't usually leave us creative types very happy. Sticking with the book through the good times and the bad, and being willing to do what's best for the story (even when it's not what we want) are two qualities that separate dabbler WRITERS from published AUTHORS.

      You can do this, Dana. Rock that manuscript like nobody's business!

  5. Kendall, what a great post. I think I've gone through every emotion you mentioned. Thanks for helping me feel I'm not alone.

    1. Hi Faith! Thanks for stopping by.

      A writer's life can be very isolated (a particularly prickly job hazard for many), and it's easy to fall into self-deprecating modes of thinking when you don't get much contact with the "outside world." The constant questioning is what does me in. Do readers like what I wrote? Why aren't they talking about it? How come Miss Prissy Pants Author can sell a million books, but I can't? Why do I suck so badly? It's enough to make you batty.

      I don't know about you, but I NEED validation from outside sources. I NEED people to say, "You've written a great story!" But not everyone will feel that way. To make it worse, the negative voices are always the loudest to me. I could get 20 great reviews and one bad one. Guess which review sticks with me the longest? It can become a downward spiral very quickly if you let it.

      Having a few close, trusted writing pals helps me a lot. They're my safety net. I can turn to my author friends when I'm feeling down. They'll listen without judgment. They understand what I'm going through and don't feel the need to fix everything like my husband does. HA! Having that support network is crucial to keeping one's sanity.

      Congrats on publishing your book, and best of luck with sales!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I am right there at the moment. I just self-published and I'm in the middle of my blog tour, and the pressure is on to get the next instalment in the series out. I'm breaking under the pressure, but then I think I'm the one putting the pressure on myself. Today I made the conscious decision to just step back and work on something else for a while. Thanks so much for this post; it's really helped me gain a little perspective.

  8. I don't know about you, but I NEED validation from outside sources. I NEED people to say, "You've written a great story! ... Having that support network is crucial to keeping one's sanity.

    Yes. This. My writing group encouraged me through 90,000 words. When I wasn't certain that my words were any good, that my plot was weak, they managed to point out the good things. They'd remind me if I slipped a cliche in, needed to tighten up narrative. They understood what I was going through, and they made me want to keep writing. They wanted to hear THE END as much as I did.

    Revising takes twice as much time and concentration.
    Don't remind me... I just finished the rough draft of my 2nd novel. I have so much work ahead. I have struggled with one of my MCs throughout this draft. I think I finally know him - his thoughts, feelings, goals are so much clearer. But I dread rewriting him, almost afraid I'll still have trouble showing the reader who he is and how he changes. Help me Obi Wan Kenobi...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.