On Creative Writing: The Emotions of Finishing that First Draft

I am author, hear me roar....

I am author, hear me roar….

As I move toward publication of The King’s Sons on May 31, I’m reflecting back on the crazy conglomeration of emotions I’ve experienced each time I finished a first draft of one of my novels.

The emotions involved in knowing you’ve written the last word of that draft–even if the novel has tons of issues, and you can bet your bottom it does–can be as overwhelming as they are simultaneous.

In fact, they’re probably overpowering because they’re always simultaneous.

Anyway, these are the emotions that always come over me when I finish a novel. What has your experience been, if you’ve completed one or multiple first drafts?

  • PRIDE. I accomplished something. I did it! YES! I’m finally a novelist. I have a finished novel!
  • DISBELIEF. Holy mess, I have a finished novel! How did this happen? It felt like it would never happen! I mean, even when it got close and I could tell it was going to happen….
  • MENTAL EXHAUSTION. Brain. so. tired. I need a celebratory, relaxation sitcom marathon stat. What’s going on at Sacred Heart Hospital these days?

    "KNIFE WRENCH!!!! For kids!"

    “KNIFE WRENCH!!!! For kids!” (Not endorsed for cutting scenes.)

  • Or maybe a night on the town with the girls…. (I once ordered celebratory chicken wings, to eat during a celebratory viewing of an Alabama game with one of my best friends at the time.)
  • MINOR DESPAIR. It’s a finished novel, but it’s so bad. I mean, awesomely bad. What was I thinking having the evil duke scheme to steal the throne by murder when he could have just married the princess? Why wouldn’t he just marry the princess, seriously? And why…? I’ll have to change SO MANY THINGS.Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 5.19.24 PM
  • GRIEF. I don’t want to wait a month before I read-through and start editing. Man, Stephen King said to wait two. I won’t get through one. I MISS MY CHARACTERS!!! I MISS WRITING ABOUT THEM!!!
  • PARANOIA. What if no one likes it? No one’s going to like it. Dude, I just wasted a year of my life writing this trash. Who in the world would ever like this? Well, maybe they’ll laugh at it, if nothing else.
  • EUPHORIA. Because I. wrote. a. novel. Booya!

So, what has your experience been when you finish a first draft? Or, how do you imagine it will feel, if you’re en route?

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25 responses to “On Creative Writing: The Emotions of Finishing that First Draft

  1. Congrats for reaching such a milestone. That moment of getting off the first draft roller-coaster is bitter-sweet, and a great time for a well deserved happy-dance. Bask in the glow, for too-soon the crazy 2nd draft will whip you off on a whole new ride. By the time you get to the end of the 127th draft (not really, but it feels like it!), both your works-in-progress and yourself will be unrecognisable – in a good way.
    (Pfftt to Stephen King – start editing when you feel its the right time)

  2. Me? I…


    Really, all of them. And that picture made me snort. It’s been a long time since I finished a first draft of a long piece, but I’m getting there on a novella, and I’m very excited to go through all of this again, even the despair and grief.

    • Happy to make you laugh πŸ™‚ I’m glad to learn I’m not alone in my response to this. Good luck finishing out that novella! Those are fun. I need to write one at some point. The only one I’ve written turned into a full-fledged novel by the time I finished fleshing things out.

  3. Pride at finishing. Confusion about what to do next. Excitement about moving on to the next book. Laziness for a week to get my mind out of the series and return fresh. Though, I go into a few editing runs right away just for consistency and tightening things up. Guess I have trouble letting go.

    • I think we all have trouble letting go πŸ™‚ I always wait at least a couple of weeks before beginning that first read-through, but it’s tough!

      • I do it more for typos and making sure facts are consistent while it’s fresh in my mind. That way the later edits can focus more on story content.

        • that makes sense. I prefer to let it sit a while so I can approach the read-through as much like a reader would as possible. That helps me notice inconsistencies as they appear in the read-through. Two different tactics to accomplish the same goal πŸ™‚ I imagine they work equally well.

          I don’t worry too much about catching typos after the first draft because I end up changing and altering so much stuff anyway I end up with different typos by the time I have to proofread a close-to-finished product

        • I typically don’t change and alter anything major. My planning and outlines are pretty thorough. By the time I get to the writing stage, all of it is already planned out in my head. Though, I give my beta-reader strict orders to tell me about plot holes and if they think there should be another scene.
          It seems after book 3, the plots are a little easier to organize. All loose ends from the beginning are cleared up and the ‘main’ plot is revealed in that 3rd book. That might be why books 4 and 5 have been easier to control.

  4. I loved this post because I’ve just finished the first draft of my sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight – The Light Never Lies – and I felt all the things you are describing. Most especially not thinking I could bear to put the thing aside for a bit to let it steep. I know I’ll probably not even make it one month. On the other hand, I have let so many things go pushing for the end of this first draft, there is also a bit of relief when I think about catching up.

    • catching up on life is good πŸ™‚ and don’t feel like you have to wait a month if you can’t make it. different people need different levels of separation before editing.

  5. Way to go, Victoria! Very excited about your publication.

    As for all those feelings, I seem to go through that whole gamut after one paragraph. πŸ™‚ I do look forward to finishing a first draft of the whole thing. It just seems to be taking me a little while to get there.

    • It’s always frustrating when it’s taking a while. I’ve been there! Grr…. I just try to remind myself that as long as I’m making progress in the right direction, I’m making progress and I should be happy.

      Can’t always feel that way, though. Easier said than done.

  6. Honestly? I am terrible. My first reaction after the last page is complete is to run away somewhere and not look at the ms again for at least a week. I feel that if I look at it too soon after finishing it the pride will interfere with the judgment if that makes any sense.

    • that makes perfect sense, Ionia! I do the same thing. I don’t look at the file for at least two weeks so that I can approach it as little connected to it as possible. πŸ™‚

  7. Hi Victoria, yes I can relate to all those, definitely.
    Funny thing, though, my last two manuscripts, written for a specific publisher and for a fee, I only ever wrote one draft! But now I am returning to a novel I finished and published six years ago. I’m looking at republishing it, and writing a couple more sequels to it. But I’m looking at it, and thinking, ‘You know what? That definitely needs a major rewrite!’

  8. Love your post! I’ve just reached the end of a long journey, now looking for an editor :–). I am definitely in-between paranoia and euphoria! But we must keep moving forward! (Shared your post in a couple of places in case others are celebrating or wondering…)

    • thanks for the shares! I appreciate it, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Congrats on getting to the point where you need an editor, YEA!!! πŸ˜› Best of luck in your search and your journey πŸ™‚

  9. I go through all those things! I get the euphoria/disbelief first along with light-headedness and the need to lie down. These first drafts are emotionally exhausting things!

  10. Elation followed by cheesecake, followed by “Oh God, now I have to show it to people”.

  11. Pingback: Morning Round-up May 24, 2013 « Writing Gooder

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