The Trickiness of First Drafts

I am currently working on a first draft of The Deepest Growl, Book 3 of the Cats of the Afterlife series. Before I start a process, I always try to prepare myself as best as I can. I am not a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of their pants. I am an outliner who follows the precepts outlined in Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I would say I was a Student of the Beat.

Earlier this month, my husband and I stayed with friends at their cabin for an extended weekend. I had planned on doing writing and day job work there. (Yes, it was a break, but I am the type of person who takes comfort in work. I feel the best when I can write every day.) However, I forgot to take my computer charger, and so I spent the entire weekend work time with my notebook and dreaming up my new book. It was such a peaceful, beautiful environment, and I ended up envisioning the entire book. I had notes for each chapter, and it felt solid. It was strange carrying that notebook that had my Book 3 inside it. How could it still feel so light?

But then the process became predictable, although it always takes me by surprise. The first chapters come out easily. Then characters start misbehaving. They act outside the confines of the plan I wrote up. This time, two new characters showed up, two formerly lost souls named Princess and Pepperoni. They were charming and really wanted to take over the story.

But the great thing about writing novels is you gain experience and grit with each book. I've been down this wilderness path before. This time I stopped. One thing I've learned for me is writing my first draft is not about word count and the number of pages written in one sitting. It's about getting it basically right. I have to feel satisfied with a chapter before I can move on because the chapters build on each other. If Pepperoni and Princess had stayed in the draft, they would have to be included in the chapters to come, and I already have enough story and characters for the rest of the book. It feels heartless to say they were cut, but they were. Perhaps they'll show up again. Maybe they'll be mentioned. But it has to work within the realm of the story.

The day after Pepperoni and Princess made their appearance, I read what I had so far—two chapters that I feel good about. I read all the iterations that I had of Chapter 3 and 4. I went back to my notebook and started plotting it out again. Here's something important to say: what I'm writing now is within the story that I had written at the cabin. I had just gotten diverted by some characters. I forgot where I was. This is also the beauty of the beats, which I now realize I have to write about next time. I could point to where I was in the story and see what was supposed to happen next and realize that I had wanted to add things that belonged to later beats. That probably sounds super mysterious and vague now but I will write about it next time further. Just know at this point that, for me, the beats remind me of how a story is structured and keeps me on the path during this mysterious, humbling process called writing a first draft.