Write On- Mental Vomit or the first draft


The art of writing


I was talking to someone the other day about editing as I am in the middle of doing a final edit on my Irish novel. I want to shout with joy, finally the end is at sight. It’s gone through many many drafts. They wanted to know– just when do I start my editing? I had to give pause and think back. I try not to until the very end.

All first drafts are the stolen joy ride, the passionate encounter with a new lover, its not the time to expect perfection, or a sense of finality from a first draft. It is mental vomit. It has to come out of you with force. It is just the blueprint for your story and meant to be erased, rearranged, played with, until you get to the heart of your dreams and then you can sit down to the finer points of editing, discovering that errant comma, finding a better word for errant, that sort of thing.

The first draft is where many writers stall. So much work, so much of yourself has gone into your first draft and the result is not what you envisioned. What did you see as you were writing? When I write, it is a film in my head, going too fast for my fingers to catch up and capture all the details on the paper. Characters invade my dreams, they argue with me, they laugh at me. I ignore it all and write as fast as my fingers will let me type, but it is not fast enough. But that’s okay in first draft. I have time to linger and ponder later on.

It is very daunting to realize that here are some 200 odd pages when typing that needs more solid hard work when the end feels so wonderful!   A large stamp slamming down on white paper, the end! Firm, final, and satisfying, but, and this is something that I wish I had known earlier, the rewriting is just as much fun, just as exhilarating. Hard work is ahead, but this is what a writer does. Everyone has a different method; I’d be interested in hearing yours.

We are creators of worlds, we cross out sentences, even whole chapters, characters get red inked into oblivion, we fine tune until the house of our novel is built, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, character by character. There is great joy in this process. It is no longer writing at roller coaster speed, but rather we are in an open car gliding through the countryside, and we can take time to feel the sun on our faces, the wind in our hair, and hear the sheep bleating in the fields above us.




About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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19 Responses to Write On- Mental Vomit or the first draft

  1. Pseu says:

    I have never tackled a project as large as a novel, but have written short stories. I love the editing process in a short story, deleting what’s not needed and getting the story acrossbut leaving work to be done by the reader, if possible

  2. Cameron says:

    Susan, this is wonderful, and I know it’s cheeky to ask, but would you consider guest post-loaning it to Write on Edge? I think my readership could use to hear your happy perspective. Plus, I can write up a promo bit for Ted and his short story!

  3. Susan, I love the mental vomit of a first draft. I’m getting ready to start another one, and I cannot wait. The characters just possess me. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s like the only way they can live is through my fingers, my words pounding out on the keys to the screen.

    I also love editing. I just finished edit seven of my first novel and sent it to my pre-editor for another round of input, which will lead to edit eight. 🙂 I love the process of watching these sketchy people become real, develop depth, make better decisions than they did the first time, and so on.

    I can’t wait to be able to read your Irish novel.

    • Hi Andra, I love the process also! I don’t know which I prefer, the fast wonderous flow of first draft, that excitment, or the thrill of seeing editing clean up ideas and fine tune characters. I just can’t say. I just wish they wouldn’t argue with me in my dreams! lol…I’ll probably blog the progress of agent etc on the Irish Novel, and post the first chapter for all to read. Just need to make sure I’ve not got any typos left! Gosh…they follow me like a shadow!

  4. crubin says:

    I actually enjoy the rewrite process. My problem is, I need to allow myself to just write the first draft freely without thinking I need to go back and edit everything I’ve just written. I’m working on a short story now, and I’m making myself just write it–no editing until I’ve completed the first draft. Is kind of liberating, actually.

  5. ginawb says:

    Sorry I ‘liked’ and ran last time, I was supposed to be working (naughty me :)). But I left a bookmark to remind me to come back and comment, so here I am!

    I am so so relieved to hear that rewriting is as fun as writing – I’ve been struggling to get into the rewriting of my book. Draft one was exhausting and exhilarating, and having draft two be just as fun would make it all a lot easier!

    I love what you said about characters invading your dreams and arguing with you – they do that to me too!

    Thanks for the great post.

  6. Pingback: Editing: Making every word spectacular « Law Reigns

  7. I am very late to this, Susan, and what I have been missing….the most positive take i have ever heard on the re-drafting process. Fabulous writing and such a feel-good factor to it. Thank you!

    • Hi Kate! I am so glad you enjoyed my take on the writing process! It’s been a great learning curve and the more I learn about it the more I am loving it! Thanks for the lovely comments! 🙂

  8. Pingback: The Writer’s Life: Mental Vomit, or The First Draft, with Susan Sheldon Nolen | Write On Edge

  9. Ulp… I’m playing catch up and reading backwards at the same time… I like the stolen joy ride analogy of the first draft. I’ve just replied to your next post (I love paradoxes!) saying that I generally publish my first draft on my blog, not considering for a moment that it is mental vomit! It’s raw, live, and as it happens! When (If) I get started on my book, I have realised the process will be much different to blogging, but it still looks like fun. Great post, Susan! 🙂

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