First Drafts

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by Katherine Reay

I’m so excited to be here. I visit this blog regularly and always find something new, instructive or inspirational to help me, my writing, and my walk… So the privilege to contribute is just that, a privilege.

Dear Mr. Knightley is out in the world. Lizzy & Jane is in copy edits. And I am beginning my next story – another first draft.

Since this – and moving my family across the country – is consuming my days, I thought I would share some things I’ve learned about first drafts. I regard the first draft (said in deep ominous tones) as the most challenging part of manuscript building. A blank computer screen is a daunting opponent and the idea of filling that screen with 90,000 plus words that actually make sense, and better yet make a compelling a story, is terrifying… but it doesn’t need to be. Here are a few things I am holding tight for the next several weeks:
dear mr knightley cover
1. For the characters to have layers and for the scenes to have depth, I need to consider what’s happening beneath the surface of the moment, not on it. The facial gestures, the words not said, the tension, and the tone – all show far more conflict and development than the fact that two characters are enjoying a Saturday morning run.

2. Turn off the self-critique button and write fast, write free and accept that I will save little of what is written within this first draft. In fact, to get to those final 90,000 words, I suspect I will write well over 150,000.

3. Read more, not less, during this time so that I’m continually saturated with new ideas and alternate approaches as quickly as I am developing my own.

4. Quiet time in prayer is not the thing to let slip from the daily schedule. This is a hard one for me because such time feels inherently selfish – probably because it is still and peaceful and lovely. What I must remember is that my second calling (aka life) works best when I pursue my first (aka Christ).

5. Write everything down. I mean everything. During first draft mode, my characters pop into my head at odd times with hints of a scene, an emotion, or simply an expression and I must write down each note. And because the characters have my attention, I often miss other things, like eggs or milk or toilet paper. In fact, I told my kids the other day that if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist.

These are just a few tips because I also find that the fewer things I must remember – the better.

And my best advice: HAVE FUN! Dump all your heart and humor into that first draft, knowing you will tweak, edit, add, subtract, twist, turn or (yes) possibly obliterate it all later. This is the moment to let loose and revel in the joy that is writing.

There you go… Please let me know if any of these were helpful – and also if you have tips for me.

Thanks! And Enjoy!

Katherine Reay BWKatherine Reay is the author of Dear Mr. Knightley, and a wife, mother, runner, and avid chocolate consumer. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries and, at the encouragement of her family, recently began an affair with food – cooking that is – and this new passion has strongly influenced her next novel, Lizzy & Jane, which will release in October 2014. You can reach Katherine on her website or on Facebook at and Twitter @katherine_reay.

Comments 0

  1. Oh my goodness, you can’t imagine how this has helped me. If you do happen to look at my blog, see the “James Dean Stone” link that gives a brief bio. But I was just telling my wife how that I don’t know how to turn off my self-editing, self-critiqing mode while writing my first draft of this first novel I am working on. You say to turn it off, and everybody I’ve ever read says to turn it off, but HOW!

    This really was a great post. Thank you for sharing. I was really inspired and encouraged. God bless all you do.

    Thank you,


  2. Dear Katherine, Dear Mr. Knightley was my favorite book of 2013 (and I read a lot that year:). I am so looking forward to reading Lizzy & Jane.

    This post on first drafts met me right where I am in my WIP. I’m actually on my second draft, but so much of it is new writing and maybe 1/4 is stuff I’m taking from what I’ve already written. I was feeling really discouraged and then I read this post. When you said you expect to write 150,000 just to get 90,000 I thought, “Phew! So it’s not just me!”

    Thank you for taking the time to encourage today. Write and be blessed!

    Sara Ella

  3. Great advice, Katherine. Thanks for sharing! I finished my first manuscript last year and started looking around for an agent. I thought I would spend my whole time focused on this story but, interestingly enough, the minute I put away the editing pen, a new idea popped into my head for a different story. I have spent the last two months ignoring the idea until I couldn’t take it anymore. I started writing the new story two days ago so coming across this post of yours feels like divine encouragement. I’m going to keep what you said in mind and ‘dump’ all my heart and humor into that first draft, knowing I will tweak, edit, add, subtract, twist, turn or (yes) possibly obliterate it all later.
    Thanks again!

  4. Thanks Katherine for these tips. There appear to be so many authors who are able to produce almost final drafts when they write the first draft so it’s lovely to read there are other authors who need 150K words to get to the 90K.

    I’ve also found reading more to be important as you’re correct in that it provides such useful fodder for your own manuscript.

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