Why You Should Scrap Your First Draft
I'm writing this from Stephen’s Green in Dublin, a park not far from my university. I’ve spent a lot of lunches here, gone for a lot of walks; this is where I came to cry when I found out in my second year that I just missed out on an important scholarship. Dublin is currently facing a harsher lockdown than the rest of Ireland, so it’s weird being in the city. I’m here on academic business so no rules have been broken, but it still feels transgressive to be here.
This city was integral to the beginning of my writing journey, as I’m sure it will continue to be. I don’t have any deep spiritual connection to Dublin, but it’s been an important part of my life for three years now. It’s not my favourite place in the world. It’s not deeply aesthetically pleasing.
I guess that’s why I’m drafting this post here. Even though Dublin isn’t my soul, it’s an important place for me and my writing.
So let’s talk first drafts.
I finished the first draft of my first novel in November 2017 (if I remember right). I wrote a lot of it on campus, looking out over the Penguin Random House offices across the road.
It was a slog. I started the book in January 2017 and worked on it all through my final exams, through a heart-wrenching summer where I almost missed out on my uni place, and then through my first semester at Trinity.
It was trash.
I mean, I loved it. I thought it was a great start to my writing portfolio: the opening to a YA fantasy trilogy that began with secret princes, undercover kingdoms, and massive heists. But sadly the book just never really clicked past that point. I put it aside and started fresh, this time with a YA contemporary.
Make Me Feel Unstoppable worked a lot better for me. It grew and grew from a small, rough concept of a non-binary teen in Ireland to a journey across countries, melded with the drama of international ballet and the beginnings of first love.
Edited, queried, got some great responses, but... nothing. No offers.
I put it aside and drafted another book. Another. Another. I edited my fourth manuscript again, queried, got rejections, edited; wrote yet another book, went back to edits and querying that fourth book and ended up scrapping and rewriting the whole thing (that’s The Willow Prince, by the way, and I’m so much happier with it!)
All the time, I was developing new ideas. Each new idea was challenging in a different way, and that helped me when I went back to edit my old projects.
The Willow Prince forced me to confront my problem with writing large character casts. My next draft had three major characters instead of eight—a huge improvement. So Much More Than Chaos was all about explosive plots and huge stakes—I brought that with me to The Willow Prince’s latest edit round, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.
This is why drafting is so important. You don’t have to edit every single idea into a saleable book. You don’t even have to hit that market work count—most of my first drafts are between 40k and 60k and remain pretty much untouched.
But the lessons you learn from these drafts are indispensable. I’m a firm believer that you can’t learn everything from craft books. I think drafting new ideas is the best way to learn what’s workable and what isn’t.
If a craft book had told 17-year-old Yves that his first novel had WAY too many characters and a barely functional plot, he wouldn’t have listened. He would’ve screamed BUT NO I’M THE EXCEPTION at the ceiling and probably cried.
It was only through drafting, revising, and scrapping my projects that I learned those tough lessons. I really thought I was open to those corrections—with all the earnestness in the world, young Yves would have defended his decisions to the grave. But I was wrong and it was only through trial and error that I discovered that.
Sometimes you’ve got to throw yourself at the wall a couple times before you find the door. And yeah, it can feel fruitless and stupid and it’s kinda embarrassing when you come out the other side, but it’s worth it in the end.
Those stories that you put away in folders buried deep in your storage are going to be useful one day. You’ll come up with another idea, sit down to plot, and think: hey—can I cut this character ahead of time? What if I raised the stakes a little more? Let’s address this pacing problem before we start.
That’s learning. That’s growing. That’s what makes writing worthwhile: looking back and seeing how all your mistakes weren’t mistakes at all, and actually they informed your greatest success.
So write that messy first draft. Write it again. Edit it to within an inch of its life—hell, even query it if you’ve got a flare of hope and you’ve tried your damn best.
And then try again, because the beauty of writing is that there’s always a blank page waiting for you.