Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft

by Fay Lamb

In my writing life and both as a freelance editor and an acquisition editor, I have discovered a disturbing trend among some new and not-so-new writers.

Self-publishing is not a bad thing if the author does it correctly. However, there is a generation of authors who have grown up without accountability for what they create. Some sit down at a computer, plunk out one draft of a story, and head off to publication. There are also some who send their first draft to a publisher. When they receive a rejection, the fault belongs to a “system.” They use that excuse to self-publish.

Say what you want about traditional publishers, but in most instances, they truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing. Granted, there are authors who have studied the craft inside and out and write great manuscripts. Yet they can’t find a home in traditional publishing. The rejection has less to do with a lack of diligence on the author’s part and more to do with publishers’ trends. Those diligent authors who take the time to craft a story find new life in self-publishing by bucking those trends.

A first draft is never an author’s best friend. All it says to an author is, “I’ve taken the story from Point A to Point Z, and I have some bones to build upon.” The next draft, or drafts, however many it takes, puts flesh on those bones.

I’d like to share some very obvious clues that indicate to readers and to publishers that an author has not gotten beyond the first draft stage before submitting or publishing:

  • The author has not taken the time to get a command over the small stuff: spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency in names, hair color, eye color, even the spelling of key locations. Editors see these mistakes as lazy writing. If an author isn’t keen on these areas, finding an editor, or even a critique group that can offer this support, is imperative.
  • The manuscript usually consists only of bones, taking the form of stilted dialogue. Description and deep point of view (POV) are lacking or lax. A story that engages uses effective dialogue to relay information without the reader knowing the information is being fed to them. Deep POV is the best tool to draw the reader into the story and connect them with the main characters.
  • Speaking of point of view: in a first draft, even the most prolific authors will inadvertently switch POVs within the scene. Revisions will correct this mistake. However, an omniscient point of view is a sign that an author has not studied the elements of fiction. POV should always be one character per scene, and the character with the most to win or to lose should always be the POV character for that scene.
  • Often in a first draft, the plot will lack escalating conflict. Instead, an author utilizes contrived conflict, bringing it in and resolving it quickly before introducing another issue. One reason a synopsis is requested by publishers is to determine how well an author introduces and sustains conflict. If conflict is weak or non-existent, the story isn’t ready for publication.
  • Then there’s that old but relevant cliché: show don’t tell. A first draft is littered with telling words or phrases that draw the reader away from the story. This is easily seen in the use of adverbial time phrases such as suddenly and immediately or when she turned … Other telling words have to do with the senses: she heard, he saw, he noticed, he realized, and a host of other similar actions that tell rather than show.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a first draft or even a second draft will produce a story ready for publication. Take time to revise and edit, to look for the minor mistakes and to implement the elements of fiction that put flesh on those shaky bones and build up a healthy story that readers can enjoy.


Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following short paragraph, utilizing some of the points discussed above to create a second draft:

Paula heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Immediately, she turned and peered out the window. What she saw terrified her.


Click to Tweet: “In most instances, traditional publishers truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing.” Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb.

Who’s Driving the Story?

by Fay Lamb

As the Tactical Editor, I use the analogy of a car to describe the elements of fiction. So, when I saw this topic, I couldn’t resist writing about it.

For me, it’s not just the “who” driving the story but the “what.”

In my car analogy, I explain that plot is the vehicle that drives the story. Without a main plot, the author isn’t going anywhere at all. The road upon which the plot vehicle travels is the genre. So, of course, the plot vehicle must be equipped for the journey with devices like suspense or mystery, full-on terror, or maybe a scenic route with bumps in the road. The main plot drives the road from Point A to Point Z. Minor plots are all intersecting roads, but make no mistake, all intersecting roads lead to Point Z.

Conflict is the fuel for the vehicle. If the plot vehicle isn’t filled with the proper fuel, the story is going to sputter and halt, and the readers are going to get out and walk away. Conflict must build in each scene until its resolution at the end of the story. A reader must, therefore, measure the amount of fuel necessary to reach the end of the journey, taking into account those scenes in which more conflict—or fuel—is needed.

Then there are the actual drivers. These are each character with a point of view (POV)—one POV per scene and in most stories, no more than three POVs per book. A character takes the wheel for the scenes that belong to him or to her and moves the story forward as the conflict puts up roadblocks to prevent the character from reaching the desired destination.

When the journey has been reached and the conflict has been emptied from the tank, the characters will get out of the journey and start a well-earned vacation.


Writing Prompt: Start a story, using the photograph above. Remember that the vehicle drives the story. The driver is the POV character. Why is the car parked in that location? Who was driving it? What happened to them?


Click to Tweet: “If the plot vehicle isn’t filled with the proper fuel, the story is going to sputter and halt, and the readers are going to get out and walk away.” Who’s Driving the Story? Via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb #amwriting #MondayMotivation

Time to Write with Karen Sargent

Are You Trapped in Your Writing World?

By Karen Sargent

Writing had consumed every aspect of my life. When I wasn’t teaching English during the day or sleeping at night, I was sitting at my desk, logged into my laptop—and logged out of my life. But what choice did I have? I was a new author chasing the dream, and the dream takes hustle. I love the dream. I love to write. But I hated what it was doing to me.

I had many masters, and I tried to serve them all: Facebook groups, writing blogs, reading blogs, my own blog, Twitter, book launch teams, agents to beg, a publisher to please, a platform to build, a book to market, ARCs to read, reviews to post, endorsements to write, contests to judge, writing friends to promote, reading friends to meet, workshops to present, new writers to mentor, a work-in-progress…

And the list of so many good things goes on. But, oh the craziness!

I had what my youngest daughter diagnosed as FOMO—fear of missing out. I was afraid to miss the next Tweet or the next article or the next professional connection that would move me one step farther down “the write road.” I feared missing out on the one magic thing I should be doing—whatever it was—and was in constant search of it.  

The pressures of being a debut author had skewed my perspective. For most of 2016 and 2017, I was so busy trying to write, publish, and promote a story, I missed out on too much of my own story. If a friend asked to meet at the coffee shop, I’d calculate how much writing time it would cost me. If I watched a movie with my family, the plot I was most interested in was the one I was writing in my head.

Living my life was like reading a book by skimming the chapters, or sometimes just the opening and closing paragraphs, or maybe skipping a chapter entirely. You get the gist of the story, but you don’t fully experience it. That was me.

Until life pounded at my door.  Correction: It busted through like a SWAT team and refused to be neglected anymore.  

I was in the midst of my debut’s first year, still deep into building relationships, trying to find my place in the writing community and my way into readers’ hands. And then my mom’s health started a rapid decline. The doctor recommended hospice, and she wished to spend her last days at home, so I wrote sub plans, cashed in my sick days, and moved in for a few months.

From a writing standpoint, the first two weeks were the hardest. I had little time to engage on social media or to read and comment on blogs. I missed my writing friends, and I truly think I suffered withdrawal symptoms. I had to break promises to promote book releases and cancel workshops I had committed to teach. I struggled to fulfill my volunteer role in a writing organization, and I couldn’t post on my blog. Nothing was more important than the privilege of caring for my mom, but I feared how quickly I would lose the relationships I cherished and the connections I had worked so hard to make.

But soon, my real life came back into focus.

I rediscovered the person I once was who had become lost in the writer I wanted to be. Becoming reacquainted with myself allowed me to fully engage in the joy and grief of caring for my mom until she passed in June. In that time, my oldest daughter graduated from college, moved out, and started her career. The rest of summer passed, a new school year began, and I was busy preparing for my daughter’s November wedding. The holiday season followed, and now here I am, looking back at 2018. I can’t say I was much of a writer last year, but I’m proud to say I was a devoted daughter and an involved wife, mother, and friend.

And here’s the amazing part. My writing community didn’t forget me. Before the end of 2018, I was invited to participate in author events, teach workshops, and guest post. My book sales had a little boost in time for Christmas, and occasionally a reader will ask when my next book will be out. I’m on faculty for the 2019 Missouri Writers Guild Conference, and I’ve booked my first out-of-state speaking engagement at a fundraiser for a children’s hospital. The astounding thing is I solicited none of these invitations. In spite of my fear of missing out, my writing community opened their arms wide and said, “Welcome back.” My heart is so full!

The past ten months replaced my FOMO with JOMO—the joy of missing out. I remembered how to enjoy life away from my laptop. Now, as I turn my daughter’s old bedroom into my new office, I better understand how to balance the two worlds that are so important to me. I’ve evaluated how I spend my time in the writing world. I’ve identified where I find authentic relationships, important information, valuable partnerships, and personal progress. That’s where you’ll find me. Everything else is clutter. I’ve set writing goals—and writing limits. When it’s time for me to be a writer, I’ll fully be a writer…guilt free. And when it’s time for me to be a wife, a mom, or a friend, I’ll fully be that as well…frustration free.

In 2019, I’m going to spend less time writing more, and more time living well.

[Click to Tweet] I rediscovered the person I once was who had become lost in the writer I wanted to be. Time to Write with Karen Sargent via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #writerslife

Writing Prompt: FOMO produces clutter. Clutter steals precious writing time, family time, and energy. Make a list of clutter in your writing life. What can be eliminated to make room for more productivity and joy in both of your worlds?


Karen Sargent is a recovering writing-aholic who does not miss the burning shoulder, lower backache, and 15 pounds that disappeared in 2018 when she ended a long-term relationship with her laptop. Armed with a new 2019 planner, she has scheduled joy back into her life, sprinkled with a moderate dose of writing her WIP, a little bit of blogging, and an occasional workshop presentation. Karen’s debut novel, Waiting for Butterflies, was named the 2017 IAN Book of the Year and received the Foreword Reviews Gold for Christian fiction. Visit her at KarenSargentBooks.com.

Time to Write with Tammy & Lisa Mayer

Tammy Trail wrote her first story in sixth grade. It won a prize and she was hooked. After life slowed down a bit, she began to dabble with writing a full-fledged novel. A contributor to Inspired Prompts since 2014, the learning still continues.

So, how does she make time to write?

Working a full-time job left me little time to write. Then my hours changed. I now work a mid-shift from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There’s very little time before I need to get out the door.

After work, there is dinner, household chores, and sometimes Grandma time with my two grandsons. It’s a dilemma that I have yet to overcome.

This next year will be different. I usually never set resolutions for the new year. However, I do set goals. My BIG goal for next year is to go to bed early in order to get up earlier to exercise and write. This will be a huge struggle for me, but I am determined!

Prayers for your efforts, Tammy. May 2019 be the year of your break through!


Lisa R. Mayer has anxiety and OCD and is a proud mental health warrior. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her husband, Rich, and her fur-baby, Scooby, catching up on her reading list, watching her favorite shows and movies, bike-riding, traveling, and going on adventures. You can learn more at www.lisarmayer.com, or follow her on Twitter @LisaRMayer2019, Instagram at author_lisa_r_mayer_2019, or on Facebook at Author-Lisa R Mayer.


Like many of you, when I look back on my life… I realize I’ve always been a writer. If I don’t write, it’s like part of me is missing. But it’s more than that. I would dare argue that making time for writing is akin to making time to becoming a better person.

Writing, just like being a better person, involves editing. We work to be a better person by editing our thoughts and actions, chipping away as a sculptor would marble until we find the best version of ourselves underneath. And we edit our writing in the same way until we find the story—our story—that is bursting out of our hearts.

All of us know why we write… because our story must be told. Not only the story of our characters, but the story of our lives, the things we’ve been through and learned. We pour a little bit of ourselves into our characters and hope that their best parts will become part of us, too. We hope that we’ll make the right decisions. We hope our books will touch lives.

I’ve learned the importance of editing as both a person and writer. I edit through my foot-in-mouth moments when all I can do is apologize. I edit when I was told the first chapters of my book were boring. I edit when I need to focus on my mental health. And I edit even when it means tearing my book apart for what feels like the hundredth time. In real life and writing… editing is hope that things can and will get better. We just can’t give up.

And that is why I never stop writing. But I also never stop editing.

Click to Tweet: All of us know why we write… because our story must be told. Not only the story of our characters, but the story of our lives, the things we’ve been through and learned. Lisa R. Mayer via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #amediting #WritersLife

Writing Prompt: Imagine your best day. Write about it: where are you, and what are you doing? (Keep it G-rated, please!)

Time to Write with Lisa & Gail

Lisa Worthey Smith is a long time Bible teacher who ventured into writing inspirational stories a few years ago, and is now President of Word Weavers North Alabama.

She and her husband are empty nesting in northern Alabama where she spends time in her garden and writes stories of Faith*Hope*Love. Her first two books Oscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird and The Wisdom Tree are available on Amazon.com and she expects to release two books in 2019, Ground Kisser and COFFEE with God at Christmas.


Social media, daily chores, ideas for different stories, unexpected family needs all creep in and steal time that could have been used to crank out more words for the project of the moment. So, how do I manage my writing time?

Pray.

I ask God to give me direction for the day, deferring to His will rather than mine. If I get behind on my writing goals for the day because I spent time with someone who needed encouragement, I don’t count that as a lost day. I never want to be so headstrong on my goals, that I neglect His prompting.

Plan.

I work best with a plan to reach certain goals. I keep a small calendar on my desk to log in my deadlines and use that as a starting point.

Pare it down.

If I need to produce a 40,000 word story, I break that down into monthly, weekly and daily bites so I am not overwhelmed with a 5,000 word deficit a week before my deadline. There is great satisfaction in turning a page on the calendar, knowing those tasks are accomplished without panicking at the bigger picture of what is still before me.

Prioritize my time.

Work comes before leisure, so mornings are dedicated to writing. If something comes up, I still have time later in the day to reach my goal. If I have to give up something, I’ll give up leisure time to accomplish my goals and not deal with the stress of being behind.

Persist.

Of course, there are days when my computer remains unopened. Still, tomorrow I renew my prayer to follow His will, and adjust my goals to match His, and persist. The only thing stopping us from reaching our dreams is to give up. Persist instead.


From Gail Johnson—So, you’ve read the latest on carving out time for writing, but no matter how hard you try, the bullet list doesn’t seem to be working as promised. Oh, what’s a writer to do?

The best thing that you will ever do for your peace of mind is realize that writing isn’t a one size fits all profession. It’s a personal journey for each author. For me, it’s trusting myself, and God, to know what is best. I can’t sit in a chair and stare at a blank screen. It would be easier to lay an egg than writing my rough draft this way.

My goal each day isn’t so much about getting a set number of typed words on paper but staying in my head and listening to my characters. I can do this anytime and anywhere I’m able to pen words to paper, napkin, or shoe sole. 😊

When driving, I dictate to my sweet daughter who is glad to help in my time of need. My entire rough draft is hand-written conversations between my characters. That’s it. No settings. No internal thoughts. Just conversations. They reveal the plot. When I feel I have the gist of the scene, I sit and write the chapters adding the necessary components.

Remember, this is my process. It may not be your cup of tea. Learn what’s best for you. Trust your quirkiness; it’s what makes you, you. Finding your own process will make the words flow like warm honey across hot biscuits.


Gail Johnson enjoys sharing her passion for life and Christ through the power of the written word. Whether it’s through stories, articles, or songs, she invites her reader and listener to “taste and see” the hope she has found in a faithful God and loving Savior.

She is the author of Treasures of Hope, Discovering the Beautiful Truth Beneath My Painful Past, a memoir. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), she writes fiction, non-fiction, and songs. Her Southern Gospel song “Less of Me and More of You” came in the top 5 runners-up in the 2010 Singing News/Solid Gospel Songwriters Search. Born and raised in Georgia, she is a wife and mother of two adult children. She enjoys lots of family time, good music, maple pecan ice cream, and southern living. In the past, she has published articles and interviews on the web, in the local newspaper, and in church magazines.


Click to Tweet: My goal each day isn’t so much about getting a set number of typed words on paper but staying in my head and listening to my characters.  Via @InspiredPrompt from @GailJohnson87 #amwriting #inspiration

Writing Prompt: It’s morning, the sun is shining. You open the curtains to find something you never expected to see in your front yard. Using NO adverbs or adjectives, describe what you see.