Finishing the First Draft

By Mark Alpert

It was a terrible week in the news — the bombs in Boston, the explosion in Texas, the failure of the background-check bill — so it was a great relief to plunge into fiction. And fiction-wise, it was a wonderful week for me, because I completed the first draft of my next novel. My daily word count always rises to extraordinary (at least for me) levels when I’m nearing the end, partly because I get caught up in the climax of the book and partly because I just want to finish the darn thing. I love writing 2,000 words a day, but it also makes me feel bad about how little I write at other times. I say to myself, “Why can’t you write this much all the time? Then you could knock off a novel in two months and spend the rest of the year on your tennis game.”

I can’t reveal any details about the book because I hate talking about my novels while I’m still writing them. And I know I’ll be revising this book for the next few months, so it’s not really finished. But completing the first draft is a big milestone for me. At least I know now how the book will end. I had a vague idea of the ending while I was writing the manuscript, but I wasn’t sure how it would all come together until I started the final chapter. Before that moment I worried I would hit some unforeseen obstacle — a logical inconsistency, or maybe a hopelessly implausible plot twist — and the whole enterprise would fall apart.

But it didn’t. At this point I have no idea whether the book is any good, but at least it hangs together. Now I have to wait to hear from my editor. He already read the beginning of the book, and he liked it, but I don’t know how he’ll feel about the end. I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I’m too close to the thing. But I’m cautiously optimistic. The reason for my optimism: bullet ants. The ending has a scene featuring bullet ants. You see, I just broke my rule about never revealing details of a novel-in-progress, but I couldn’t help it. Bullet ants are fascinating creatures.

Although I still have lots of work to do on the book, I decided to reward myself for finishing the first draft. So I spent three days biking and playing tennis. (I have to work off the five pounds I gained while writing the novel.) The best reward, though, was simply writing THE END at the bottom of the last page of the manuscript. I have no idea how many times I’ll be able to write those words in my life, so I intend to enjoy the experience as much as possible every time it happens.


7 thoughts on “Finishing the First Draft

  1. Hey, congrats, Mark. That is always such a good feeling. I like that idea of the reward at the end. I counsel new writers to create one of those as an inducement to doing one of the most important things of all: finishing that draft. Your own reward is unique and impressive. I don’t think I could play tennis on my bike.

    And I resonate with those “doubts” about whether the draft is “any good.” I hear this a lot with experienced writers, and I think what’s going on is that the more we write, the more we know, and the more we know the higher we set our standards.

  2. Congrats, Mark. It’s always a fulfilling emotion to make it through the first-draft journey. I think every writer wonders if the work is any good, I know I do. I agree with Jim, the more you know, the more you question. You’re now in the part of the writing process I love: rewriting. Enjoy!

  3. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who wonders if it’s “any good.”

    I’m close to the end of my first draft, and my reward is a three-day getaway with hubby where he goes to a work-related class all day and I sit in the hotel room plotting my next novel. The kids will be with Grandpa for those three days. That’s an incentive with a due date attached.

    Can’t wait to read your book when it comes out. Now I’m interested in bullet ants.

  4. Re: Why the writing goes fast toward the end:

    I heard Mike Connelly explain this once as the first part of a book being like pushing a heavy boulder up a huge hill. But once you crest and start downhill it’s all you can do to keep up with the damn thing!


  5. I would agree that there’s a great degree of satisfaction with finishing that first draft, even if you know there’s a lot of work yet to be done. Good for you. : )

  6. High fives on finishing the draft. Yes, it’s been an anquish-ridden week. So I really needed to hear a writing-related victory. Thanks and chin up 🙂

  7. Nice job! Can’t wait until I get to that point myself with my first novel.

    I’m especially keen to learn more about your bullet ants…

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