First draft finished – Champagne cooling

First draft of The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn is done! I don’t know about the rest of you, but first drafts are really really hard for me. I start off with great enthusiasm and energy, but inevitably run into a brick wall. There will be a day when I stagger into the living room and announce that this is the book I can’t finish. At this point my husband comments, often without even looking up from his newspaper, “Oh, third chapter already?”

This time, while I was moaning about it, a friend gave me the useful advice that when stuck, having the roof fall in usually gets you going again. I didn’t do that, but I did set fire to the cowshed. It worked. By the time I got the cow out and the fire extinguished I was off and running again.

Once the first draft is done, however, I can relax and have fun. I love rewriting and revising. To me, it’s playing. I can’t wait to get at it and see what I’ve written and where it’s going to go. My first drafts are usually short and sketchy, with lots of room to expand and layer. And I want to dig in and get to know Rosie Dunn better. She is a lively girl.

This book is set in Ottawa in 1866/67. I did an enormous amount of research, a lot of it at the Public Archives in Ottawa. Ottawa was a pretty horrible place to live in, in 1866. Nothing much there when Queen Victoria declared that it was to be the capital of Canada except sawmills and mud. And the Parliament Buildings, of course. Not quite finished when the Government moved in, but still big and beautiful. A lot of people wondered why the Queen had chosen Ottawa.  At the time, after the War of 1812, people were worried about another American invasion, however, and one witty civil servant remarked that at least if the Americans did invade, they would never be able to find the town, it was so remote from civilization.

How about all of you writers out there?  How do you feel about first drafts? Do you write long or short? When do you hit your wall? Or do you? Maybe you’re one of the fortunate ones who never gets blocked?

I’d love to hear about your experiences.

About Karleen Bradford

I am an award-winning author of children's and young adult books.
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14 Responses to First draft finished – Champagne cooling

  1. Gisela Sherman says:

    Oh Karleen, you are so right. That first draft is thrilling, and has wonderful moments when everything unfolds as you wish and you can’t write as fast as you’re thinking, but…. most of it is mentally and physically exhausting! In many places you don’t think you’ll ever figure out what happens next, let alone the ending. It is a real accomplishment to finish that first draft. Enjoy your champagne – you deserve it.
    Now the next drafts are pleasure. That’s where the craft and the finesse take place and I love it.
    My first draft is in pen – I like the mind, arm, hand, pen, paper connection and the fact I can scribble, scratch out, write 4 words until I know which one to choose, make maps and silly pics in the margins, draw big arrows and circles around lines or paragraphs, etc. For me they’re so much more malleable.
    The next drafts go on my computer. It’s also a good way to force you to simply and edit.
    Good luck with your next drafts. I know they’ll be good.


  2. Thanks, Gisela. I did enjoy the champagne, and have already plunged back into work. You are so right. I can go at it now with all my enthusiasm restored. It doesn’t matter how much I change, edit, improvise, add or subtract, the bare bones, the skeleton, is there and it’s so satisfying to layer onto it.


  3. Mollie McKibbon says:

    Good luck with the ongoing work, Karleen. The first draft is the hardest.


  4. Merna Summers says:

    It sounds like a wonderful book, Karleen. I will look forward to learning more about the Ottawa of that period. And I know what you mean about first drafts. They are a test of nerve and character. It is in the rewrites that the cadenzas get invented.


    • It is an interesting period to write about, Merna. I’ve learned a lot–as I have with every book I’ve written. I love your phrase “it is in the rewrites that the cadenzas get invented”. What a great way to put it.


  5. twigstories says:

    Sounds like a wonderful project, Karleen. Ottawa is such a gorgeous city, it’s difficult to imagine how it could have been so awful. Fascinating research to undertake, I’m sure. I’m working on my 3rd novel, so have developed a little system. I write in outline format with the whole story concieved first. Then I break it up into ever smaller chunks, until I’m writing each paragraph. Eventually after the first draft or first re-write, I’ll just stop and just think about it the story for a few weeks. I often end up rearranging everything! Champagne sounds like a great method to take a step back, relax, and move forward again, too. I find those pauses to be extremely valuable. I’m always turning the details over and over, and the best ideas come when I’m not actively writing.

    I have a schedule, time of day, and place to write – that’s helps, I think, to keep moving forward without too many groans of ‘will I ever get finished?’ If I just open the laptop, and scroll through the story. I always find something I want to say differently, so once I start, it’s hard to stop!

    Thanks for the fun blog, taking an interest in what we do, and writing just beautiful stories.


  6. twigstories says:

    What a fascinating project to undertake, Karleen. Sounds like a beautiful story, too. Ottawa is so gorgeous, it’s difficult to imagine it in such circumstances. If I find myself groaning when I must face my re-writes, I just open up my laptop and mindlessly scroll through my manuscript draft or re-writes. I always find something I want to say differently, so once I start, I can’t stop. Although champagne sounds like a lot more fun. I actually look forward to those pauses, or ‘writer’s blocks’ because it’s during those times that I’m thinking, and I have the best ideas for my stories. Sometimes the act of writing takes over the process of thinking, and the story can actually suffer from too much forced effort. My best ideas come when I’m not writing.

    Thanks for the fun blog, interest in us, and creating such excellent historical stories!


    • Thanks, Jo. I get a lot of my best ideas, and solutions to sticky places, in the wee hours of the morning when I wake up early and just lie there, just as you say, not really trying to think or force things.


  7. Rebecca says:

    Yay, I am so excited you are writing another Dear Canada book, I really enjoyed your other books in the series!


  8. When do I hit the wall?: Soon after starting that is when I’m working in historical fiction. It’s enough to pull one’s hair in frustration. Now nonsense fiction chronicling the life of an full-of-himself Pomeranian dog is much easier. I don’t have to worry about being too realistic.

    How do you feel about first drafts? : I like the first drafts because I’m not into the nitty-gritty of it yet, with all editing, reading, rereading and rereading.

    Do you write long or short? : I stuff all of my ideas into the first draft and then cut out what won’t work in the second draft.


  9. Your full-of-himself Pomeranian dog story sounds like fun.


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