I like to be able to picture what happens in a book before I actually write it down. I know I’m ready to start the first draft of a new book when I can picture how it ends. Not the last line exactly, but I know where and when that last scene takes place. I know how the characters are feeling and I’m running lines in my head to determine the best way for them to express it. I know what obstacles or misunderstandings have led to that point. I can imagine all of those, too. All the key scenes are showing in my head like my own private movie projection. Especially when it’s dark and quiet and I’m supposed to be sleeping.
I lie there while my imagination rewinds and replays a bit of the book, possibly only a few lines, over and over and over and over…
You’d think that would put anyone to sleep.
It’s a little different every time though. Those changes keep me awake because I’m always sure that the next version will make me happy. Then I have to face two competing impulses… the one that says I can’t get the words on paper fast enough because I might forget something and the one that says I could be even happier with that scene if only I let it play out a few more times.
The fact that I don’t want to get out of bed wins out over both impulses.
So I just keep thinking about the story – trying not to forget it and trying to fix details at the same time – until I do eventually fall asleep. If I’m lucky, I only go a few nights without sleep for each book. If my family is lucky, I don’t take it out on them.
How long does this stage last? The fastest I’ve ever written a first draft was only two weeks. It typically takes between one and two months. But it’s called a first draft for a reason. Words on paper is not a book yet.
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