Writes and wrongs

Bev Dalton

Bev Dalton | April 22, 2024

Writes and wrongs


Remember lockdown? Remember how we all got a bit excited in the first one and felt we had to make it count? And some of us, you know, wrote a book?

Yeah. Turns out quite a lot of us were wrong there.

80,000 words of relatively competent sentences don’t always add up to a book. A book is something that other people (who you don’t know, or aren’t related to) want to pay money for, and recommend to others. If that wasn’t the result, then what we wrote, instead, was a first draft.

No one shows that in the movies, do they? We are fed this lie that a good writer just types the last sentence, proudly places the period, writes THE END, and then opens a bottle of bubbly, whilst instantly mailing the manuscript to their desperately waiting publisher.


Actually, NO NO NO.

Obviously, open the bubbly (because finishing a first draft is still one hell of an achievement) but don’t be fooled: this is where the real work starts.

In the few years since lockdown I think this is the single biggest writing lesson I’ve learnt. When I first started touting my completed manuscript, I was unprepared for the reality knockbacks (feckless fool that I was). I genuinely thought this ‘book’ was the absolute best I could do. Mainly because doing it at all had already exceeded my own expectations.

But guess what? Getting told, ‘no, this is all wrong,’ can be one of the most helpful things to happen to someone starting out on this extraordinary journey (just make sure you get them to also tell you, preferably in detail, why it’s wrong).

It may not be how it’s shown in the movies, but I’d guarantee it’s what the scriptwriter experienced: your first draft is merely the jumping-off point for the work you’re going to create, now you’ve got the bones of it down.

Consider this: you’ve thrashed out a basic structure, characters that have begun to live, a plot and prose you can study for weak spots. You can now evalutate how it works in terms of flow, pacing and tension, check your character arcs, look for plot-holes, locate areas where you can change ‘tell’ into ‘show’, find the best ways to foreshadow things and deepen undercurrents, and make that opening sentence, paragraph and page absolute killers.

You didn’t know you could write a whole book before you started it, did you? Similarly, I bet you don’t know how much better your second or third draft is likely to be, until you bosh them out too.

Because what movies definitely don’t tell you is THIS IS THE FUN BIT.

Join groups where you can be sure of getting the right feedback, buy books on how to self-edit, watch videos from people who specialise in this, do courses, whatever it takes – it’s all worth it. And your hungry, writer’s brain will soak it all up like a sponge.

If you had no takers for that lockdown ‘masterpiece’, get it back out of the metaphorical drawer, dust it off, and take a good hard look at it. You’ll probably surprise yourself with how great some of it is. And how open for improvement other bits are.

Gather the tools to do it and get practicing. Bit by bit, you’ll craft that first draft into something tighter, cleaner, more engaging, and infinitely superior to it’s humbler beginnings.

Are there wrongs in writing? Yes, there undoubtedly are (or we’d all be willing to spend money on everything anyone ever penned. And we’re not). But, in the end, they’re just signposts for how to get to a better destination.

So keep writing till it’s right.

And celebrate any way you want. Movie-men seem to like champagne. I prefer to dance around to Harry Styles’ Golden. In this bit, actually, there are no wrongs.


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