My First Draft Read Through On Swiss Trains, What I Learned

I finished my first draft in July. (Could probably call it my second first draft. My first first draft, written in three weeks of NaNo insanity, wasn’t anywhere near a draft.)


Prep For First Draft Read Through

  1. I took a month off, like they say, to get some distance, see my story as a reader rather than writer.
  2. I turned my focus to freelance writing: got this website in order. I took some webinars with a fantastic freelance coach. Read fiction craft blogs and books.
  3. I had my first draft spiral bound at a printing center. I didn’t want to read it on screen because I’m a tweaking addict. I try to perfect language and commas before I’m solid on the story.
  4. I bought a train ticket–an all-day pass. I could get on or off anywhere and plotted a route that would take me from home and back in about 14 hours. Swiss trains are amazing for that. They run through every valley, over every mountain. Why on a train? No special reason. Call me Sheldon Cooper, I love riding on trains. I wouldn’t be distracted by my kids, my husband, my bullet list of to-do items.

A Rough Start

Up at 5 a.m. and out the door at 5:30. I’m grateful for a partner who understands (or at least puts up with) my quirks. I use up all the coins in my wallet for a local connection to the main station. Realize after I pay for the ticket that I didn’t need to pay for it. My day pass covered the local connection, too.

I check for my first draft three times, thanks to my undiagnosed OCD. Starbucks isn’t opened yet so I grab a baby-sized coffee and yogurt from the bakery. I take my seat on the upper level of the train from Bern to Zermatt (Home of the famous Matterhorn, which I have yet to see).

It smells like a fresh joint. I stir the granola into my yogurt, take a sip of my coffee. Someone’s passed out a few seats ahead. I’m glad I look at him because I see, out of the corner of my eye, that I am on a train on Track 6, not, as I should be, on Track 5.

The bell sounds. I swoop everything up in my arms. My train leaves in one minute. If I don’t make it, I will miss my connection on the Glacier Express, a panoramic train from Zermatt to Chur. Coffee spills over my hands. I step off the wrong train as the doors close.

I run across the platform to hear the bells for departure chime. I stab the button and the doors open. I run up the steps and take a seat. My hands tremble. The train pulls out of the station.

What I learned Reading My First Draft

  1. Drink coffee before leaving the house!
  2. Start a notes document for comments that won’t fit in the margins of your text.
  3. Note the places where you kept reading and places where you were tripped up by something. Don’t try to understand the whys just yet.
  4. You may start out making extensive notes, but it’s actually okay to just move broadly and quickly.
  5. My second first draft still isn’t much of a draft.

My First Draft Sucks, Now What

Everyone says to write a terrible first draft. Well, ouch. My Granny would say, that smarts. She’d be right.

Flimsy conflicts. Overly emotional writing. Contradictory character actions. Plot holes like a Michigan highway. Whoa Nelly. I wondered if there was any way to salvage this. I definitely wanted to hide it from my critique group!

I let the draft simmer a few more days. Ideas started bubbling up as questions. What if I change the structure to increase the tension? What if I cut out all the stuff that’s too close to my personal experience? What if I change the relationship between my MC and a side character to cause more trouble? The list got bigger, happy curiosity.

I started getting the itch to work the story again. I’ll probably get rid of a huge chunk of this draft on this next go round, maybe almost all of it. I may even get to call it a second draft.