‘Problem Chapters’ in the First Draft

Both with The Purified and now with The Deceived, I have come across those ‘problem chapters.’ Often, I didn’t outline these chapters thoroughly because I needed to do research or to see how the previous chapters played up to that particular one. Those problem chapters can stop a writer’s progress on a book—that is, if you let it. Don’t let it become an impasse; I remember something my husband once told me, “Don’t let perfection delay production.” There will be plenty of time to perfect your book in future drafts.

When I outline, I do one for each chapter. I try to make the outlines as rich as possible with depth because the more you have thought things out in advance, the smoother the writing will go.
When I come across one of these problem chapters, I first go back to the outline and look at my notes. I fill in what I can based on how the story is progressing thus far. If I need to do more research, I make thorough notes of what I need to learn. Then, after finishing the first draft, I go back to those chapters I need to research and do that before proceeding to the second draft.

This just happened in an early chapter in the first draft of The Deceived. I introduced a gang that plays a prominent role in the storyline but since I don’t know much about gangs and I knew I would need to research that before I went too far with the outline. Rather than stopping while getting that story out, I made some detailed notes about the research I would conduct and then moved on to the next chapter. More than often, I find that once I do the research needed, the chapter then comes together. After all, it’s hard to write about something for which you know little about. And research is so crucial to a good book. If you get things incorrectly, (especially in books like mine that are about legal procedures and the law), any professional will tune out at that point and you’ve lost a reader, probably forever.

So don’t let those problem chapter gets in the way of plowing through your first draft. Just get as much of the story down on paper that you can. There’s so much time (Ha! You wouldn’t believe how much time and further revisions) where you will fill out those sections that need work. The most important thing in the first draft is to get the story out.

Here are three tips to get the first draft done as soon as you can:

1. Don’t ever reread what you wrote. When you edit your first draft as you go, you are censoring yourself—or at the very least, stifling your creativity.

2. Don’t’ be afraid to leave a chapter blank or with only your outline for that chapter in place; there will be time to come back and fill that out later.

3. If you realize another chapter is needed, don’t’ try to write it out organically at that point. Insert a placeholder chapter with a brief description of the need of the chapter. I recommend going back to the outline after the first draft and adding it in and then do as rich an outline for that chapter as you can before you tackle the second draft.

Every writer should read the online (free) document called “The Shitty First Draft” by Ann Lamott. First, it’s funny plus it will help you see your own ‘shitty first draft’ in a new light. You will understand that practically no one has a great first draft. How rough my early first drafts of The Purified are when I look back on them today. They bear almost no resemblance to the final draft (eight revisions later!). Remember, for 99.99% of all writers, there is no such thing as a good first draft.



2 thoughts on “‘Problem Chapters’ in the First Draft

  1. Hey Melinda ,
    Just started reading your really interesting blog. It’s joann berman from FB. What book should I read first. I’m getting my reading glasses and want to start reading again. Especially a book from a FB friend. Any thoughts. I like adventure nitty gritty. Have a great night. Xxxx joann

    1. Hey JoJo! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and I’m sorry I didn’t get your message until now. I have an issue with WordPress sending me proper notifications and we are so busy with our move that I’ve been remiss at checking for comments regularly but I’m thrilled that you stopped by and took the time to comment! I think you will find my book interesting and entertaining–it’s backdrop is my former city and your current one: New York, which I will always love. If I could–if I weren’t married to the love of my life, I believe I would be your neighbor. New York is one of those cities that get into your blood, which is why I wrote the series on it. In NYC, anything is possible! xo, Melinda–and thanks again so much for stopping by! <3

Leave a Reply