Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 18, 2013

First Draft Writing Tips and Book Give-a-way

Kathy-Czepiel-author-writerChuck Sambuchino who writes the Guide to Literary Agents Blog from Writer’s Digest had another good post and is sponsoring a book give-a-way of Kathy Leonard Czepiel, author of A VIOLET SEASON
(Simon & Schuster), named one of the best books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews.

She is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her short fiction has appeared in Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, CALYX, Confrontation, Brain Child, and elsewhere.

Czepiel teaches writing at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Learn more about Czepiel
and her work at her website.

As an added bonus, Chuck posted five of Kathy’s tips on writing the first draft of your novel. So read and learn, then visit Chuck to leave a comment and maybe win a copy of Kathy Leonard Czepiel’s award winning YA Fantasy Novel.

1. Make an outline. Then be willing to leave it behind. Writing an outline forces me to think through some big questions before I begin. But I follow it the way I travel with my husband sans kids: “Hey, Honey, look at this weird little mountain on the map. Wanna check it out?” And pretty soon the story has taken a turn. Sometimes the side trip changes everything, and I revise my outline. Sometimes it’s a dead end. Then I have my outline to get me back on track.

(Learn how to start your novel.)

2. Think of your first draft as the clay, not the sculpture. Imagine that what you are doing is digging up clay, just a hunk of stuff from which you’ll create something later. Much of it will be messy and unrefined, but that’s not your problem now. Your job is simply to get from the beginning to the end. Keep digging! When it’s time to write a second draft, you will have your raw material.

3. Every time you think about how pedestrian and clumsy and downright awful your first draft is, remind yourself that no one else has to read it. I don’t show my first draft to anyone. I already know it needs a lot more work, and I even know what some of that work will be, so asking someone else to read it would be pointless (and embarrassing). If you don’t know what your first draft needs, then by all means, ask for help. But if you decide not to show it to anyone, it may be best not to tell anyone about it either. Otherwise, your well-meaning friends will keep asking you how it’s going, and you will have to distract them with beer or chocolate or witty conversation on another topic (my personal favorite).

4. Don’t let a lack of research slow you down. I write historical fiction, so I do a lot of research, but I only do a little bit to get started. When I began drafting my debut novel, A Violet Season, I needed to know that violets were grown in the Hudson Valley beginning in the early 1890s, and that wet nurses had become somewhat obsolete by the turn of the century, when infant formula was invented. As for the details—how to pick violets, how much wet nurses were paid—in my first draft, I made them up! If I’d been concerned about research too soon, all those trips to the library (and the violet farm, and the Lower East Side of New York City, and so on) might have prevented me from ever finishing that first draft. Instead, I use CAPS in my first drafts to indicate where details need to be filled in later.

(Read author interviews with debut novelists.)

a violet season5. Set a deadline. A Violet Season was written over four summers—each summer, another draft. This was a crazy schedule, I know, but in some ways it was perfect. There was a clear end to the summers (sadly), and to my drafts. If you don’t have a deadline, you run the risk of one draft spilling into the next, and you may never feel a sense of closure or accomplishment. This is really important in a business in which we often work alone and without recognition. When you finish your draft, celebrate! Then start the next one.

GIVEAWAY: Kathy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

Deadline for leaving a comment ends on March 20th, so don’t delay.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Hi,
    Thank you. I needed to hear the last tip ringing through my ears. I am working on my fourth draft and I have already begun to feel some kind of closure that I thought was unreal. The more i work on it, this time, the more my heart says, this is it. I had not associated that with closure.

    Once again, thanks. I learned something this morning.



  2. Thanks for the tips — especially number four. Also thanks for running the giveaway. It looks like a great book.


  3. I love these tips, especially the one about waiting to do intensive research and using caps to mark the spots that need more research. Very helpful.


  4. Thanks for the post–it’s inspired me to attack a clumsy first draft and see if I can transform it into something much sprightlier!


  5. Such a timely, helpful post. Thank you. I am looking forward to reading THE VIOLET SEASON, one way or the other 🙂


  6. I found these tips really helpful, especially the research tip. I am getting bogged down trying to research and it is slowing down my first draft. I plan to use the all cap method. Thanks.


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