First Draft Woes

Okay, I’m going to be perfectly honest. The book I’m writing is awful.
Thank goodness this is the seventeenth book I’ve written or I’d be worried. Having done this sixteen times before, I know that as I’m nearing the end of the first draft, I always feel this way. ALWAYS. As I’ve mentioned before, I adhere to the Anne Lamott “sh&##y first draft” approach to writing, and wow, is this one sh&##y. The way I deal with this horrible sense of having created a mess is by picking up one of my older novels and reading a few pages. I can remember how hideous I thought that book to be after the first draft, and that I eventually turned it into something pretty darn good. It reassures me.
So that’s what I’m doing today:

  • writing a bit
  • agonizing
  • reading a bit
  • feeling better
  • having a snack
  • writing a bit
  • and so on

Hope you’re all feeling good about your work today!


  1. Ann on March 5, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Diane, I have read all of your books and there’s not a sh&##y one among them. So forget the first draft and do whatever you did with the others. Looking forward to reading it.

  2. Margo on March 6, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Diane, my feelings are the same as Ann’s. If it’s any comfort, I always go thru the same feelings when painting…I get to a point in my work where I say ‘this is awful’, I get frustrated, don’t know what to do to make it better, cry on Gary’s shoulder (where he consoles me and tells me it’s great, when I totally think it’s not). What I do when I get to this point is walk away from it for awhile and sit in another room and think. I go back to it a little later and really look at it and pretty soon the feelings just come out and I continue on. I think this is true of you because ALL your books are spectacular and if you’ve been thru these feelings of frustration before than you know it’s just part of the creative process you have to go thru to ‘get there’…I know you will persevere! Everything you’ve shared with the WIP has me completely intrigued and all you have to do is work your MAGIC with words and the book will shine just like your others. I happen to think if you were able to keep your original title THE SEA TENDER possibly you wouldn’t feel sh&##y about this but that’s my opinion. Hang in there and go treat yourself to Starbucks and a pastry.

  3. Diane Chamberlain on March 6, 2007 at 10:30 am

    You guys are so sweet.
    Don’t worry; I’m not upset. I just know this is a stage I have to go through with each book I write.
    Off to the Opium Den!

  4. Ann on March 6, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    We KNOW you can get through this stage and give us the book we are waiting for!!

  5. Margo on March 7, 2007 at 8:45 am

    I feel that today you woke up on this beautiful Wed morning and felt good about your book, Diane. I had a dream about it last nite (-:

  6. Lynne Gilfillan on March 7, 2007 at 10:00 am

    It’s been awhile, but I’ve thought about writing to you for some time. I’ve enjoyed all of your books. For a long time, you were the only published fiction author that I knew, and our shared background in psychology helped me hold onto the belief that someday I’d actually get around to writing as well.
    I’ve finally started, thanks to a couple of writing courses on line from Gotham that provided the structure that got me writing, and came with a built-in writers’ group. I can really recommend them to beginning writers who are need a little jump start. But after two courses, and a developing short story portfolio, I’m feeling the need for a real live group. Thought maybe you might have some advice on finding a writers’ group in NoVA.
    Glad you’re enjoying NC, and good luck with the new book. It’s nice to recognize the problems your having, and even nicer to know that they can be overcome.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on March 7, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Hi Lynne, and welcome to the blog!
    You might contact the Writers’ Center in Bethesda. They used to keep a list of DC area writers groups. Also, Washington Independent Writers (WIW) had lists of groups. Keep me posted on your progress!

  8. Diane Chamberlain on March 7, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Margo, you’re giving me chills. I actually woke up with a positive attitude, looking forward to finishing. Not quite the same as feeling good about the book (that will happen as I start the rewrite–can’t wait!), but still a very nice way to wake up.

  9. Lynne Gilfillan on March 7, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for the info. Nice to be in touch.

  10. Margo on March 7, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    My mother always said I was psychic (-:

  11. Brenda on March 7, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    D-Keep your title…changing is discouraging…(I agree with the others)
    As to writing-my short stories for my class STINK…I will stick to nonfiction (my column) which the readers like-and possibly novels…
    Now remember this: I read so much…the ONE author that there is no way I would do without purchasing her books and reading over and over–Diane Chamberlain. I am a teacher, a grad student-a writer…not too DUMB…I LOVE YOUR BOOKS…however…I think you need to go with YOUR instincts…
    Glad to hear from Lynne.
    QUESTION FOR LYNNE–any ideas for a short story that is about a senior girl in high school (in the 60’s) who has a great mother-and a workaholic father-and the theme is-they decide to divorce her senior year=thus she will stay home with her mother instead of going away to college…(Boring I know but my students love it…)
    Thank you

  12. Diane Chamberlain on March 7, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    Well, let’s think of ways to make your story NOT boring, Brenda. Who’s got a secret?

  13. Margo on March 8, 2007 at 9:42 am

    I agree with Brenda. Diane your original title came to you early during the WIP and I think it was meant to be. I don’t recall you agonizing over a title at that early stage and I think it felt right to you. You have told us THE SEA TENDER has a double meaning and even without knowing that, when you first mentioned the name my first reaction was….ooooohhhhhh I LOVE IT! Even when I told members of our book group they all agreed and were talking about it over lunch and what the words could mean. As I said before, the title makes me want to open the book immediately to see whats inside! On 1 hand we have to respect the sea for it’s possible turbulance and danger but it is also very beautiful and can be peaceful and tender. And I can just visualize a beautiful painting for the cover with the Sea Tender Cottage overlooking the moonlit nights. I think your editors should respect your wishes. As for secrets………..we all have a few don’t we?

  14. Lynne Gilfillan on March 8, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for the tip on NOVA writers resources. I think I have already found 2 groups that might be what I am looking for.
    A naive question on titles. Even with short stories, I find that I usually change the working title at the end, when I really know what I’m writing about. Why the push for the title so early in the process. Is it that the publisher needs cover art and such?
    So maybe the story isn’t so boring if the mother is only superficially wonderful, something the girl might never have known had she gone away to school, and it causes her to re evaluate wht she wants to be or who her father is. . Maybe she gets a job that seems boring at first, but she meets King or Kennedy, and becomes Nancy Pelosi :~}

  15. Diane Chamberlain on March 8, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Margo, when it comes to working with a publisher, it makes sense to pick your battles carefully (just as in any relationship). I don’t think fighting for THE SEA TENDER is a winnable battle, so it makes more sense to me to work together with my publisher to come up with a title we can both feel good about. I hope. 🙂
    Lynne, I’m so glad you’re finding some critique group options! As for getting a title so early in the process–it’s actually not all that early. The book is due June 1, and you are right–the title is necessary now for marketing and cover art purposes. It IS hard to get the right title when the book is not complete, though.
    Brenda, I like Lynne’s ideas for your story!

  16. Margo on March 8, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Diane, I know your right. It’s just disappointing. I don’t know why I felt such a connection to that title but I did.

  17. brenda on March 8, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    I agree with picking battles…
    Lynne-thanks…never thought of that…great ideas.

  18. Margo on March 9, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Yes, Brenda and Diane you are right about the picking of battles however I try to not even have them…even when it comes to politics I try to avoid the conflict but when I hear discussions in my family that I just can’t tolerate any longer I find I can’t remain silent. Gary and I are the ‘outcasts’ in the family when it comes to this subject. Sure glad my soul-mate is like me.

  19. Diane Chamberlain on March 9, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    margo, i avoid conflict too. my editor tells me my characters tend to be too nice. i have to work to make them a little more well-rounded, like most people.

  20. Margo on March 9, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I seem to recall a not-so-nice mother of twins in CYPRESS POINT who loved 1 and ignored the other. I think you did an excellent job of portraying their mom as ‘mean’…

  21. Diane Chamberlain on March 9, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, she was a piece of work. If I create a character who is not nice/evil/etc, I try to be sure he or she has good motivation for being that way. I also try to give all my characters both good and bad traits to make them more real. (Unless they’re a psychopath like Dr. P. in BREAKING THE SILENCE. Unredeemable).

  22. Brenda on March 13, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Do you go through this angst over titles and all everytime you write a novel????

  23. Diane Chamberlain on March 13, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Absolutely, Brenda!

  24. pattie on March 14, 2007 at 8:26 am

    Diane, this was in Publisher’s Lunch Weekly today! Does it mean they’re keeping your title or just that they wanted to give it a title?
    “Author of THE SECRET LIFE OF CEECEE WILKES Diane Chamberlain’s THE SEA TENDER, about a mentally disabled boy who unexpectedly saves local teens from a fire, capturing media attention as an unlikely hero, only to be later accused of the arson itself, to Miranda Stecyk at Mira, for two books, by Susan Ginsburg at Writers House.”

  25. Diane Chamberlain on March 14, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Pattie, I’m going to write a little post about this!

  26. BECKY on March 15, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Diane
    You know it’s been too long since we’ve talked but just knowing you makes me feel so close to your books. You have yet to write a book that did not catch me from the moment I started. Just finished the BAY AT MIDNIGHT (WOW) and am getting ready to start “Cee Cee Wilkes. Just keep writing because I need my Diane Chamberlain fix and I’m afraid I’ll finish one without a new one to read 🙂
    Becky (from Sharp Stork Club…) …

  27. Diane Chamberlain on March 15, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Becky! How great to hear from you. Are you still working at Sharp? Such a wonderful hospital to work at. I remember my days there so fondly.
    I’m delighted you’re keeping up with my books and even more delighted that you let me know! Take care, D.

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