Why a Rough Draft Is Important
Every romance novelist writes a rough draft of her novel. Some drafts may be “cleaner” than others, meaning they have fewer grammatical errors and mangled sentences. Other drafts may be unpolished and focus on getting the story committed to paper, rather than on making the words sparkle. Of course, new writers must ultimately choose the method that works for them creatively. Either way, completing the book is a necessity.
For some successful romance authors, a first draft is really a detailed outline that lists in narrative form precisely who the book is about and what happens to them. These outlines can be quite lengthy — in fact, writing a detailed outline of 60 to 100 pages is not unusual. For authors who use this method, completing a detailed outline first helps them write a more polished draft later.
Being able to take a novel from story idea to first draft strengthens a new writer's confidence level. After all, completing a first draft is tangible proof that your goal is within your reach. And with that rough draft in hand, you're ready to take the next steps along the path to publication.
In rare cases, editors and agents have signed a new writer who hasn't completed the romance novel in question. This usually happens because the novel's hook is both unique and topical, meaning the project is very marketable, and the editor or agent feels the book's potential is worth the risk of signing an unproven author.
Have you ever wondered what goes through the minds of editors and agents when they read a dynamic first three chapters of a romance novel by an unpublished author? If you think they're imagining themselves offering the author a contract, you'd be mistaken. Chances are excellent, however, they are wondering if the author can finish the book, since many new writers never get beyond writing those great opening chapters.
The reasons new authors fail to complete a manuscript vary. Some lose interest in the story idea and move on to something new. Others hit a snag in the writing process — a plotting mishap, for example — and decide to give up on writing altogether. A few encounter problems of a different kind. They succeed in completing the manuscript, but only their first three chapters are ready to be submitted for publication.
The latter scenario seems to happen most frequently to “contest junkies,” or those who enter — and become finalists — in dozens of writing contests. For them, the goal becomes more about winning a contest than selling a manuscript. As a result, they polish their contest entry until it shines … while ignoring the rest of their manuscript.
Don't become a contest addict! Writing contests, especially the ones offered by RWA's various chapters, provide a great opportunity for an unpublished author. They can get your work critiqued, as well as get it placed in front of acquiring editors and agents. But you can't make a sale if you don't have a completed manuscript. Finish the book!
Having a great first three chapters is important, but having a completed manuscript is the only proven way to make a sale. After all, editors and agents want a great book, not just a great first three chapters and synopsis.
Don't worry if your first draft isn't very good. First drafts rarely are, nor are they supposed to be. It isn't even necessary for the first draft to meet the word count of your projected romance novel. Ultimately, all that matters is getting the story down on paper. Once you have a completed first draft, you can rewrite, polish, tweak, and expand until the finished novel shines as brightly as your first page.