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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

First Drafts

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

The First Draft…

It’s wonderful to be here today. As I write this, The Austen Escape is a couple months from release and I begin a new story. In fact, this very morning, I pulled out my colored pens, opened the file in Scrivener and started, in earnest.

The blank page, or the blank computer screen, is a daunting sight. It’s exciting because it is just that – blank. We can fill it with anything and that anything has the potential to be great. But that catches our breath too because it must be filled – and that it will require hundreds of hours and thousands of words.

There a few things I try to remember as I begin each first draft:

  1. Have fun. No editors are invited to the first ideas… My first pass at a scene or a chapter and even large sections of the “first” draft is a riff. I liken myself to the Zac Brown Band in concert – if you’ve had the absolute pleasure to see them. In the middle of a favorite song, often an eighties cover, they’ll go off on a musical tangent, loving every moment of their creative expression and taking us along for the ride. My first drafts aren’t quite that glorious – but they are unedited and often reveal unexpected nuggets that turn into the story’s gems later. 

  2. Side trails are allowed… I know where I want to go with my first draft. A general outline has been committed to the page, in colorful Sharpie pens. But the unexpected often happens during this first draft and this is the time to let it. Some of those sidetracks and winding trails can lead to character insights and tense moments you can’t anticipate – and they are the gems. When writing Dear Mr. Knightley, a small character named Kyle sidetracked me with his presence and his anger. He stole the story and my heart. Dear Mr. Knightley would be far less without Kyle. 

  3. Don’t be afraid to backtrack. For all I’ve said about no editing and following those trails, there may come a moment you get lost. Happens to me all the time. Put word count aside for a day, or a week, and go back to the beginning to reacquaint yourself with your original vision. You may find it has changed or it stays true. Either way, this “grounding” moment will allow you to see the story beneath story – and that’s the one you are really telling. That’s the one full of conflict, micro-tension and intrigue. Much of which you may not have outlined and yet now it jumps off the page and invites you fill dig further. If you do add characters or elements – once again, don’t let the inner editor into this new stuff, not yet. 

  4. Keep a notebook. As you start immersing yourself creatively in your first draft, you find characters speak to you at all times of the days – scenes pop up at the grocery store, twists and turns happen in the shower. Have a notebook nearby to capture them. 

That’s all – because I’ve also learned, the fewer things one needs to remember, the better.

So I’ll begin a new first draft today… Daunting as it is, it is one of my favorite moments. I always hope to dump all heart and humor in this time, knowing I will tweak, edit, add, subtract, twist, turn or (yes) possibly obliterate it all later. But, without doubt, this is the moment to let loose and revel in the joy that is writing.

Please let me know if any of these were helpful – and also if you have tips for me. You can reach me on my website, on Facebook at and on Twitter @katherine_reay.

Here’s a little peek into a final draft, releasing November 7th:

The Austen Escape.

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.

But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.


  1. I'm starting a first draft today as well. :-)

  2. hullo Katherine! enjoyed your post - i call #3 the "Fetch-n-Forward" when I come back to my story, whether from the previous day or if i've been away for days (or longer), i go back a chapter or two and read through to get my brain back in the groove. confession: I edit as I go! GASP!

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