That First Draft Goes Down So Easy

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, 11:25 a.m.

Hmm. How can I describe this? I probably don’t have to. Many who read it will be authors, too. They’ll know what it’s like to get a first draft finished. The mountain is climbed. The story is done. He (or she) has to get back down now. He’s got some tidying up to do on the return.

Yesterday I finished the 25th and final chapter of what will soon be my sixth novel, Lightning in a Bottle. The title isn’t just appropriate to the story. I was working on another, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In fact, the first draft was close to being done. It still is. In the past two months, I’ve written exactly one more chapter.

By Monte Dutton (John Clark photo)

I turned swiftly to another work because of a sleepless night, one in which I concocted the plot of another novel. There wasn’t much awakening to do, though I’m sure part of my brainstorm was in the un- or subconscious. It had been enough of a dream that I thought it wise to jot something down. I wrote the Introduction at seven in the morning. I’ve been writing at a rapid pace, by my standards, ever since.

I even tacked on an Epilogue. Perhaps I should turn the Introduction into a Prologue.

It didn’t hurt that I didn’t have much else to do.

Over the span of writing five novels and many short stories, I have found a pattern for myself. The first draft, I suspect, is not much different from the way most writers do it. I start with a very simple outline. Then, at the end of each chapter, I make the outline detailed and use it as a reference tool going forward.

The second draft cuts the manuscript down, and the third polishes it up. Less fortunately, I supposed I could cut it up and polish (or grind) it down.

This one may take only two drafts, followed by a friend’s edit. I feel good (just like I knew that I would right nowwww …) about the relative coherence of what I have written. It could be that I’m getting better at this fiction business. It could be that I’m in one big, frenetic hurry.

No one really taught me how to write a novel other than the authors of the ones I’ve written. The system that has evolved reflects my neuroses, mainly. When I’m writing the first draft, I am ebullient. I don’t embark on a chapter without first being excited about the task ahead. On second reading, I get as depressive as I was manic. Oh, this sucks. This can go. Why is this guy even mentioned? Well, that doesn’t make any sense.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The third draft is a coat of polish. I overestimated my work. Then I underestimated it. The final draft is an exercise of finding a balance in my view of my own work. Or trying to find a balance. Getting as close as a man can get to balance regarding his pride and joy.

Really, there is no shortcut. There is only experience that makes the designated route less rough.

Getting the first draft done means realizing that this book is going to be completed. It is the point of no return. It will not be discarded. The investments have been made. It is a time of satisfaction exceeded only by the moment that box of books arrives on the doorstep. In some ways, it’s better, though, because the arrival of those books leads one to the horror that is reading one’s own books and finding the occasional typo or slip-up that inexplicably slipped through the cracks. I am still affected by memories of the day I discovered corrections I had made in The Intangibles had not been incorporated in the print version of the novel.

Today I am content. Today I have already worked on the first five chapters of Lightning in a Bottle. Before too much longer, I’ll be italicizing that title.


If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Cowboys Come Home, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at (

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.

My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.

I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.

I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.


(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)
(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).




2 thoughts on “That First Draft Goes Down So Easy

  1. Monte, I enjoyed reading about your process. It made me think of creating a work of art… such as a painting. It’s very similar. First draft is following the muse in selecting colors and shapes and then it’s destroyed in the second layer and then it’s over done in the third and then cut back until the final form emerges, from the depths of layering. It may be many more layers, but never less than 4 in the final work. I have never written a book and with the articles I have published they have mostly been about events or actual things that have happened. Thanks for sharing!

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