The website and blog of writer Austin Wilson. Comics and prose. Stories from wherever they can be found.

Notes On a First Draft

Two years ago I started writing something and I had no idea what it would turn into. At least that part is not unique. Everything I've ever started writing had some level of mystery, sometimes because I didn't plan that well, other times because I felt pulled forward by an idea I was obsessed with.

Originally published through a Patreon I co-ran with my best friend/comic letterer/co-host of a podcast we recorded weekly for seven years, this story was something I decided to start while I was waiting to head over to said best friend's house. We were going to play Rock Band 4 all night. And we did.


I was sitting in a Barnes & Noble, the idea was something that made me chuckle. Sometimes that's all it takes. I wrote the first chapter of, what was called at the time, Black River Rising. I had this idea about a band who did nothing but travel around putting on live shows, but only by playing Rock Band. 

The title came from this metaphor the lead singer was going to use - he was a dramatic and sensitive narcissist, and ended up somewhere in that neighborhood still, I guess - about how the road was like a black river, and at night he could imagine it coming up to suck their bus down into its darkness. Yeah. That part got cut, along with the title, though there's some references in there still. At least they're there for now. In a few months they might be nothing but memories, and only for me.

I read through the entire thing, which I was continually calling a novella as I wrote. Turned out it clocked in somewhere past what people call "novel-length", or maybe "short novel." Depending on semantics/pedantics, all of that is still up in the air, really.

I published 17 chapters on the Patreon. That means I put up first drafts (basically; they got some editing, but not a lot) for around 25 people. Don't do this. Not that I got any kind of negative feedback. Actually, I got almost zero feedback. Which isn't an indictment of anyone who was in a position to read them and/or comment. My writing wasn't dependent on them reading and chatting with me about it all. It wasn't a writing group. Some writers might say what's the point then - some non-writers would too - but yeah, I was in a different headspace about it all. I was in love with my characters and their world.

Point is, all of those chapters I published were going to change a lot eventually. I guess you can publish first drafts if you want to. Don't let me change your mind, not if it feels right and you're not hurting someone. I did it and nothing bad happened, other than some early versions of chapters being on the internet somewhere. I think there was a part of me that felt pulled by the need to show I was still working on this thing. It was a nebulous kind of deadline. There wasn't an actual deadline, or any sort of expectation at all. But people knew what I was doing. Because I told them. And I showed them I was doing it. 


Generally - and this is a big "generally" - I've found that talking about projects too much has helped (or at least convinced me it helped; and again, sometimes that's all it takes) kill them dead as shit. But here, having people know what I was doing did contribute for a little while.

In the end, it was the characters that kept me going. I loved them. I thought about them every day. I kept journals where I wrote about their lives before the story, and what they'd do after the story was closed out (I couldn't bring myself to write "ended" right there). Sometimes it felt like work, but a lot of it didn't, too. 

I'm not sure this article-thing is for any other purpose than to remind me in the future when I'm struggling with some story, but that's okay. I'll need it at some point.

Also, another reminder: "Be Clearer." I wrote that A LOT on the first draft. I wrote it enough I could shorten it to "B.C." or "BC". Soon I'll be going through and starting the actual editing, the actual "being clearer."  It'll be way more work than just marking a page up with notes and symbols, which took me a good few months.

And oh yeah, hey, the last reminder. Deadlines are good, but don't go crazy. Be realistic. That draft up there took me two years to write and do one read through. I would've been annoyed by that when I was younger, but not anymore. That's how long it took. I was working a full-time job while I wrote it. And reading. And video games. And friends and family. And I still finished it.

Now that's a reminder, maybe the most important. I still finished it.

Now, to finish it again.


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