* But, y’know, not really yet.

This morning I finished a project that I’ve been working on for a long time, a deadline I’ve blown, and one I can’t really tell you anything specific about, and holy crap was I relieved and happy and exhausted.

All the . . . no, most of the . . . some of . . . a reasonable percentage of the words are there. It begins with a prologue on page one and ends lots of pages later at the end of the epilogue and having typed the words THE END I felt well and thoroughly done.

But what I actually finished was a rough draft.

That’s what I mean when I say that a reasonable percentage of the words are there. Right now it’s about 62,000 words, but I really need it to be as much as 80,000 words. I know that sounds like a big difference, but to be honest, those extra 18,000 words doesn’t scare me at all.

Feeling “done”(ish), though, just before lunch has made it difficult to get motivated to do other work today. Even this post is coming pretty late in the day.

And starting tomorrow morning I dig back into this “finished” book and start with a clean-up pass. This is where I change contractions from don;t to don’t—why my finger refuses to find the apostrophe right next to the semicolon I have no idea. I will also search for the equal sign and replace it with nothing. This is another strange artifact of my inability to actually type. I will make sentence fragments into sentences, fix a veritable panoply of punctuation errors, all in an effort to make a “rough” draft into a “first” draft.

I will also add story detail, fix story and character failures, and in general do my best to make the story itself better, not just the writing.

This will take a while, but I’m going to do my best to be “full time” on this project for the rest of the week (and through the weekend). Can I go from rough to first in that long? I think so, actually, in this case. I don’t think I’d be able to do that in most cases but there’s some particular things about this book (which I can’t talk about here) that make me feel that’s possible.

But this post isn’t just a rambling excuse for not writing a post today, or about taking the rest of the day off when you finish at least a difficult stage in a writing project like finishing a rough draft. This is about writing a rough draft in the first place.

Just yesterday I read a post on fantasy author Joe Abercrombie’s blog in which he talks about doing precisely what I just finished doing: writing as fast as I could, ignoring grammatical and spelling errors, leaving off bits that might have demanded I stop and research, and so on. I suggest you read Mr. Abercrombie’s post so I can get back to my celebratory not doing anything.

Then when you’re done with that, start writing as fast as you can, with the spell-check turned off both on your computer and in your head. Let the story pour out of you. It won’t be ready for “prime time” (or for anyone else but you to read) but chances are the very best parts of the book will come from there. The rough draft is where the art appears. Revision is about the craft.


—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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1 Response to DONE!*

  1. Congrats! Good luck on all the mistake finding! I’m having a hard time just keeping writing and not going back all the time to fix everything now. The more I go back and fix things the more self conscious I feel about whether anything I’m writing is good. I know I shouldn’t do it but yeah.

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