The First Draft Dance

I love National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), because I finished my very first manuscript by signing up for NaNo many years ago. Since then, I’ve finished quite a few first drafts. Writing a new story is like learning to dance with a new partner.

The words appear in my mind, smile coyly, and then twirl away just out of reach. I stare at the blank page, desperate to capture the graceful swirls and movements I just witnessed. My clumsy fingers try to hit the keyboard in the correct sequence, wanting to move as gracefully as Karina Smirnoff on Dancing with the Stars, but instead my rhythm is more like Steve Wozniak’s.

I hit the delete key and start over.

We stumble along, the words and I, stepping on each other’s toes. There are some painful moments where I grasp the words too closely, hold them too tight. They disappear off to dance with someone else. I chase after them. For a little while I dance with some other words, but it is awkward.

Eventually, the words return and I’m back in the groove. Or, at least trying to find it.

By the third chapter, we’re pretty much stepping in synch. I still have to count the beat and spend a lot of time looking down at my feet (fingers). This is the “beginning foxtrot” part of our dance routine. We know the steps, we’re even executing them fairly well  but it’s still a little jerky and we are not able to add any flair like armmovements. 

And then we hit the sagging middle. The very, very, low-hanging, super sagging middle. I’m trying so hard to keep going. Now I’m using my arms too much and the rest of my body is out of synch. The words have pretty much given up at this point and I’m stabbing the keys on my own. This is the moment I wonder if maybe I should never, ever, show my current WIP to anybody. I should probably only do this writing thing in the privacy of my own home, and keep it a secret.

Luckily, just like Andy, I keep on writing/dancing.

Somewhere in the last third of the draft, the words and I are hitting our stride. We’re not yet of polished professional quality, but we’ve found how to move gracefully in sync. At times, it is even quite hot. There are still timing issues to work out, some structural problems to solve, but the main thing is that we are having fun and I’m writing with a huge smile on my face.

This is the feeling I hold on to as I take a little break and then start the editing part of the project. Sometimes, while I rewrite, I have to hold on very tightly re-remind myself that this is fun. But now the moments of that perfect synchronized movement, the joy soaring through my body, and the big smile on my face happen more often and keep me going enough to finish the project. And hopefully, the audience (readers) will experience the end product with as much joy (tail wagging) as I did while creating it.

What type of dance does your first draft process most resemble?

About Asa Maria Bradley

2016 Double RITA finalist, romance author, news junkie, physics instructor, and diver. Loves Norse mythology, ranch dressing, and cop shows. Lives with husband and rescue dog of indeterminate breed in Pacific Northwest. Represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Writers about sexy modern-day Vikings. More at and @AsaMariaBradley.

Posted on November 21, 2013, in Auth: Asa Maria Bradley and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. My story and I are almost exactly like Ashleigh and Pudsley though I am less sparkly and my story is more like a pack of ravening wolves. Other than that though, pretty much exactly the same.


  2. The part where you forget about the judges and who’s watching…that’s the part that’s hard to get to. That, and fighting off the tendency to fend off writer’s anxiety by watching too much TV 🙂
    Lovely post, Miss Asa.


    • I find it interesting that one of the first writing skills we learned in composition was “who is your audience” and “write to your audience” when that seems to be the first thing I have to forget when I write fiction. Sure I want my readers to enjoy the story, but in order to write a good story, I have to write it as if nobody will ever read it or I’ll lose my voice.


  3. To continue the dance analogy: My sons are both dancers. I remember when they were first starting out, at age 8 or 9. They’d get frustrated sometimes because in the beginning, there’s so much to learn — a whole dance vocabulary that they had to translate to both their minds and bodies. Hours spent in rehearsal, learning choreography, working on technique. Practice, practice, practice. Now, it takes them no time at all to learn something new, precisely because of all that practice. As writers, we have a similar arc in terms of learning and honing our craft, leading up to the Big Show — a completed book. I look at NaNo as an abbreviated rehearsal period. Can I be performance-ready (first draft complete) by curtain time (November 30th)? We can only hope that practice will eventually make us — if not perfect — at least proficient.


    • Love the analogy, EJ. The learning curve is always steeper in the beginning of taking up a new craft. I feel this way about learning languages. Learning a second language is tough, but picking up a third or fourth is not as hard. The mechanics of mapping your first language to another is already learned.


  4. Hi Asa, I think my style right now is like the Cha-Cha…LOL Great blog 🙂


  5. Love your analogy! My first drafts are like a polka–vivacious, twirling, and frequently bumping into other people in my haste to keep up with the music. My second drafts are like a Viennese waltz, connected and beautiful except the characters aren’t really interacting well–they are touching but not really looking into the soul of the partner. If I’m lucky, my third draft finally begins to resemble a country dance (as in folk dance, not . It is filled with soul and passion, based in tradition but with a nod toward modernity. It it goes really well it looks simple enough that anyone can do it, but those who truly understand the foundation and nuance of country dance–its origins, themes and symbols–can also appreciate the work. Unfortunately, getting my manuscript to the country dance stage more often takes six or seven passes. When it is finally published I never quite feel that I completely explored all the nuances of good country dancing. But then, I figure I’ll be learning that until the day I die (and who knows, maybe even after death).


    • My mom was a dancer in her younger years. I inherited none of her skill or grace, but I often think about writing and dancing together. They are both crafts you have to work at to get skilled in them and both can give you and the other participants great joy. Love your analogy about country dancing and learning until the day you die.


  6. Learning to dance with the words to create the story is a really great comparison, and the first I’ve ever heard of between writing and dancing. Thanks for the visuals!


  7. Enjoyed the way you tell about the journey. It always seems like such a struggle, but is so rewarding in the end. 🙂


  1. Pingback: » Blog Archive » On See Jane Publish: First Draft Dance

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