“Seeing” a First Draft

I am about halfway finished editing the second draft of my book, The St George’s Angling Club. Though, I have come to find “editing” a misnomer. Rewriting would be more accurate. Hardly anything from the first hundred pages, other than concept of storyline and characters, and a handful of choice content and paragraphs, has survived. The process of running through your work, sometimes written months prior, rereading sentences and paragraphs penned by an echo of your imagination, has been an interesting and introspective process.

I finished the first draft in the middle of March, set it aside, let a few folks with a trained eye read but otherwise let it lie fallow. Now with their feedback and my own rereads in mind, I’ve been working through the editing process. One of my realizations though, as I’ve worked, is what exactly that first draft was, and my role to play with it. Only now, knee deep in this second draft, do I have any real perspective on the initial draft of a piece of fiction. The analogy I’ll use hit me like a torrent, strangely, because I have no real world experience with it.

It is watching your child at his tenth birthday. You look across the paragraphs, characters, story…candles, gifts, other kids and at your kid and can finally get a sense, if only a faint ship on the horizon, of their character, their being, who they are, who they really are. The late nights and early mornings spent caring, coddling and loving them during infancy; the stress, the laughter, the moments of breakthrough you weathered during toddlerhood; the stomping of feet, the cry for independence and the increasingly sporadic yet wonderful instances of love during preadolescence are now woven into a vague patchwork of an adult. A preview of a person. It’s not all there, by any means. Time will continue shaping with careful hands, but you know what the core will look like. It’s there. It resonates in your own core. It has to. It’s part of you too.

But you also know that it’s almost a teenager. The world will start to take them seriously. The world will want to know who they are. The world will poke and prod and peel back the layers of your child soon, and that scares you. So you know that you have to focus as a parent now. You see the foundation. You know what needs to improve, be better. You also know you have limited time and resources and perspective to do it. You’re one person. You only have one perspective. You hope its enough.

You keep staring across the birthday candles. You’re happy. You’re proud. You’re here. Your kid is ten. You’re not a rookie anymore. You’ve created a living, breathing, smiling, crying, arguing, engaging person. This day is a milestone for them, but you take a subtle bow as well. The candles may celebrate a coming of age, but it celebrates a parent too. You’ve navigated through the early waters, extracted and loved the important pieces and now, before you, sits that result, holding court, blowing out candles and tearing into its gifts, tearing into the unknown, tearing into the potential of life.

But you’ll still need to help them, you’ll need to teach them how to tear that paper, how to shape their world, how to grasp and communicate and feel and react and love people and emotions and life, as they grow into an adult for everyone to respect, engage and love.

That’s your job as parent of the first draft.

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Follow Caleb at www.twitter.com/calebgarling

Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at



6 Responses to “Seeing” a First Draft

  1. Soog says:

    First rule of an author. Speak from experience. I have a 10 year old. Do you?

    • Caleb says:

      Soog, if that were the first rule, I think this world would have a pretty uninteresting body of fiction. Rand was never an architect, Orwell didn’t live in an oppressive dystopia and Golding never crashed on a deserted island with his prep school buddies. I do think it’s fair to say, though maybe not as a first rule: speak from emotional experience. And in that sense I have a brother who is ten years younger than me. Certainly some of the same emotions from his tenth birthday bubbled to the surface when I looked back on the first draft of this book.

  2. Bob Jones says:

    Caleb, it sounds like you’re getting ready for kids.

  3. hearings says:

    It is indeed strange to create something, to work hard and arduous hours on it, and come to the point where you realize that you are about to set it loose on the world. Once you put that final draft stamp on it, it takes on a life of its own. A life that reflects and refracts back on your own life throughout your days. It can mark you as one thing or another. It can pigeonhole you. It can open new avenues and close others. I’ve found the chain of events to be impossibly complicated and interesting only after a short few years of writing.

    • Caleb says:

      I love the word “refract” when talking about what a piece of work can do when looking back on it through the lens of self. Nicely done.

  4. […] after.  It feels good.  Anyway, a while ago, I wrote that finishing the first draft was like seeing a kid turn ten.  Now with the benefit of more hindsight (and drafts 2, 3, 3.1, …4.3, etc in the rearview), […]

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