KNOWHOW To Write a First Draft 2

  Our First Draft series for middle grade continues with Sophie Wills, who debuted last year with the hilarious and brilliant The Orphans of St. Halibuts, sharing more of her wisdom with KnowHow.

So, it's back to your first draft (see part one here). You've had your first ideas, now it's time to wrestle them into book-shape.

Getting the words on the pages

Many authors say you should get the first draft out as fast as possible, and never look back, and there’s a big element of truth to that for me – about halfway through, I look at what’s left to draft and suddenly feel very tired. The temptation then is to fiddle endlessly with the first half and never move on, which is obviously not great.

Tom Gauld on the stages of writing, via The Guardian

BUT I have a big caveat: plot layers tend to come to me while I’m writing the first draft, and if I feel inspired to, I go ahead and weave them in right then. So there’s a lot of back-and-forth, linking bits together, trailing themes…

And I must admit, when I’m at the pantsing stage starting a new book, I do something you’re not ‘supposed’ to do… spend a long time on the first three chapters, giving them a really thorough going-over before I move on, fiddling at the sentence level, trying to make the writing sing and the hook as hooky as possible. The thing is, if I’ve written a banger of a beginning, I like to go back and read it when I’m stuck later; it reminds me of the confidence I had initially, that the whole thing has legs, and off I launch again.


So, remember...

  • Writing isn't always a linear process - going back-and-forth can be helpful in developing your book
  • When you get stuck, read it again to remind yourself of the confidence you had at the beginning
  • The more you re-write your first few chapters, the more 'hooky' they're likely to be



Sophie Wills lives on the edge of south-east London with her family. Her debut middle-grade, The Orphans of St Halibut’s, illustrated by David Tazzyman, was acquired at auction by Macmillan and was published on 1 October 2020. She is represented by Kate Shaw at The Shaw Agency. You can find Sophie on Twitter @SophsWills and her website is


Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, and an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant. 

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