The Pancake Draft

My dad was the pancake-maker of the house when I was a kid. He had it down to an art, and every pancake turned out just right—except for one.

Without fail, he always tossed the first pancake straight into the trash.

It seemed like an awful waste, especially to a hungry ten-year-old, but he was adamant. The first pancake never turned out right. It was unfit for human consumption.

Well, my friends, it turns out that’s the secret to more than just pancakes.

The first time I finished a complete draft of any novel ever was my freshman year of college. I was thrilled. Like, to the point where I wanted to climb out my window, scale the wall, and do a jig on the snow-covered roof of my apartment building. It was done! Complete! Finished!

And then I reread it.

It was awful.

Totally unfit for human consumption.

I was so demoralized that I put it away and didn’t look at it again until long after I began work on Demon’s Heart. How could I face starting over again from the beginning? I had worked so hard to get that first draft out! There were blood and tears in that ink! I couldn’t just trash it!

But there was no getting around it. That was a pancake draft. It had to go in the trash.

Not literally. Goodness. I had to have something to reference when I started again. But there was literally nothing salvageable from that draft except for the character names, and even some of those had to go. And so I opened a new Word document and started again from the beginning.

I’ve resigned myself to the pancake draft, which makes it a little easier to face starting from the beginning again after writing an entire novel. I’ve also learned a little more about planning and outlining, which makes it so that I don’t have multiple pancake drafts for the same novel. The only thing worse than having to chuck an entire draft of your novel is having to chuck two or three or four entire drafts of your novel.

Do you have a pancake draft? What’s the hardest thing to do once you finish that first draft of your novel?


  1. I don’t know that it’s ever a pancake draft, where I toss the whole bit and start over. To me, it’s always a first or rough draft, and basically the skeleton of the project that will be fleshed out and tweaked through numerous (or innumerable) revisions. My very first novel, however, written way back in elementary school days, is a pancake draft that will never have any descendents. Probably.

  2. I’ve recently returned to an old habit I had gotten out of the habit of. Once upon a time, my first draft was always a handwritten draft. I guess that’s my pancake draft. When I type it, I edit as I go, and that typed draft becomes the first “digestible” draft.

      • It’s something I used to do in high school and college back when I shared a desktop computer with four other people and didn’t have a lot of computer time to myself.

        I now have a computer at my disposal any time I want at home, but at work, I have limited computer time but lots of breaks, so I’m learning to keep a blank notebook with me to write while on break. So far the plan is working. We’ll see how well it works in April for NaNoWriMo.

  3. I’ve been seeing a lot go people going through this lately, and I’m one of them, so it’s always nice to know I’m not alone. And I like the pancake reference, it makes is seem more nostalgic, and makes me want breakfast foods . . .

  4. I have at least three unfinished ‘first pancakes’ on a hard drive somewhere. The reason they are unfinished, and will probably stay that way, is because I didn’t plan ahead and didn’t outline before I started writing. “Wing it,” I thought. “See where the story and the characters take you”. You know where they took me? To the wilderness with no compass. Lost. You have to have a plan, an outline, a recipe for your pancakes or you’ll never even get to that throw-away one, you’ll just have some ingredients but no batter. Great post and an excellent reminder for lazy people like me who are tempted to ‘just wing it’.

  5. Pingback: Folded wings beside my desk | BumblesBooks

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