A map to writing the first draft: Does it exist?

We've all heard it before. Writing each book is a different process.

I always thought this was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, every book is different, but how many different ways are there to write a book? Oh, sweet naive little writer.

What does your path to a first draft look like? Source

Now that I'm working on my third novel length manuscript, I wonder if I'll ever find a method that works for me.

I can tell you right now, that my current process is not the one.

I started writing this manuscript with a basic beat sheet. I had the general outline for the major plot points that needed to happen, but left the details open for inspiration to guide me as I wrote. Unfortunately, I got 20K words in and realized I'd written 20K words of unusable material.

The problem?

I wrote the draft in third person past tense and it really needs to be first person present. Also, I concentrated too much effort on the plot and didn't spend enough time on character development. So, not only did the story feel wrong, but the characters were falling flat and lifeless.

To fix it, I've gone back and done detailed character sketches for my MCs. Now, I have a better understanding of the histories that make them who they are and the motivations that will push them through the book. Yeah!

I've also done a story board to make sure that those motivations drive the action of the story so my characters don't spend 300 pages only reacting to their world. Because an interesting character should drive the action, not the other way around.

So now what?

I went back to the beginning and rewrote the first chapter. It's not perfect, but it's a much better opening. I'm also going back through what I wrote before to figure out what can be saved. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't fit anymore, but at least some of it can go back in (once I change the tense and POV).

Next time, I have to remember that plotting and character development is not an either/or option. I'll also take a pause around 5K words to make sure I'm not wasting time writing in the wrong POV or tense.

Maybe one day I'll have a fool proof process that makes drafting easier. Until then, I'll keep chugging away and learning something new each time.

So what's your process? Do you change things up each time or have your found your secret sauce for drafting?