Finishing a first draft is always an important event for a writer, whether it is your first or fiftieth. The good news is it does get easier to get to that finish line with practice. The not-so-good news is, from what I have heard and read, even a superstar author’s first drafts will require at least some revision.
The Truth of Memes
There is a meme going around the Internet that perfectly captures the difference between the joy of writing that first draft and the discomfort (okay, let’s be real and use the right word, “agony”) of the revision process (rewrites and editing). The message is: writing the draft feels triumphant, like a god or goddess who has created the world; going back to begin fixing it (and it will need fixing) is a bloody, messy pit of despair.
Okay, this may be an exaggeration but writers are prone to such, even if it doesn’t show in their writing (the final product). I am proud to have finished a few drafts so far in my writing journey, even though they are all still in various stages of editing. And it has become easier to get through to the end with each project.
That Moment When It Hits You
But something shifted in me recently, an awareness of how much pressure I have been putting on myself with each new story. I felt tremendous pressure to make each first draft “right”, the best it can be. After all, who the hell wants to go back and do it all over again, and again, and again? It was as though I had to get the first draft perfect, and if I didn’t there was no reason to go forward after that. And then the urge to start a shiny new story would start, bringing with it the hope that this would be ‘the one’.
I certainly hope my realization that the above theory will never work shows I am making progress and am no longer a clueless Newb.
My First Draft Rules
For a few years now, I have been devouring blog posts, craft books, articles, and taking classes in an effort to improve my skills as a writer. When the light bulb went off in my head about how I should be approaching first drafts, a list came to mind which I promptly typed and hung above my desk. It is a summation of things I have heard countless others say, so I can’t give credit because it has all coalesced in my mind. Anyway, this is what works for me and I am sharing in case it may help you:
- The first draft is NOT “The Book”. It is a blueprint.
- The first draft is you telling yourself the story.
- The first draft is for getting to know the characters.
- The first draft is to set the stage with setting (location) and world building.
- The first draft is a springboard for necessary research.
- The first draft is the exploration of an idea, not a finished product.
- Outline first before writing, but be flexible and open to changing directions.
- Make changes if needed, but resist the urge to edit.
- It is important to get in the zone and let the words flow. It can all be fixed later. Repeat: IT CAN ALL BE FIXED LATER!
- The first draft is for you; your story, your voice. Editing will later prepare your story for the world.
- When the first draft is finished, walk away for at least a month.
You may find some of these rules do not work for you. So find some that do, and get those drafts written! Nothing else can happen to your work until you finish it, and the first draft is only the first step.
As for me, I am slowly making peace with all the other steps that follow, and hopefully one day soon, I will have conquered those, as well.
What rules would you add to this list?