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The First Draft: A Writer’s Best Friend

May 9, 2012 by Kiersi

The First Draft: Boy, do I hate peas

Okay, so you’ve decided to write that novel. It doesn’t really matter if it’s your first novel or your thirtieth, but you have a premise, possibly some plot points and a climax planned out, and you’ve made the decision to just sit the hell down and write it. Good for you. Actually, awesome for you. Just remember one thing:

The goal is to write. Not to write perfectly, or to write brilliantly, or to write the next Harry Potter; just to write. Just to get that novel down on paper, if only to feel victory coursing through your veins, to let yourself know, “I can do it!”

Once that’s all done, you can start worrying about the hard stuff, like cohesion. Dropped threads. Consistent characterization. Copyediting. Clear prose. That stuff is all well and good, but it won’t be of much help to you unless you’ve written the thing first. Even if you send off your first draft to a beta reader and get feedback like, “This is all well and good, but you really need to clean up this plot arc and merge these two characters and cut half the ending,” (true story, I’ve gotten this feedback before) that is totally okay. Actually, that’s better than okay. That means you’ve got a real gem to work with, because I guarantee you that other first drafts that later became bestsellers were worse (see: Twilight, which had to be rewritten extensively before it got picked up).

Let me tell you a little story. There once was a 21-year-old girl who graduated from college into the worst economic recession in seventy years. She’d written fiction on and off for most of her life as a coping mechanism for the mental instabilities that come inherent in adolescence, but had never considered pursuing fiction writing as a career–until she realized how unfriendly the outside world was towards college graduates with less than five years of experience in a related field.

She sank into depression. Here she was, bursting with unrefined trade skills and primed to start a career, but no one would hire her. So she returned to the thing that had gotten her through the toughest years of middle school, high school, and college: fiction. Losing herself in telling a story had once saved her sanity, couldn’t it help again? If a hack like Stephenie Meyer could do it, couldn’t she?

And so, a terrible first draft of a book titled Sophie of the Demons was born. And boy, was it terrible. But who cares? Who will ever know? She learned some valuable lessons and went on to write a second manuscript in the series, and a third. By then, that first draft of that first manuscript looked simply elementary. She knew what had to be done now. She made the changes, as painful as they were, and made it better and better and better, until it was recognizable as a real, bonafide manuscript. A book, even.

Fast-forward through four drafts and two years, and that once-garbage book lands a publishing deal. If that piece-of-crap manuscript can do it, of course yours can!

So shake out your arms. Turn your head from side to side. Stretch out those sore neck muscles, arm muscles, finger muscles, and just let it flow. Don’t cramp your own creative flow by thinking, “This isn’t great. This isn’t perfect.” Of COURSE it’s not perfect! That means you’re doing it right. You won’t pick the right adjectives the first time around. Not every sentence will be ideal. There’s time enough for that later.

Make writing your first priority. It’s like eating peas before ice cream: get those damn peas out of the way, and the rest will be better, even if it occasionally gives you a brain freeze.

Good luck!


4 Comments »

  1. Wonderful post! I’m a true believer in just writing, letting the words flow, and worrying later. I’m in the drafting phase now and it’s heaven. I’m just following my characters and writing their story. There’s nothing better.

    • Kiersi says:

      Absolutely! Writing a first draft is so freeing. I’ll never get tired of starting new stories for that reason.

  2. jim Snell says:

    Or, as I’ve heard it put before – and I think in a nice simple to understand way: Allow yourself shitty first drafts.

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