So you have a good foundation and you’ve started writing your first draft. You’ve made it past the dreaded Opening (if you’re one of those writers who dreads writing openings) and you’re flying along.
And then the First Draft Doubts shoot you down.
What if this book is actually rubbish and I’m the only one who can’t see it? Are my characters even realistic? Do I have too much description? Too little? Too much dialogue? Will anyone aside from me understand this? Is this too stupid, cliché, cheesy? I can’t even write, let alone WORD. WHAT AM I DOING?
First draft: a preliminary version of a book, speech, essay, or outline.
When I told my chief writing buddy that I was drafting this post, she laughed at me. (She’s probably still laughing.) As a perfectionist, I’m all too familiar with these doubts. After years of writing, I still struggle with them multiple times during every first draft I write. My writing buddies often have to remind me of the very truths I’m sharing with you today. When the doubts start to come, take a deep breath and remind yourself of any one or all of these pieces of advice from other writers.
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles. ~ Shannon Hale
YOUR FIRST DRAFT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT. It doesn’t even have to look good. It just has to have a beginning and an end.
Bad writing precedes good writing. This is an infallible rule, so don’t waste time trying to avoid bad writing. (That just slows down the process.) Anything committed to paper can be changed. The idea is to start and then go from there. ~ Janet Hulstrand
Think of writing your first draft as assembling the bones of a skeleton. You can’t even start to have a complete person until they’re all put together. You can add muscles and skin and clothes later. But you have to start with the bones.
It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all. ~ Will Shetterly
You can rewrite your story twice or ten times or twenty times – as many as you need to achieve your goal for the final version. BUT, you cannot rewrite what has not yet been written. This is why the first draft is the most vital step in the process of writing anything.
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. ~ Terry Prachett
You might have your outline and know what the story is about, but actually writing it out is when you take the grayscale idea and add black and white and color.
Great writers aren’t great first-drafters. They’re great re-writers. ~ Andrew Bennett
Some people can write amazing first drafts that don’t look like a mess to their alpha or beta readers. Others of us write first drafts that have at least 50% of the story added in the second draft. Some writers’ first drafts are basically glorified outlines. Whether you fit into one or none of these types, the important thing is to not compare your first draft with anyone else’s. It’s yours and you are unique and there is no wrong way to write a first draft… except to not write it at all.
Never forget that every single one of your favorite books were once awful, error-filled, unpolished first drafts. ~ Unknown
I don’t know of a single writer that has written a polished, close-to-perfect first draft. If I did, I would immediately request a grant and permission to study them because obviously they would not be human and I have a fascination with aliens.
You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ~ Jodi Picoult
One more thing. We’ve all heard the admonition to: ‘kill your inner editor and just write the book.’ I personally disagree. As much as possible, it’s wise to stick to the rules of good grammar and punctuation while writing your first draft; if not for your own sake, than for the story’s sake and the sake of your alpha readers. Also, if you’re re-reading a part and you think you can fix it right then, do it. Just don’t get so bogged down in fine-tuning and rewriting that you don’t finish the first draft.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote about first drafts:
The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike say, a brain surgeon. ~ Robert Cormier
Isn’t that a delightfully encouraging thought? (No offense to all of you great brain surgeons – you have my respect.)
Now, writers, go pick up your notebook and pen/pencil or go sit down in front of your computer and WRITE THAT FIRST DRAFT.
On Friday, I’ll return to talk about heroes and villains in children’s literature. Until then, I’m off to plot so that I can begin my next first draft.