Monday, April 19, 2010

The First Draft Is For You

Much as we want to believe that this time, we will only need to write one draft of a short story or a novel before it is publishable, down deep we know that if we’re serious writers we will never get off that easily. (There are benefits for the writer as well as the reader in revision, however, and I have discussed some of these on my Militant Writer blog.)

Because no first draft is ever going to be the final draft, creative writers (and most other kinds of writers, too) need to give themselves permission to relax at the first-draft stage.

The first draft is for you. At this stage, you don’t need to worry about your audience. Here you can just let go—write whatever you want to say, overwrite, get sidetracked and distracted. You don’t need to leave anything out because “people might not like it,” or “it isn’t written properly,” or because you know that you are capable of a better metaphor. If you know you are going to have to come back and rewrite anyway, you can leave unfinished sections and move on. You don’t need to worry about polishing sentences or making sure that your paragraphs aren’t too long. You just need to get the words down. You are free to get them down.

This is not to say that the audience is not crucial to the writing process. It is. If you ignore those you are writing for, as far as I’m concerned you will never write anything meaningful. But you don’t have to think about the audience until you get to the revision stage—in fact, it might be better if you don’t.

When you do start revising—or at least before you finish revising—you do need to include the audience in your deliberations. “Is this passage clear?” you need to ask yourself. “Are my readers going to understand why my main character is doing this?” “Are readers going to be bored by this repetition, or will they understand that I am using it deliberately—and why?”

The revisions need to satisfy you, of course, but they are also intended to ensure that your message and your story reach your audience in the way you intend them to receive it. But the first time through, you can turn your back on your readers.


  1. This is one of those "easier said than done" things for me. Sometimes I find that it does work okay for me to edit as I go. I might write half of a piece or a chapter and then decide I need to take a different approach. So I'll save the original partial draft and start on draft 2.

  2. I agree, Scotti! But it's the effort to TRY to let go that's important sometimes, I think. I can get totally boxed in and blocked if I try to write clean copy first time through.

  3. I must admit being new to writing that I just get my ideas down as I go and then I always have to rewrite and edit, although in my excitement of having finished I do often share that first draft with a writer friend who always gives me valuable advice.

  4. I'm trying to "just spit it out" with the short pieces I'm writing at the moment (100-400 words). Sometimes I feel like someone learning to drive a stick shift (straight drive) in an automobile. I lurch forward, then kill the engine, then restart and lurch a few more feet, then kill the engine. LOL


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