The first draft. It is important to understand, first and foremost, that a first draft will most always be a shitty one. Anne Lamott says it best in her popular writing book, Bird by Bird (1994), she states, “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”
Lamott and so many other writers embrace the first draft as a means of letting everything pour out on the page. It’s important to let go of the worries, fears, and anxieties associated with that first draft and simply write. That first “rough” draft is a creative process all unto its own, and for each of us, is just as unique as the writer and their voice. Learning to hone that creative process is essential in generating a strong first draft that will ultimately become the final masterpiece.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when discovering your own creative process and constructing strong first drafts.
What goals do I have set for my first draft?
Anytime we set goals for ourselves, it helps establish a guideline that we can follow. It’s like a rope strung alongside a bridge. Not only does it keep us from falling, it also keeps us steady and able to take careful steps from one side to the other.
Ask yourself what purpose you have in writing a novel? Are you planning to publish? Or, are you writing simply because you enjoy it?
Seeking answers to these questions will help you to set healthy deadlines, word counts, or allow you to skip goals and write freely.
Do I write or do I re-write?
Understanding the type of writer you are, and the kind of writing you wish to accomplish, is a great way to shape your writing style and the way in which you chose to draft your work. Some writers enjoy the planning and drafting phase while many others prefer to sit down and write what comes to them.
Either method works because you’re getting thoughts, prose, and action out on the page; however, those who’ve planned have a little to a lot more structure to their first drafts and may find they spend less time working the second and third into a final piece. The “pantsers” of the writing world may have a lot of great material to work with, but also spend more time sifting through their drafts to find it when they start the revision process.
What are the biggest challenges I find in finishing my first draft?
Many writers struggle to finish the first draft. The task can become daunting, overwhelming, and intimidating. It seems that once these pressures set in, the excuses to not write are not far behind. It is important to find what triggers these feelings and begin to find ways to counteract them.
Finding areas that cause struggle in your writing process, and learning ways to combat them, provide tools that allow freedom and creativity while turning our first drafts into final perfected ones.