I hate first drafts.
I didn’t always. There was a time when I loved the thrill of a first draft, the rush of figuring out the story and exploring the characters. But back then I didn’t have a first draft so much as an only draft. And I had a bad habit of getting halfway through the story only to circle around and rewrite it so completely that the new version wasn’t so much a second draft as an entirely new draft.
It was a bit like playing with legos. I’d build something, realize it was structurally unsound, and then take it apart and build something completely new. Same legos, same story – technically. But I didn’t know enough to fix the foundation, only to keep building. Because of this tendency, somewhere out there is a fanfic I rewrote 4-6 times that is still hanging one chapter before the end, never to be finished.
Turns out, writing a book is one thing. Finishing a book is another. It took discovering National Novel Writing Month to teach me that important step, where the rules were 50k and done. It’s a good thing I took that to heart at the time, because only then was I able to unlock the second draft.
Even with that achievement unlocked, I still liked first drafts. They were still the fun part. Editing was hard, because I didn’t know how to do it. But I figured I’d keep going and learn and improve and eventually, I wouldn’t have to edit so much because my first drafts would be that good.
Reader, I was wrong.
If anything, it feels as if my first drafts have gotten worse. This is somehow both true and not true.
Not true: When I’ve sucked up the courage to glance back at my drafts from yesteryear, I’ve discovered they’re not so much better as… eerily similar. In some ways, my first drafts have improved. But in others
True: My first drafts are a mess. I’ve stopped bothering with proper transitions and perfect dialogue and sometimes the plot jerks suddenly one way because I’ve realized halfway through that I was going way off track and worldbuilding doesn’t so much happen as explode for pages on end and then abruptly cut off –
Because I’m not allowed to stop and go back and fix any of it. Not until I’ve typed The End, even if that The End comes directly after rocks fall and everybody dies. Not that I’ve done that (reader I absolutely have). But having written six whole books now, I’ve learned that:
The draft doesn’t have to be perfect, just done.
Because done means I’ll have something to fix. Done gives me a beginning, middle, and end along with a bunch of stuff inbetween to work with. My first drafts might as well be extremely long outlines, and perhaps the term “Draft Zero” is more apt – whatever gets me out of my own way when it comes to just getting those words down.
And getting them down has worked! Now instead of endlessly writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting the same chunk, I’ve finished books and – most importantly – moved on to the next ones.
The downside to this method, though, is that writing a first draft feels a lot like this:
But hey, you gotta start somewhere.
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