What They're Not Telling You About Your First Draft
on Thursday, November 27, 2014
Updated Wednesday, September 07, 2016
Most writing advice on first drafts goes something like this:
Start writing and don't look back, get all your ideas out, don't worry about spelling, punctuation, even plot consistency. Just get the first draft done so you can then go back and revise it. Don't expect your first draft to be any good.
Is My First Draft Crap?
I mostly agree with the above advice, but I have one really big problem with it.
It fails to give your first draft proper credit. It's true that your first draft will not be your last draft. Revision is an essential part of the writing process, but something is lacking.
I'm weary of writing advice where you're reminded that your first draft will be crap. I get it. The writer needs to understand that the first draft will be messy because so many writers get hung up on trying to perfect their first draft.
Your novel isn't born like a baby. It doesn't pop out like a perfectly formed little thing. It's more like a blob which you have to shape and reshape until it's presentable.
That's probably a gross metaphor, but you get the picture.
The reason I'm making an issue of this is because your beliefs are incredibly powerful. On the one hand, the realization that you don't have to be perfect when creating the first draft is liberating. On the other, you may become demotivated because you feel like you're just creating a pile of crappy writing.
What Your First Draft Really Is
I like to think of first drafts as untapped gold mines rather than piles of crap. A gold mine is a more accurate reflection of what a draft really is.
A rough draft is your raw material. Like gold ore, it may not look like much, but there's gold in them thar words.
During your revision process you will refine and extract pure gold. You will isolate the nuggets and clean away the dirt and rock until your story shines.
Depending on your skill as a writer, you may have more refining to do than another writer. That's part of the process.
Why Writers Should Be Readers
Another piece of advice offered to writers is to read a lot. Why? The reason writers should be readers is so that you know what good writing looks like. Finding gold among the rocks won't be easy if you can't tell the difference between pyrite and real gold.
The Sculptor and The Diamond Cutter
If the gold analogy doesn't work for you, let's try another one. The Venus de Milo was once a large hunk of rough, dirty rock, yet the sculptor saw something more. With care and precision he coaxed her from her ancient marble crypt and brought her to life.
Have you ever seen an uncut diamond? Only the skill of the diamond cutter allows us to see the full brilliance of a diamond.
As a writer, as an artist, your process is the same. The difference is that you have one extra step. You must first create your own raw material. You can't just dig up a rough draft in the dirt, dust it off and turn it into a work of art. No, you must first create your own rough draft.
The art of revision and editing is the craft and skill of the diamond cutter. The purposes are the same, to bring out the beauty of a thing so the whole world can see it clearly.
Not everyone has the ability to cut gems and not every gem is a 32 carat diamond, but even small gems have value.
View your first draft with this attitude knowing that it is the natural form of a story. For a while, it is dirty on the outside. It appears disorganized, lacks clarity and has a lot of jagged edges.
Story ore, if you will, is the raw material from which great stories are crafted.
Maybe now you can put to rest the voices in your head telling you that your draft is no good. Let the voices think what they want, but you know better. You are the artist. You are the one who sees the glittering gems among the dirt. You are the one with the patience to extract that beauty and present it to the world.