“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ―Terry Pratchett
How will you write your draft?
Do you write in fast bursts, with your goal to get down your story as quickly as possible, and leave the revision for later?
Or do you write more slowly, editing as you go along?
Those are the two extremes: fast and slow. You’ll find some writers or writing coaches are firmly in one camp or the other.
I’m more and more convinced of the usefulness of the quick draft. And if you research the writing processes of the best known writers, you’ll find that this is what many of them do as well.
“I believe the first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months… Any longer and — for me, at least — the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.” — Stephen King
“Putting together a first draft must be a completely mindless, robotic process. Don’t think too much. Just complete the process and get all relevant parts into the new document, otherwise your Inner Critic may surface during the process. If you begin to start editing the small bits of writing being assembled into the first draft, you will lose the objectivity required to get through first-draft assembly. Your Inner Critic may start with, ‘This is truly awful, you know. Maybe I’ll do a little rewriting now. It can’t hurt. Hey, what’s this doing in Chapter 1? What about putting it in Chapter 6?’ This results in a total shut-down. And this is where a lot of writers give up.” — Mary Carroll Moore
“Get it all down. Let it pour out of you and onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.” — Anne Lamott
“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
“For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed…For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” — Neil Gaiman
“The first draft is a skeleton….just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising.” — Judy Blume
“I begin. I write a draft without ever looking back. Without ever touching what’s gone before. Because I think it will be shit, so I daren’t look back. I write a draft. I start again. I have the text when I start the second draft and then I do the same thing a third time.” — Clive Barker
“I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts… so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.” — John Green
Convinced yet? Yup, your first draft will probably be very bad. Accept that and just get something down. The real work comes later.
Too many writers never finish a book — or an essay or an article or whatever piece they’re working on — because they are striving for perfection (and keep stopping to edit and rewrite and rearrange and rethink and reimagine) in a first draft when perfection is not an option. Their Inner Critic takes over and it’s too painful to continue.
I recommend putting yourself on a schedule. Discover how many words you can write in a day — fast, without editing — and then estimate how much you can write in a week and then a month. And try to give yourself a deadline. Resist the urge to fiddle with your draft until it’s all done. If you have places that you know you want to fix or change later, write yourself little notes (on sticky notes or notecards or using Scrivener) as you go along.
Say to yourself: “I will write my first draft — which will suck — in 10 weeks. It will suck, and that is expected and normal, and then I will fix it.”