Writing Advice: First Draft Woes


Today, let’s talk about first drafts. In some ways, first drafts are the best. You get to discover your story as you’re writing, you get to branch off into imaginative areas, and you get to experience your story for the first time as you work your way through it. First drafts, however, can also be abysmal. They are, by definition, supposed to be not very good. I think we all know that intrinsically. But when it comes time to edit your first draft, you may be a bit down about what you produced over those months or years when you were working on it.

Personally, I am going through some first draft woes at the moment. Last November I began a project for National Novel Writing Month. Last month, I finished the first draft of that project. Ever since then I have been trying to embark on an editing journey, but it has been slow-going. Though I have written 7 different projects for 7 different National Novel Writing Months, I have not glanced back at those projects or tried to edit them since my first two years participating. Those projects were back when I was 16 and 17, so a lot has changed since then.

Now, as I’m beginning to revise and edit this new writing project, I’m starting to feel down on myself about the book’s organization and on how much needs to change. I know that the first draft was always meant to be horrible, but the editing process can still be painful and arduous. It’s definitely not as fun or as easy as writing that first draft.

I recently found an article on Writer Unboxed, 10 Tips about Process, which mentioned these first draft woes. The article’s author, Brunonia Barry, says “Write a mess of a first draft and never show it to anyone…If I thought I had to show those pages to anyone, I’d probably stop writing. I think first drafts should be messy, like finger painting. When I finally finish the book, I burn them.”

I suppose that’s some consolation. As bad as this first draft might be, no one ever needs to see it. The pages never need to see the light of day. For now all I have to do is gather up the courage to look through them myself and make them better wherever I can.

If you, too, are dealing with some first draft woes, just keep on working! Doing a little bit each day can slowly but surely chip away at that first draft. Before you know it, you’ll have a much neater and nicer second draft. Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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