Writing Advice: Rough Draft


As you are reading this post, National Novel Writing Month has already begun. I’ll be participating this year, which means that this post was written in advance and I am likely, at this very moment, typing as though my life depends on it. Today I want to talk about the rough draft.

Whenever you begin a new writing project, the rough draft is what lies ahead. This is likely the draft that will be messy, full of mistakes, and mildly incomprehensible to anyone besides yourself. It’s the draft where you’ll work the kinks out of your plot and figure out who your characters really are. You will probably never want to show this rough draft to anyone. Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you that you have to. I only want to tell you that you need to let the rough draft happen, and you need to let it be rough.

Some of us are perfectionists. If you’re reading this post and you just nodded, you know who you are. You want everything that comes from your fingertips or from your pen to be perfect right from the get-go. You’d rather avoid the rough draft than plow through it. However, the fact is that the rough draft is unavoidable. The only way to get past it is to travel through it. If you want to get to that other side, on which lies your shiny, better draft, you have to write horribly first.

To get through that rough draft, you have to leave someone behind: the inner editor. This is especially important for National Novel Writing Month, which forces you to write practically non-stop for 30 full days. If we NaNo participants were to stop at any moment to acknowledge and humor our inner editors, progress would be lost and so would that end goal of a 50,000-word rough draft. You can’t worry about the end product, you can only worry about the next word.

Although not everyone is in that crazy rat race of NaNo, I think this is valuable advice for all writers. Stop thinking about the book deal, stop thinking about the shiny finished draft, just concentrate on the rough words you’re putting down right now.

If this wasn’t enough to make you respect your rough draft, I suggest that you read an essay by Anne Lamott entitled Shitty First Drafts. I read it when I was in high school and have been thinking about it ever since. Lamott offers some wise words to live by, so I highly recommend the essay. As always, happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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