Shelley Widhalm

Roughing it with First Drafts

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 30, 2012 at 11:00 am

Expecting a perfect first or rough draft in writing is like expecting a perfect first date.

First drafts are for getting the story in your head onto paper, just as a first date is getting how you imagine it will go into actuality. You can’t tell if your writing is good or bad while you’re writing, only after reading and rereading your words when you’re finished.

The second and third drafts are for editing, rewriting and polishing. (As for dating, you might not want to edit or polish your date.)

As I write my first drafts, I’ve learned to silence the inner critic, or editor. I have to let go and let the words, plot lines and characters have some of the control. I have to let my writing free and write freely.

If I start worrying over sentences and paragraphs, I stall on what to say next. I am unsure if what I write will be as smart and smooth as what I had spent several minutes fine-tuning.

Writers, as they write, need to relax and trust the process and their ability to write, imagine and create.

A few things I’ve learned about first drafts include:

* Write who you are and what you know.

* As you write, try things out and see what works and what doesn’t.

* Realize the draft can be messy and sloppy with fill-in-the-blanks.

* Realize that some of the pieces may not fit together, because you may change your mind as the story evolves.

Write the first draft as quickly as possible, which will give your narrative a cleaner trajectory. You won’t have complete mastery of that trajectory until you’ve written the final word.

Set the draft aside for a few days and then read it over for content.

The second draft is for adding details and deleting heavy description and unnecessary dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward. It’s for digging deeper into your characters’ identities and motivations now that you know what will happen to them.

As you edit, look for grammatical mistakes, spelling errors your Spellchecker won’t catch and word echoes.

And as you edit, realize that you can’t catch every mistake the first time round. That’s why most writing requires several drafts before “perfection” is possible.

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  1. THANK YOU so much for this one. It really helps ‘take the pressure off’ as far as my getting started on whatever i’m gonna wind up writing becomes. I’ve never heard/seen the concept of 1st draft expalined so well!

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