Why writing a crappy first draft is important.

It may seem paradoxical of me to be writing this post from the depths of revision #832-B in my current project, but the fact I would quote such a number, even in hyperbole, should convey something in and of itself about the mutability of a story and how frivolous it is to try to get anything right the first time.

There are two major reasons it is useful, even necessary to write the most horrible first draft you can:

  1. The one you hear all the time: Because it’s the only way you’ll FINISH the darn thing! Creating an entire story and funneling it from your head onto paper is difficult enough without wanting it to glow in your first draft. I think many writers dive into a project with high energy, but then they lose steam in the tough spots because they want the prose to be just right, the plot point to be just right, the transition to be just right, and when it eventually, inevitably isn’t they get stuck and frustrated and jump ship. With the first draft, you just have to let loose. Hokey pokey, being bad is what it’s all about! Write with reckless abandon, worry about the fine stuff later. Who cares if it’s full of holes when you finish? That’s what revision is for!
  1. The one you hear less often, because many manuscripts never make it that far: The story will fluctuate with every revision. Sometimes in colossal ways. You will add one scene and cut another. Write a character in or out. Work things up, work things down, slash whole chapters, change the ending, adjust a huge plot point that has repercussions all throughout the book. Writing a crappy first draft is important because you need to get all the pieces on the board before you can step back and see the story objectively, in its entirety, and figure out how to adjust the parts to make the whole better.

What’s your first draft process like? Any tips for first-time novelists? Share in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Why writing a crappy first draft is important.

  1. Writing the first draft, in whatever way it comes out, is the way to get started for progression to finished work, Julie, in just the same way as rushes of a cinema are transformed at the editing table into final print, or the rough boulder attaining form at the hands of sculptor. Without first draft, rushes or the rough boulder, nothing happens…best wishes… Raj.

  2. Thanks for the reminder Julie. I’m still inching my WIP along towards the finishing line. Not to mention the two part-finished WIPS 😦 Though I think that’s more to do with lack of proper planning than trying to achieve perfection.

  3. #832-B. Ha! That explains the jumbled headache that is revising very well. I usually start off counting which draft I’m on and that always seems so cute later one when I’m a million drafts in.

    I’m technically writing a 3rd draft right now, but it feels more like a 1st draft since it’s such an overhaul (at least half the chapters will be 100% new). So I have to remind myself all over again that sloppy paragraphs and lame metaphors are okay at this stage. Books are a lot of words. Getting 80,000 words down perfectly and in the right order would be damn near impossible on a first try.

  4. Completely agree. I finished a first draft a few weeks ago and haven’t dared to look at it again just yet (and I’ve been too busy anyway) – I just know there will be loads to do to it. But at least I’ve got it all done and so I’ve got something to work with, and now I’m starting to look forward to it.

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