First Drafts: 5 Things That are OK and 1 That’s Not

First drafts are interesting creatures, aren’t they?

They often start out in a blaze of glory and excitement, but at some point we start to wonder… is this awful? If things get really bad, we might even decide that it is the absolute worst bit of writing known to mankind.

Eventually, we might come out of the Pit of Despair and start thinking, Yes, this is a bit messy, but it has a ton of potential. I’m downright proud of this idea, and I’m gonna make it AWESOME!

Unfortunately, I have a feeling many first drafts don’t make it through the Pit of Despair and live to see the light of day. I know I have several first drafts of stories that I quit writing half-way through.

Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely some that should just be tossed. But ideas that simply can’t be refined and finessed until they’re fabulous are going to be few and far between.

So, here are 5 things that are perfectly OK about your first draft:

1. Is it rough? That’s OK!

Is your first draft terrible? Here's what to do!
meineresterampe / Pixabay

It’s fine to have goofy grammar. Sentence fragments. Even words [that] have gone missing! In some places you’ll just sort of slap some sentences in there for now. They might not say precisely what you’re trying to say or say it well.

And that’s okay. Keep pressing ahead.

 

2. Is it terrible? That’s OK, too!

Is your first draft terrible? Here's what to do.

I think nearly every story might go through a phase of being terrible in its author’s mind. My WIP is teetering on the edge of this one for me right now. I start comparing it to terribly written books I’ve picked up on a free day or to my writing in middle-school. I’m just sure it’a a) the most stupid premise and pointless plot I could have come up with, and b) that I’m executing it horribly. Like, really bad. Like I should probably quit and go learn underwater basket weaving or something.

I’ve even imagined the reviews it might get. And let’s be honest, scathing reviews of my work make me sad. Good thing nobody except my husband is reading this version of it! (Well, there’s also the fact that I’m sharing tiny, 1-3 sentence snippets of this draft on my Facebook page as I write, but…)

Even terrible is okay. Keep pressing ahead.

 

3. Is it boring as the day is long? Even that is OK!

Is your first draft boring? Here's what to do!

My first drafts always lack description. They can be stilted in spots where I just couldn’t get in the flow or into my characters’ heads. Maybe you’re so focused on getting all the way through the story that it’s downright boring. You’re almost summarizing at times. You’re wondering, “What is this? An over-glorified outline?”

So what if it is? You do get another shot at the thing, after all!

Keep pressing ahead.

4. Do you already know what you need to go back and fix? That’s OK!

Is your first draft rough? Here's what to do!
Free-Photos / Pixabay

Yeah, I have some definite things like this in my WIP. My writing software lets me leave notes to myself as I write. I’m trying so hard to train myself to use this feature instead of spending precious drafting time on rewriting and fiddling with plot things that need to be adjusted. (Yeah, I know, plotters. They’re small changes, I promise.)

There are things about the way I’ve written my characters that I can already tell is going to need rewriting. There are whole passages that are almost place-holder text because my brain wouldn’t cooperate at the moment and I decided to keep pressing ahead anyway.

 

5. Do you hate it? Yes, even that is OK!

Do you hate your first draft? Here's what to do!
komposita / Pixabay

If you hate your WIP, you might need an encourager. You might need to take a break with a definite sunset date (not indefinite!). You might need to let go of fears and inhibitions and sort of write like it doesn’t matter. (I had my easiest, most fun drafting experience when I wrote like that. Readers have really liked that book, too.)

It’s okay for the Pit of Despair to kind of get to you. For you to let all the wondering and knowing how imperfect it is to make you think maybe it’s not worth it. And maybe you should quit.

Most of the time you shouldn’t, though. Most of the time there’s not a good reason to hate a WIP. There’s almost always something you can do, either now or in a subsequent draft, to improve the story or its execution.

Right now? Just press ahead.*

 

And the 1 thing that’s not OK? Giving up on your first draft while in the Pit of Despair? Not OK.

This is pretty easy to understand and I’m so glad I’m finally learning it since I’m in a first draft right now. Your first draft may be rough, terrible, boring, in need of fixing, and causing you to have ill feelings toward it. You’ve lost the optimistic glow about this new project.

That’s OK.

Do you know what you gain if you don’t succumb?

You gain a whole story idea from setup to resolution. You gain something that can be revised and rewritten. (You can’t rewrite something that hasn’t been written!) You gain characters that will feel like old friends the second time around, because you’ve already made it all the way through their story with them.

Now is the time to just write. You’re roughing it in, like an artist sketching first rather than painting his masterpiece in one shot. And you’re pushing forward into the story without spending time looking behind you. That will come later.

You are big enough and good enough to fix anything that comes up in your draft. Once it’s done, (if you’re anything like me) you’ll probably remember it as a terrible piece of work that isn’t barely worth the paper or hard drive space it’s stored on.

You’ll pick it up again after a couple days, weeks, or months and begin reading. Chances are good you’ll have goofy smile on your face as you read. You’ll be thinking, “Hey, this isn’t half bad.” You’ll see everything that needs fixing, but at least for me, the Pit of Despair is nowhere to be seen. Instead I’m thinking, “I wrote something pretty cool!” and I’m excited to get back to work on making it all it can be.

So, yeah. I get it. First drafts are hard.

But press ahead and try to make it to “the end.”

Perry is a 20-something author with a lot on her plate. She’s wife to Tyler; mom to four little boys, two dogs, one cat, and 12 chickens; and author of five little books. She’s the admin of this site, as well as a freelance book designer and the creator of the WriteMind Planner for authors. She lives in the sunny southwest.

Offers: cover design and the WriteMind Planner at perryelisabethdesign.com

5 Comment

  1. *A quick note on hating your book… if you have a legitimate reason to dislike it other than just feeling disappointed in the way you’re executing the idea, it may be okay to put it away. And, of course, whether to quit a writing project or not is completely up to you!

  2. Help me out, here! Am I the only one who goes through a phase like this while writing a first draft?

    1. This explains exactly what I went through during and after NaNoWriMo… then all the doubts came back again right before publishing! That’s when the encouragement of advanced readers really helped.

      1. Glad to hear you can relate! Being critical of our own writing can come in handy when editing and such, but the encouragement is so helpful in getting to the finish line despite doubts!

  3. There are only two drafts I haven’t finished. One I got a few thousand words into the book and realized I would never publish it. It went well beyond dark and twisted. I deep sixed it and wrote another book. (That one’s a whole different issue.) The other one I started in the middle. Not deliberately, but when I looked back, I saw there was no reason for any of the characters to do any of the things they did. I have one more prechapter to write to finish it off. I don’t know if I ever will. The climax is a bit to Thin Red Line, which has been done to death. Someday it may get resurrected.
    As for the five things. I tell my clients when they are writing a first draft ‘said’ is a place holder. Said sadly means use a beat to show the sad. Adverbs are also place holder pointing out action which needs to be developed further. When it comes to description, my drafts are barren expanses of concrete, but a few lines of cliched description will remind me to add more later.
    As you suggest, the first draft will feel more like a glorified outline at times, but hey, now you have a glorified outline! (I need to do an article on using outlines as an editing tool). Too bad I can’t leave snarky comments in the margins here to remind me.

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