How I Draft
Updated: May 29, 2020
This is a continuation of a series of blog posts I'm doing to explore different parts of my writing process and how I put a story together from start to finish. If you want to see earlier topics, you can find them in the writing section of my blog.
Today I'm talking about how I draft. Now, I've known a lot of different types of writers over the years, and some of them are better at writing first drafts than others. Hopefully there will be something useful for every kind of writer in here, but this is especially aimed at the writers who, like me, struggle immensely with the process of writing a first draft (and sometimes even hate it with a burning passion).
1. You don't have to be perfect
Seriously, before you get too far into this writing thing, you need to throw away any notions you have about perfection. But that's especially true when it comes to first drafts. Newer writers especially tend to get hung up on the idea that their first drafts have to be near perfect, that the only changes they'll be making during the revision process will just be minor cosmetic things. But that's just not how it works. Instead of focusing so much on writing a fantastic first draft, I like to focus on just getting the thing done. Even if it's far, far from perfect.
2. Writing is rewriting
You've probably heard this saying before, but it's true. And that's been pretty encouraging for me in my own writing process. I've learned to embraced the revision process to the point that it's actually one of my favorite parts of writing now. I'm not a great drafter, but I'm a decent reviser. I enjoy it, even if it means I have to rewrite that one scene twelve different times, even if it means I completely scrap other scenes and do something entirely different, or I discover I need to cut an entire character from the story. Through all of it, I know that I'm working to make the story better, and it's so fun to watch it all take shape and fall into place the way it never could have in the first draft stage. Whatever you write in the first draft likely won't be your absolute best work, but you can always fix it later.
3. Just put the word vomit on the page
There will be good writing days, and there will be bad writing days, and there will be lots of days that are sort of in between. I find that most of the time when I'm drafting, it's like I'm pushing a bicycle uphill through the mud, and it's a mess. But with a first draft, that doesn't matter. No one even has to see it but you. Just get all the garbage out and keep going. If you get stuck in the mud, leave yourself a little note about what needs to happen or what you think isnt working and keep going. Maybe even skip to an entirely different scene. No one said you have to write a first draft in order. And on that note...
4. Get it over with as fast as you can
I'll be totally honest - sometimes I absolutely hate drafting. So much so that I start to wonder if I should just quit writing altogether. This tip doesn't work for everyone, and I'm all for writers working at whatever pace is best for them and isn't harmful to their mental health. But for me, it usually helps to just get through the draft as fast as possible. It's kind of like if you have some really unpleasant task you know you have to do. You can keep putting it off and just let it hang over your head, or you can tackle it as fast as humanly possible and get it over with. And sure, maybe you won't do a top-quality job that way and your draft will be a mess when you're done. But you'll be done, and you can always clean up the mess later.
5. Be kind to yourself
If there's one thing you take away from this blog post, I hope it's this. Be kind to yourself. Writing is hard. Drafting is hard. And in any creative field, it's so, so easy to compare your work to other people's work. I used to spend a lot of time comparing my stories to some of my favorite books, constantly stressing about how I would never be as good as writer so-and-so. But I wasn't being fair to myself. It's not fair to compare your first drafts to the published novels you see on the bookstore shelf - books that have gone through multiple rounds of revisions and edits and have likely been gone through with a fine-toothed comb by a team of several people. And it's not fair to compare yourself to other writers either, because you are you and they are whoever they are. So just be gentle with yourself. Don't judge your abilities too harshly based on whatever comes out in your first draft. Keep going, keep learning, and keep remembering what made you want to be a writer in the first place.
That's all I've got for you today. What kinds of things have helped you write your first drafts? Leave a comment and let me know!