author, creative writing, writing

Things to remember when writing a first draft

Writers often have an odd relationship with the first draft. It’s that mixture between excitement and fear, motivation and doubt. It’s easy to pile on the pressure, putting ourselves under a certain level of strain and expectation. That’s why I wanted to share this things to remember while you’re writing a first draft.

The writing is allowed to be bad
A first draft will chop and change between standards of writing. There will be those glorious sentences, the ones that came to you and made you want to write the story in the first place. And there will also be those that you have to put in to move the story, but don’t quite work yet. None of your favourite books were masterpieces after their first draft. Try not to get lost in trying for perfection. Just tell the story, let it suck in places, and keep pushing towards the ending.

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. – C. J. Cherryh

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You can write [description here] instead of descriptions
I’m a sucker for this one. If you’re on a roll with some dialogue, or an exciting scene, just get the words down. Writing up a description might slow you down, and it’s far more important to get those ideas down while the imagination is flowing. You can go back and spend more time on descriptions or smooth transitions. Don’t be afraid to write clunky if it means you’re making progress with the plot. Editing is a wonderful thing.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles. – Shannon Hale

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You’ll learn about your characters as you write
It’s not always easy to connect to characters, especially if you were writing a different story before. You may feel so attached to your previous characters that these new ones feel a little flat. But don’t worry. You’ll learn more about them as you write, you’ll grow to love some and loath others. Don’t worry if you haven’t got them all figured out yet. Until you know how their story ends, it’s difficult to know exactly how they must behave throughout the novel. Let them surprise you.

Writing speedily can help you get out of your own head and into the characters. – Becca Jordan

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It’s okay to have plot holes
Everybody hates a plot hole, and though they can be tricky fix, they at least are fixable. Don’t dwell too much on plot holes, or weak points in the story. Often, these will fix themselves as you write, and you’ll find the answer you need by pushing on with the story.

All you need to do is write one word after another. Don’t think about the whole novel, or about what you’ve written, just think about the next word. – Karen Woodward

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You can write boring backstories
Info dumps and boring backstories have no place in a novel. But they absolutely have a place in your first draft. If you need to know more about a character or a plot point, then explore it, even if you do it in a mundane day. Info dump on how a character looks, tell a  lengthy ramble about their past. Because these will shape your story in edits. You’ll find ways to drop in these points in a subtle way, and they’ll give you that all important knowledge to help you understand your characters better. These don’t need to make the final cut, but if you need to write them in the draft then do it!

The first draft is a skeleton….just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising. – Judy Blume

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Word count doesn’t matter
Written too many words? Too few? Who cares? In edits you’ll trim bits and add bits and with every round of editing you’ll finish with an entirely new word count. Don’t dwell on it here. First drafts can be rambly or concise, there’s no right or wrong. Just tell that story in as many or as few words as you need, and then edit it until you’re happy.

Keep your head in the clouds and your hands on the keyboard. – Marissa Meyer

What do you like to remind yourself during a first draft? Share your thoughts below.

Until then,
Keep writing,

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22 thoughts on “Things to remember when writing a first draft”

  1. For me the first draft is all about me and the story figuring each other out.

    Neither of us know each other that well but for some reason they chose me to write it. In that draft they’re going to see how good and how bad I am. I’m going to see what part of their story belongs and what doesn’t.

    If we survive that first draft we’ve got a shot at this crazy thing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great advice. I find that, no matter how detailed my planning, I only really discover the story as I write the first draft, with all kinds of character nuances appearing that take things in different directions. I used to struggle with this, but now I just go with it, and have fun sorting everything out when editing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ll go back and add stuff I think is missing, or rewrite a scene that’s not working but that is not ‘editing’. I won’t edit until the first draft is finished – sparse, verbose, good, bad, naff even. All get chucked in, though I know much will change when I do edit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was just sitting down with an brand new author, mentoring him on his first flash serial. He was a bit self-concision and defensive, and I had to keep telling him to not fuss so much, it’s just a first draft (actually a rough draft). First drafts are bound to be torn apart and restructured, rewritten, refocused. That doesn’t mean your writing or your project is bad, it’s just the process. Actually, his project has a lot of promise. Looking forward to seeing the revisions he makes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Personally I like the sandbox analogy better that the bones analogy because I overwrite in my first draft and cut away in subsequent drafts. The bone one is good for those who write a sparse first draft and add to it in following drafts.

    Liked by 1 person

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