Thursday, April 7, 2011

First Drafts: Far From Fun (sometimes)

A-Z Blog Challenge Post By April Moore

“You write the first draft with your heart. You write the second draft with your head.”
-Finding Forrester

First drafts. They’re inescapable; that novel, essay or short story has to start somewhere. How writers do them varies. First drafts can be exciting and dare I say, fun? Getting brand new ideas, thoughts and characters out of your head may be exciting and invigorating. Some, however, may associate the task with another F-word because they’re unsure of which direction to take and might end up feeling stalled. Here are two common methods of getting that first draft down:

The Bare Bones Writer. This is usually done quickly, getting the gist of the story down on paper (or electronically) as it comes into your head. Knowing you can fill in the holes and add the “guts” to the bones later, takes the pressure off of you—for now. Some writers feel this method is very motivating and it helps those who tend to lose their train of thought easily. On the flip side, writers may find they become overwhelmed with the amount of work still left to do when they return to fill it all in. Suddenly, their motivation is in jeopardy and they’re left with just the skeleton of a story.

The Long-Winded Writer. Taking their time, writers jot down everything and anything that comes to their mind, spilling their proverbial heart until there’s nothing left. For some, cutting out extraneous words, sentences, and paragraphs is easier than having to add content. This can also be a daunting and overwhelming endeavor, especially if there are lines and passages they love, but know they should cut for clarity and flow. It can become a struggle where editing out content starts to hurt. The story is then at risk of losing its momentum and structure along the way.

Is there really a right and wrong way to do write a first draft?

Dissertation coach, Dr. Rachna Jain, advises her clients “to write a messy first draft, one filled with passion and developing thoughts and enthusiasm.” She also tells them that writing is writing. It’s not revising. It’s not editing. It’s just writing.

In Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott devotes a chapter to “Sh*tty First Drafts” and says, “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.”

I tend to tackle a first draft with a good old fashioned pencil and pad of paper. Ideas seem to flow better, while a blank Word document intimidates me. On paper, at least I can doodle if I get stuck or lose my train of thought—otherwise, I’ll check email, read the latest Twitter updates, and basically drown my inspiration by surfing the net. Once my ideas are down on paper, that first “computer” draft is much easier to plow through.

Or . . . you can take Calvin’s advice:

How do you approach a first draft?

Other A-Z Challenge Blogs


mooderino said...

i agree, first drafts can be like pulling teeth. Just have to keep plugging away.

Moody Writing

Bob Scotney said...

I change the whole thing - once I've started.

Cowgirl in the City said...

My first drafts are a lot of word vomit-- I just let it all out, and try to clean it up later.

April Moore said...

Word vomit--exactly! I think it's safe to say that most people feel pretty good after a good (word) vomit.

Cheree said...

Fantastic post. I really agree with this. First drafts can be painful. I'm a bare bones writer because I just want to get the story out, so I need to go through and really put in all the setting and description in my rewrites.

Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

I love your site and as I browsed your blog I decided to award you the Powerful Woman Writer Award.
Go to and pick up your award.

Dean K Miller said...

I'll write and write and get what I can down in one sitting. Often I'll let it sit a few days, add any new ideas and then I'll come back through and start weeding or planting new thoughts and such. For me, first drafts are a longer process than most...much like this post.

bfav said...

I'm fast and furious on my first draft, then I suck the life out of it during revision.

Kerrie said...

I actually use both of these methods depending on what I am writing.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent choice for the "F" post, April. I've done my first drafts lots of different ways, but have to admit they're all sh*tty. :)

Pam Torres said...

I have done it both ways, bare bones and brain dump. I think it really depends on what it is I'm beginning and what kind of mood I'm in. I've even outlined before writing. I think my favorite so far is the a combination of random dumping mixed with bare bones. I'm so random that way.

Tundiel said...

I'm a bare bones kind if girl. If I spent too much time agonizing over the story, I'd never get it out. I'm better off just 'going with it' and letting it run.

Great 'F' post!

GigglesandGuns said...

A pencil and Composition Book are my weapons of choice. I write notes, and ideas, all sorts of things. hen when the story starts to 'write' in my mind my fingers do the walking as the saying used to go.
Then it's pooper-scooper time.

April Moore said...

Thanks, Pat. And I've read lots of your first drafts and they are FAR from sh*tty!

Samantha McColl said...

I like to think of a first draft as a compilation of ideas that will eventually come together, but find themselves with a few loose ends for now. I always write with a conclusion in mind hat will bring my ideas full circle, but I never expect that my first draft will have said conclusion. It is easiest to just let the ideas flow without constantly going back and revising them. I like to get all my ideas on the page. I then go back and connect them rather than trying to mechanically tie them together as I write.
I find that if I try to fix my writing as I go, I lose my sense of direction and the opportunity to be randomly inspired.

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