Thoughts on First Drafts

2022 Feb 16, 2022

Currently, I’m between writing projects. A few months ago, I finished the third draft of a project that had consumed me for a year - written at the fastest rate I’ve written literally ever - and handed it over for some friends to read and give feedback on at their leisure. Then I took a break because, frankly, I was a little burned out. But this means the next thing I’m going to write is a first draft (or zero draft, since I’m not sure they’re cohesive enough to be called a true first draft, but for the sake of this post and to avoid pedantry we’ll just go with ‘first draft’). After focusing so intently on revision and details for the past year, will I even remember how to write one?

To preface: I’m a :sparkles: discovery writer :sparkles: who writes out of order and as a hobby, and it take me a long time to achieve a result presentable enough for anyone else to read. As with all writing posts, this is just my experience and my thoughts. It’s not meant to apply to everyone, or even anyone other than me! I simply like to talk and AWiP helpfully has a website on which I can do that (obligatory shoutout to Koby).

So I love revising. Even though solving problems is hard, it’s incredibly satisfying, and I love making something other people can read and understand so I can finally share what’s been rattling around my head. I am one of many people who has constantly repeated to myself some variation of a first draft just has to exist because you can’t fix what isn’t there. But I’ve been thinking, in anticipation of writing again, about why I love first drafts just for themselves.

First drafts can be exciting! They’re first time you get to write with new characters, or old characters in new situations! But, more importantly for me, I also think first drafts can be almost relaxing. A first draft is so different from a revision mindset, and you’re in revision mindset for every single draft after the first. From the second draft onward, your goal is to make it so people don’t have to actively live in your brain in order to understand your intentions and follow the story. But a first draft? For me, at least, there’s no pressure to make sense to anyone but myself (and sometimes not even to myself; I am great at making zero sense to anyone), and that’s the only time during each project I get that feeling.

Yes, I get frustrated with how slowly I write. Often I wish I could write cleaner first drafts so that the second doesn’t involve a) reordering every scene (though this implies I had an order to begin with, which I did not), b) rewriting everything at least in phrasing if not in concept (because none of the first draft words would work as they are even if they weren’t 75% typos), and c) completely jettisoning numerous word-heavy scenes just because they’re no longer relevant (or were perhaps never relevant to begin with). I’d be able to get a more polished book faster, and I’d be able to spend more time writing other things.

But I also love the freedom from expectations I find in a first draft. I like shouting at myself in brackets, making anachronistic metaphors to capture the specific feelings or processes I’m trying to convey, including inside jokes with myself, and inserting sarcastic comments during dramatic scenes. I like writing scenes I know won’t make it into the next draft just because I like playing with the characters, writing fun interactions, growing the character dynamics, and indulging my favorite tropes. I like making myself laugh, because I am the one who best knows my own sense of humor and therefore can cater to it exactly (I’ll have you all know I am very funny to me specifically).

When I get caught up and stuck in a first draft, it’s usually because I’m trying to make it perfect right away. I need to remind myself that if I focus on perfection, I’m getting rid of what is (for me!) the best part of the first draft process. I’ll make something ridiculous happen, or fully abandon a scene I’m struggling with, or write an analogy that’s really just a barely-concealed rant about whatever class I have the most issues with at the moment (currently? GIS. why is ArcMap Like That). I’ll throw a new combination of characters into the scene, or make someone say something sarcastic that has no place in the conversation but that, like in real life, breaks the tension. I’ll write from the POV of someone who is not a POV just to switch things up. I’ll set a timer for a 2k60 and not let my brain process what it’s doing until suddenly my characters are somewhere I didn’t expect them to go but okay, we can work with this (or maybe we can’t! and I’ll take them somewhere else).

So those are my current thoughts on my first draft mindset. It’s fun, it’s different, I’m allowed to do whatever the heck I want and no one will see or know but I, for one, will have a great time. This doesn’t mean I have no frustration with the first draft, of course. But frustration will inevitably come with writing anyway, so might as well offset it with the knowledge that you can at least be as chaotic as you want in revenge, right?

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