All About First Drafts

A First Draft is one of the most basic entities of fiction-writing and it lays the basic foundation of a novel. If you’re a writer then you probably might have come across this term more than a thousand times already, and if not then you’ve come to the right place. Just for the sake of it, I’ll start this article with the definition.

You can watch the video podcast of this article on YouTube here:

Fiction Writing Ep. #02: All About First Drafts.

1. What is a First Draft?

A first draft is the first thing you write about a project, a book, a blog post (like this one) or even an idea in general. It simply means writing down your initial thoughts in order to figure out the project as a whole.

First drafts are mostly the unplanned version of an idea. It can even be fragments of a concept written together to help you move further in your story or project later on.

20160713_143304

First draft of Deceived

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

– Terry Pratchet

2. Why is the First Draft important?

First Draft is not important, it is VERY important. If you won’t write the first draft of your novel, your thoughts will be scattered all over the place and you’ll struggle endlessly to put your ideas together coherently in a sensible form. Eventually, you might be able to get your thoughts organized, but it’ll waste a lot of your precious time.

A first draft helps you in discovering your characters, plot, and story-flow, and in building the three main pillars of your project – beginning, middle and ending.

The most important thing and the point of writing the first draft is to get the story on paper. To get it out of your mind and into this world. It’s like giving birth – unlikable to watch but necessary altogether.

It doesn’t have to be perfect because your next drafts will take care of that. All you have to do is, WRITE IT DOWN.

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

– Shannon Hale.

3. What is the purpose of writing a First Draft? 

The main purpose of writing the first draft is simply getting to know what your story really is. And in order to do this just let go of any fear and qualms you have about your project because the first draft (FD) is something that you write for your own self.

Don’t worry about the complicated things like story structure, sentence development, world building, character development, conflicts, exposition or other things like that because you’ll be working on these elements later on. NOT in the First Draft.

So, before starting out, be clear about what the FD really is, so that you won’t give in to the editor inside your head and leave your FD halfway like many writers do.

First drafts are simply the raw form of your story; it’s a skeleton in the earliest of stages. Most probably you’ll be working for months on this project after the FD is done, so you can clean it up later on. LEAVE EVERYTHING ELSE FOR LATER, simply get the damn story out in your FD. It doesn’t matter if you’re following a sequence or not or if you’re are simply writing random scenes (I do this a lot in my FDs) or if you’re writing the story backward. It does not matter as long as you’re getting the ideas of your story on paper. It’s totally OKAY! What really matters is that you WRITE.

Remember, most of the time (actually, all the time) the final product is miles away from the idea that you initially began with. So don’t waste your time on detailing or organizing your FDs as it might not even make it to the final MS. But it is still important for you to write the FD because that is what will get you to the final MS.

“The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written.”

– John Dufresne

4. How to write a First Draft?

There’s no specific way of writing FDs, but to help you get an idea, following are the two ways in which one can write a First Draft:

Two ways of writing the FDs:

  • Simple Method (Recommended for beginners and pantsters.)

– Sit in a comfortable place and use a simple writing software that you are comfortable with and start writing without worrying about anything, especially not about editing or spelling mistakes.

– Start writing. Just try and focus on your story and forget about everything. If you feel the urge to edit, then simply console yourself by thinking that you’ll edit it in the next sitting.

– Continue writing this way (preferably every day) till you’ve got the entire thing written.

That’s it, you’ve just written your FD!

  • Advanced Method (Recommended for plotters, fantasy writers and for novelists who use specific timeline.)

– First of all, write down the rough outline of your story by using single words or only a few words to make sure you understand what’s to come where.

– Then create an equally rough timeline just so that you have a sense of the timing for whatever events you’ve planned for the story.

– Sit in a comfortable place and use a simple writing software that you are comfortable with and start writing without worrying about anything, especially not about editing or spelling mistakes.

– Start writing. Just make sure that you’re keeping a tab on your story outline while writing. More new ideas will come to you with the help of each outlining point. This will make you write more and get a better perspective of your story.

– Continue writing this way (preferably every day) till you’ve got the entire thing written.

That’s it, your FD is ready! By following this method you have a more elaborate and a clearer FD, which will help you while writing your second draft.


Note-I: Use a writing software that you’re most comfortable to use. Don’t get confused or mislead into using complicated software that you don’t know anything about. [I use Pages and/or Word for Mac. It helps me think straight and write fast.]

Note-II: As I said above, there’s no specific way to write FDs. You can write FDs in any way that is totally different to the ones above.
Again, it doesn’t matter. This is just something I came up with in order to help writers understand First Drafts better.

5. What to expect from First Drafts?

  • Rawness
  • Plot holes (Lots of them!)
  • Rough and incomplete storylines.
  • Raw sub-plotlines
  • Rough timelines
  • Half-built characters
  • Imperfect scenes
  • Weak endings
  • Inconsistent exposition
  • Flawed conflicts
  • Loose ends (a lot of them.)
  • Last, but not the least, tons of ideas!

“The first draft of anything is CRAP, but it’s infinitely better than NO draft.”

– Ben Arment.

6. What NOT to expect from the First Drafts?

  • Perfection
  • Adequacy
  • Complete Scenes
  • Final Story
  • Finished Characters
  • Brilliant Storyline
  • Magical endings

In short, First draft is the first step of a long staircase. You’ll have to be patient; there’s no other way.

 

What to do after completing the First Draft?

Rest? Take a break?

No… Do not take a break from your story after completing the FD. This is where a lot of writers go wrong (at least, as far as I know.) So trust me when I say, this is the right time to plunge deeper into your story.

When you’re done with the FD make sure that you re-read it a couple of times. After doing this you are ready to organize your story.

Move on to the next step of Character Development and Detailed Planning.

Read my articles on:

And then? Brace yourself for writing the Second Draft! (I’ll be writing a detailed article, just like this one, on Second Drafts (SDs) soon. So stay tuned!)

You can watch the video podcast of this article on YouTube here:

Fiction Writing Ep. #02: All About First Drafts.

***

Terms Used: 
FD - First Draft 
MS – Manuscript
SD – Second Draft

***

If you have any questions or doubts regarding this article then please ask them below in the comments sections and I’ll try my best to answer them as soon as I can. Also, please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments as I always love listening to all my readers.

Thank you for reading!


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36 Comments on “All About First Drafts

  1. I’m really intrigued now! I know I’ve long had a first draft but have not been too sure what the chapters I’ve been posting are … so looking forward to your take on second drafts … I’ve got a feeling I may be beyond that but we’ll see?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree with you on writing a first draft. “simply getting to know what your story really is”. So true. A story often consists of so many parts and trains of thought and by writing them down somewhere we can see each part of the puzzle. When we have that out, then we can think about each part and question how it fits into the bigger picture and then work on the next draft.

    When I was writing the first draft of my book last year, I just went on and on and on. Even if I felt that a part did not make sense, I just wrote it down. I am in the process of revisiting what I’ve written, and some of my thoughts are interesting and I think I can expand on them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Mabel. I agree with you when you say that sometimes revisiting the words we write help us find nuggets of gold that we can work on and expand.
      I’m so happy you found something that you can expand on. Hope you’ll share about it sometime in a post on your blog (?)
      Thanks a lot for reading!
      Hope you are having a great day! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you very very much for this helpful and informatove article, Heena. Writing a book, not necessarily a novel and more likely a poetry book, has been playing in my mind recently and this article of yours is really an eye opener. So thank you dear! You do know what you’re doing! And you are surely very good at it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rosema! Your comments always make me smile happily 🙂
      I’m really happy that this article helped you. I’m doing another one on First Drafts (it’s basically about how I do my first drafts to give new writers a better picture of the whole process.) And then I’ll be doing one on Second Drafts. 🙂
      Hope you’ll like them and that they’ll help you in some or the other way! ❤

      Like

  4. This is interesting, Heena. This is definitely the process I used as a pantser, but my first draft changed quite a bit when I started outlining. Now, I tend to write a much more comprehensive first draft based on a fluid outline. I revise and edit as I go. The result is a long long long way from done, but with the outline it has few holes. I do lots or prework – character bios and comprehensive world-building, so those pieces are pretty well defined (though they evolve and solidify as I go). Great info!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, D. As I said, for plotters (like myself) and fantasy writers the 2nd method is the way to go about first drafts. I always plan my first drafts in advance with an outline, albeit a rough one. I make a create an extremely detailed outline once I’m done with more than half of the first draft. It gives me a push to complete the remaining part of the first draft and, side by side, provides a direction for me to start the second draft.
      Thanks a lot for reading and for sharing your way of working. It’s always nice to know how other writers work 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also tend to leave the outline loose until part way into the draft – kind of pulls it all together and ties up any loose ends. And I totally agree that it’s easier to reach the end if we know where we’re going! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post, dear Heena… I like posts on Craft writing and techniques…
    It is very enlightening to notice how many rough first drafts – which according to you are mostly the unplanned version of an idea- might become something more important, i.e a coherent, cohesive and complete piece… Dufresne´s quote is eloquent as it aims to depict how many possibilities might lay behind those first drafts …
    Thanks for sharing… Love and best wishes. Happy weekend . Aquileana 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thorough post about rough drafts, Heena. You brought up some great points. It’s best not to try to perfect a rough draft while you’re still writing it. I tend to rewrite and edit a bit as I write, but it’s much faster to simply write the story and then edit later.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Watching this video on YouTube was timely reminder for me. I’ve just started my first draft, and feeling like it’s rubbish. So thank you for reminding me that it’s probably going to be rubbish, and reinforcing the knowledge that it can all be fixed and made much better in following drafts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy that it helped you in some way 🙂
      We all need reminders from time to time. I’ve recently started following more authors & writers on Facebook and WordPress, and I must admit that their​ posts on writing literally kicks me off my butt and makes me write (including your Sunday Writing Updates.) Now that’s what I call real motivation 😀
      Hope you’re having a great weekend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Anthony! And yay for you! FD is the hardest part, but when it’s over, it only gets better (and easier.)
      So keep writing! And feel free to share your progress with me, I love knowing how far my friends and readers are in their projects.
      All the very best for your FD and let me know if you need any help.

      Liked by 1 person

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