Friday, November 19, 2010

Tips to Write the First Draft

Everywhere  we look, there is an avalanche of information about the craft of writing, from how to write that perfect book, to how to hook readers in the first chapter/line/word, to how to start with the conflict, avoid an overdose of back story,  to do away with lengthy  descriptions,  a new writer may get overwhelmed with all the techniques, advice and tips  and in the process may  not be true to his or her story. They may actually get paralyzed with shock.

With the information overload in the market  about “ How to  Write “ and “ What to Write” and  “The Way to Write” a new or unpublished writer can really  get confused.  They may even wonder if they have  the talent to write.  Doubts and insecurities will creep in.  Fear may even bring forth the writer’s block. What everyone forgets is that a writer knows his or her story  best. He or she is familiar with the  character, conflict and resolution, as it has  emerged from the womb of his/her mind.

To avoid  First Draft Jitters, writers should write the first draft just for themselves. What we all should  and must do is write the first draft just the way the story is unfolding in our mind, or before our eyes. There will be sufficient time later to rework on the technique and fine tune everything.  Though I am no expert, my advice would be to  let the story flow first before we start listening to each and every bit of advice thrown at us. And not every advice is worth following. After all, you definitely know your story best.  You know what  your character wants, and how he or she will get it, and what they will sacrifice to reach their goal. You know who your characters will meet in  their journey, and how they will  be transformed after each interaction, and what kind of emotions they will undergo at each phase.

I feel we all must first  just  get the story down on paper, or  on the computer.  After the entire story has been vomited, with all its  flaws and shortcomings, we can   focus  on the mechanics and technique later,  definitely in the subsequent drafts and rewrites.  The subsequent drafts can be given a  complete makeover keeping most of the important advice in mind.

What about you all? How do you handle first drafts? Is it just you and the story, or do you follow every writing craft book when you start  putting those  initial words down on paper? What advice would you give a new writer  regarding first drafts?



  1. I'm doing this right now. It's such a hard balance, writing for me and shutting up my inner editor. She is very pushy and hard to keep quiet, but once in a while I get her to behave.
    I do outline before I start. I always have, so that is a given for me.

  2. I spent years reading all the how to books and buying enough to fill several bookshelves.Now I just write and hope that some of the advice has stuck!

  3. Great advice! I try to do this with my first drafts, too. I try to incorporate the things I've learned about writing, but mostly I just let it flow. I'm not afraid to cut, and I love to rewrite, so I find it better to just get out what my brain wants to first! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I think this is great advice. It works for those who just wing it, without any pre-planning and it works for those who meticulously outline before they begin. First Draft is NOT the finished product.

  5. I've tried it all ways, canvassing the page with words, trying to edit within an inch of my life. I've hit both ends of the spectrum. For me, it helps to have peace and quiet, read before I write in my genre, to methodically plot out the scene, and to put my best foot forward.

  6. Great post! I do a little editing along the way, but for the most part just let it flow. I don't always write my story from beginning to end. I write the parts I am compelled to write, and then fill in the rest later.

  7. Such great advice! With my first draft, I battle with myself over censorship. I just need to get that story down, without thinking about who will be reading it. Then, like you said, I can fix it in subsequent drafts. Great stuff!

  8. I agree with you that there is a dirth of information out there and it's very easy to be overwhelmed. That's why I stick to two or three trusted resources for my advice. I don't jump from technique book to technique book although I'm always interested to know about other techniques writers use.

    I write my first draft according to my instincts and what I think is best. Then I have some beta readers look at it and revise, again, trusting in my instincts of my technique to keep my grounded in the story itself. Seems to work for me.

    Great post, Rachna.


  9. I learned the hard way just how damaging it can be listening to others' advice. But then I guess it depends on who that 'other' is. Mine was an instructor who wasn't familiar with my character-driven genre, nor did she read in that genre or appreciate it. She kept pushing techniques better suited for mystery/thriller genres. Instinctively, I knew it wasn't working, but, as a new writer, I listened. I changed EVERYTHING, followed ALL the advice I was given. And I also ended up with writer's block for THREE years. I almost quit writing forever...

    So I agree that WE know our stories best, and that we need to develop the chops to say 'no' to the things we KNOW we don't want to change. We need to trust our instincts, whether we're seasoned writers or new. I learned the hard way.

    As far as writing the story first, and furiously ... I'm sadly not that type of writer who can write a rough first draft, then go back and rework it several times once it's all done. I re-write and refine as I go. I can't move on to a new chapter until I've polished the one before. I've always done this, even with my magazine writing. I can't seem to do it any other way. It's probably not the most efficient method, but it is within my comfort level ... so I'm sticking with it!

    I also think "how to" books are overrated. The best way to learn, in my opinion, is to read the work of others.Classics, women's lit, chick lit, thrillers, literary fiction ... All of it! Analyze their methods, critique their approach, emulate the styles you want, discard others...

    Great post, as always, Rachna!

  10. inner editor is constantly sitting on my shoulder and shooting orders and instructions.

    Carole..I own just one writing craft book and have yet to go through it.

    Shallee...I too love to rewrite, the more I rework the more faults and flaws I find in my writing. It makes me more self-critical.

    Lynda..I agree that this advice works well for both the planners and those who write without much plotting and planning.

    Anne..I love your idea of reading before you start writing. Its a wonderful warm up exercise.

    Alexia...we are so similar, I too write the parts that I am compelled to write and later fill in the gaps. I seldom write from begining to end.

    fire in the hooooole..thanks for dropping by.

    Julie...the only way we will able to do justice to our first drafts is switch off regarding people's reactions to it. There are always rewrites and more rewrites.

    Jai..I too am interested in knowing what techniques other writers are using, but I always follow my instinct while writing.

    Melissa....I feel bad that you almost quit writing. Just imagine a writer's block for three years. I would have been devastated.

    Your style of rewriting and refining as you go along is great. Better to attack each chapter when its fresh in your mind. I like the idea of learning from other writers' works.I have yet to go through the only craft book I own, as there is immense fear that I will find my story lacking and full of flaws. I have decided to go through it after I complete my rewrites.

  11. Excellent advice. Wish I'd read it about twelve years ago. I finished my first draft and gave it to a Beta reader, expecting corrections but not a bludgeoning. Wounded, I buried the book for six months and tried to recover. Fortunately, I did and I now know my scenario is not uncommon. I also know I will never again let anyone see a first draft. LOL