Friday, May 18, 2012

First drafts and rewrites

“The first draft of anything is shit,” said Ernest Hemingway. Its something I completely agree with. If anyone were to read my first draft they would officially disown me. My first drafts are written in long hand, on ruled sheets, because on plain sheets of paper my handwriting goes haywire. Every corner of the paper is filled with words as new ideas strike me.

 I read about a writer who has said that, “I am not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” I agree wholeheartedly. First drafts are anything but publishable. Only we writers can make sense of it.

The first draft is just a collection of words on paper that makes sense only to the writer who through rewrites has to wade through the literary mess, sift and sort, and make sense of it. It takes several rewrites for writers to actually come close to querying.

I find rewriting fun. As the basic model or skeleton is ready, its now time to give it shape, to refine and remodel. To nip, tuck, chip and chisel.  

 Something that has personally worked for me is that after the first draft, I take a break of few days. I let the manuscript marinate in its own juices. During this enforced break, I catch up with reading, writing my articles for the newspapers and several other things. Though my mind is constantly hovering over the manuscript, I don’t actually sit down to rewrite.

This process is a lot like meditation, when  thoughts enter a mind during a state of meditative contemplation, we are advised to neither  ignore, nor encourage them. I write everything that comes into my mind during the first draft, even when I know I most probably will be deleting it later.

When I return, I feel I get a fresh and better perspective over the first draft.  Actually after each rewrite a little break is a must for me. It’s like giving each other a little breathing space. And when I return to the WIP, I am eager to tackle another draft. Though  the mental  connection with my  WIP  is constant, the physical distance is very therapeutic. I am then able to see the manuscript with its ugly warts. The glaring loopholes stare at me. With each rewrite I hope to plug the gaps created in ignorance.

Do you have any first draft tips for me? How do you all tackle your first drafts and how do you all handle the rewrites. We would all love to know.


  1. Agree completely, Rachna that the first draft is a bare bone skeleton on which we constantly chisel till we have a finished look of the final manuscript:)

  2. My first draft has been on a world cruise while I finished up with my revision request rewrites. That's the longest I've ever left a first draft alone.

    Fortunately I LOVE doing rewrites. And I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of them once I go back to my first draft. :D

  3. That's because you're a pantser, it sounds like. You get an idea and just start writing and see where it goes.

  4. I really struggle with the first draft, the awfulness of it makes me want to stop. But once I get through to the end, the shaping process is a lot more fun.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  5. One thing I do is pay my editor a bit of $$$ to read my draft. That little bit of cash goes a long way in constructive feedback, advice, and guidance. And it saves me a lot of time and frustration.

  6. I write the first draft in longhand, too! It makes the first revisions go smoother as I type it up on my computer.

  7. @ Rahul, my first drafts are just scene outlines with major plot points being covered.

    @ Stina, I too love doing the rewrites. Once I have the first draft in place I attack it from all sides.

    @ Richard, I am half plotter and half panster. For this book I started writing just after the basic story outline was in place.

    @ Mooderino, I too struggle with the first draft. But once its done, I look forward to shaping it through several drafts.

    @ Stephen, I like the idea of hiring a professional editor. It will save me a lot of stress and anxiety.

    @ Laura, you are so much like me. I too like to write the first draft in longhand and as I type I make the changes and revise the draft I am typing.

  8. I prefer editing and rewrites to the first draft. I just want to get the basic storyline on paper so I can see what I am working with.

  9. I have to get that story on paper one way or the other. Then at least I know what I'm up against. Ha!

    Rewrites can be fun. And they can be daunting. It all depends on how we look at it. :-)

  10. I don't always rewrite as such. Sometimes it's no more than typing up what I've written in longhand. When I do seriously rewrite there usually comes a moment when it seems to have become unmanageable. It's when I get out of that that the real enjoyment comes.

  11. Hi Rachna! Thanks for sharing your process! I think it sounds like you know what works for you and I am envious!!! ;)

    Keep on writing!!!

  12. I have to get over feelings of inadequacy when writing a rough draft. I just need to get everything down on paper. I live for revisions. I love seeing the manuscript take shape.

  13. Okaaay! So it means that any basic plot ideas, character sketches, that are scribbled down in a senseless and haphazard manner will belong to the first draft? Then I MIGHT have the beginnings of a first-draft-of-sorts...

  14. I agree, it's best not to worry about the quality of the first draft, just get it down and edit later. I actually take about a month to let it sit before I attempt the first round of edits.

  15. I also draft in long-hand, pantsing it. Then I use the structure I learnt from it and draw up a plan. That done, I rewrite to the computer from pretty much scratch. :-)

  16. Great post! I totally agree. Editing and revisions are crucial to making that manuscript shine. :)

  17. I write my first drafrs usually on my laptop, with all my notes and character profiles around me. I usually write a section a day, not doing more than that because I don't want to overwork my brain. Like you I just try to get everything down that I can think of. Then in the re-write I go back and polish and revise. Like you I take a few days off before I attempt this though.

    Some tips you might like are to make sure you have plenty of water and healthy snacks on hand, just in case you use hunger or thirst to get up during a first draft writing session. Also, it's helpful to have a calm place you go to write the first draft. A place you know you won't be disturbed and that is filled with things that comfort you. That way you're more likely to stick around there and write.


  18. lol, Ernest Hemingway said it straight.

    My greatest downfall is that I overthink things. Because of this, I try to write a first draft really fast, so I don't have time to think about it. Anything can be fixed.

  19. I do love to rewrite because that first draft is awful! But at least it's down on the paper.

  20. I have to agree with you on the quote.

  21. Did he really say that?:) I have a hard time believing Hemingway used the word shit! (but i believe you)

  22. I agree with Hemingway. I don't enjoy writing a first draft, not even a little. My goal is to get it down so that I can begin the part that I love--revising. Great post.

  23. I love writing first drafts, but I love rewriting too. And I whole-heartedly agree with taking a break in between drafts! It always helps me get a better perspective.

  24. I love drafting. The rewriting, ugh, not so much. :)


  25. Thanks for sharing your
    From the previous
    comments, I can see
    that others dread
    the first draft.
    Oftentimes, I cringe
    after reading my first
    attempt and then soon
    realize I have the
    ability to make it
    better and better.

    I have been hopping
    from site to site
    and just looked
    down to see that
    you are located in
    Bangalore. My soon
    to be published book
    focuses on my adventure
    in Bangalore.What a
    small world.