The Importance if First Drafts

The first draft is the bare bones of a story. Whether you’ve done some planning or none, this first draft is probably the most important daft you’ll write – not because it lacks polished touches or finesse, confidence or the almost perfected editing. It’s because it represents the raw story and the building blocks of what is to come.
Why are first drafts important? Well, no matter your experience or skill level, every writer starts at the beginning. And no one can write a perfect novel on the first attempt. This is why the first draft encapsulates all the ideas, the inspiration, the ramblings and wild tangents of writing a story, but it is essentially all about the story – sitting down and writing, just getting it out, in whatever order or semblance it comes, developing the ideas, getting to know the characters and experimenting with the plot. The first draft will always be awful. And that’s the point of the first draft.
The rest of the writing process – the polishing and perfecting – comes afterward, in the second, third, fourth drafts and so on. Writers spend too much time worrying about cramming everything into the first draft (not realising just how much hard work follows), but it’s just not possible – there are just too many things that come after the first draft has been written for this to happen.
The first draft is the framework on which to build the whole story; the flesh on those bones, so to speak, that make the story truly complete. The first draft is all about the following
  • Getting the story down
  • Developing ideas
  • Getting to know the characters
  • Finding out how good the plot is
  • Finding the right POV
  • Finding your voice
Getting the story written is what every author goes for. Even if you follow an outline or plan, or you write by the seat of your pants, the result will be a bit of a tangled mess. This is absolutely normal, so writers should not be discouraged by this. Things don’t have to make sense at this stage, and they don’t. So just write.
Development of ideas comes as you write. Even if you have planned your novel in detail, sometimes an idea can occur spontaneously or they can grow organically from what you write, and so first drafts are great for cultivating and experimenting with different ideas. Just go with them.
First drafts are also the foundation for characterisation. We don’t truly know our characters until we start to write them, and as the story progresses, they grow and develop. Some characters emerge with stronger voices, others fall by the wayside. Sometimes it feels right for a character to go in a different direction than you planned, so go with it. First drafts are all about where the story takes you.
When you write the first draft, you’re also finding out just how strong your plot is.  Sometimes the plot works well, sometimes if won’t. Sometimes it feels okay, but need lots of work to plug the gaping holes. Again, this is normal. It’s all part of the writing process.  The story may change as you write; it might deviate wildly from what you planned – again this is not uncommon. Don’t be afraid to go with the flow.
Working with the right POV is always a sticking point with writers. First drafts are a good way to find out, because the POV will either feel comfortable, or it won’t. If it doesn’t feel comfortable, then you’re using the wrong POV. If you choose first person – the most difficult to work with – then make sure the final work is edited thoroughly by a competent editor, because you will have a novel full of tangled tenses.
Voice is something that comes through during the writing process. Is your writing voice constant?  No, it’s actually quite fluid. It may be recognisable to others, but it can vary with the different genres you write. But first drafts act as voice development tools – what you write and how you express yourself – your voice and style – begins with the first draft.
Every first draft is the beginning of the entire writing process, and that’s why they’re so important.
Next week: Starting Points


  1. Agree completely. I discovered a great deal not only about the story, but how I write a first draft for longer work.

    I'm currently on my second draft working through the changes and additions the second draft needs, especially in the earlier first draft chapters where there are missing elements (that had developed by the end of the first draft).

    Getting down what was in my head allowed my subconscious to work on the good bits and recognise the weak parts.

    1. Thanks, Carol. It's great to see other writers putting this into practice - like you said, letting the subconscious get to work!


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