With the kickoff of NaNo this month, first drafts are on a lot of writer’s minds. Or at least they should be. Much as any writer would like to believe they could write an awesome book on the first run through, most of us know that such a feat is pretty much impossible. Although secretly, I think we all fantasize that we will someday achieve perfection on that first run-through. And maybe someday, it could happen. But in the meantime, there’s lots to love about a first draft, and I give you my list:
1. Freedom. You’ll experience the most freedom in your story during your first draft. You’re in that zone of just getting the darn thing down on paper. There is no time for editing, second guessing, or judging. You have to get it while it’s hot. Rules, internal editor, judgy people be damned.
2. No fashion requirements. While there are many adjectives used to describe first drafts, the most popular are ugly and/or sloppy. The dialogue is awkward, the characters are bi-polar and inconsistent, typos, misspellings, punctuation is cursory, and locations change mid-story. There isn’t time to pretty it up, give it a shower and shave, and pick out an appropriate outfit. Yes, your first draft is dressed in ratty sweats and has its dirty hair pulled up in a ponytail – but since nobody sees it, that’s okay.
3. Judgment free. Except for you, (possibly) no one will judge your first draft. Because it’s so ugly the very thought of showing anyone mortifies you. And during the draft, the only critic of the work is you. Tip: try not to judge, adopt the attitude that you’re free at this point to write any darn thing you want. The judging and editing comes later.
4. The discovery zone. The first draft is where you discover things. If you outline, you may discover that all your carefully crafted ideas don’t translate once you start putting them down on paper. Or that a character name is wrong. Or there is a completely new character that you never thought of, rearing its pretty little head. For me, the first draft is where I discover the story and the characters. I go in with an idea and finish with sometimes surprising and delightful new directions.
5. Rule free. There are lots of rules in the game of writing. Sentence structure, punctuation, correct spelling, plotting – blah, blah, blah, blah. When writing a first draft you can ignore the rules. Love fragments? Go crazy? Want your character to snarl with obscenities throughout? Go ahead, nobody’s watching. Take things over the top and to the edge. Editing will handle any mis-steps. For now, throw open your literary arms and embrace whatever comes into your deviant little head.
6. Nothing is written in stone. A first draft is like an exploratory mission. You go in with goals of what you want to achieve but those goals are predicated on what you’ll find. And subject to change. You’ll write scenes that may not end up in the final draft. You’ll kill characters you didn’t expect to. Or characters will appear out of thin air, like rare alien flowers you didn’t know existed. Even if you’re an outliner as opposed to a pantster, you may find that things you never thought of pop up. It’s fine. Just keep going. You can make all the missteps you want. That’s what erasers and delete buttons were made for, right?
7. Characters make themselves known. No matter how much time you spend on writing character profiles, or how many facts you know about your characters, they will still surprise you. Once they’ve taken their first breath, they start to show you who they are, what they believe and how they feel about things – even the story you’ve put them in. You will try to insist that they walk down a certain path only to find they absolutely refuse. They have minds and motivations of their own. And you may find, you’re simply following them and writing down what they do, rather than leading them and putting words in their mouths.
First drafts are loud, rowdy, have lousy hygiene and possess no social graces. They’re like that crazy friend you met in sophomore gym class who brought out the crazy in you. And you liked it. Embrace the draft, go where it leads you and worry about bail money, explaining things to the authorities and fixing the flat tire later. Have fun.
How about you? Do you love first drafts or hate them? Are they fun or drudgery? What do you think is the best thing about first drafts? Feel free to regale or damn first drafts in the comments below.