Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sh%#@y First Drafts Are Like Dating

We all write them.

Okay. Full disclosure. I just wrote, "We all right them," and had to delete and rewrite my first line. It was as if my brain wanted to help me prove my point.

Now I know the difference between write and right. I also know the difference between a sh%#@y first draft, a better second draft, and a good third draft. And I know how to keep going until one draft feels just right.

It took some time for me to get to this point. I wrote my first novel chapter by chapter -- rewriting and reworking each chapter many times before moving on. I didn't have the confidence to write a sh%#@y first draft. I thought I needed a really strong sense of every plot line, every character, every setting and sensory detail before I moved on.

I was wrong.

Now when I write a first draft, I look at it like dating. That first draft is just to get to know your characters. Having a main plot line and a few subplots helps, but even if you trash your plot, but you got to know your characters really well, that sh%#@y first draft served its purpose. If you know your characters, you can put them in any situation and their dialogue and reactions will ring true.

The second draft, well, that's sort of like an engagement. You're making plans together, testing the waters, maybe having a fight or two. You're adding tension to that relationship.

By the third draft you're a newlywed. Everything is all sparkly. Sigh.

Every draft after that adds the grit of little details. The toilet seat is up. Somebody has to take the dog out in the rain. There is no clean underwear.

When you finally reach the point in your manuscript marriage when everything feels just right, it's time to submit...

And start looking about for the next batch of characters to fall in love with.


  1. I used to try to make my first draft perfect. I'd revise as I wrote and it took forever to finish. Now I've moved to fast drafting and I love it! The first draft needs more revision, but it also has a certain diamond in the rough quality that I think it can only get from fast drafting. Things flow more smoothly from the start.

  2. I love this, Jude. I'm about to embark on my *newlywed* journey. Wish me well.

  3. Kelly -- I'm not "fast" yet, but I'm much faster and less worried than I used to be.

    Vijaya -- Congratulations! There is nothing like that sparkly feeling!

  4. Great post Judy. This feels like exactly my problem. I'm revising chapter 1, again, and stuck at Chapter 3, even though I have (or had) the whole story mapped out in my head. Just to get through a complete and bad first draft would be progress!

  5. Julie - it's that perfectionist thing. We all want to be brilliant whenever we open a document. Giving yourself permission to write crap is a great gift.

  6. When I get blocked it's almost always because I've put too much pressure on myself. Then I have to remind myself of the value of writing crap.

  7. inluvwithwords -- I agree. Writing crap = priceless.

  8. Love the dating analogy. I put way too much first-draft pressure on myself, so this really rings true.

  9. Judy...I LOVE this post. Exactly how I feel! Looking forward to being a newlywed, lol.

  10. Great comparison! And I need to keep it in mind. No matter how much I tell myself that the first draft is just that, I fuss over it. This explains why I really don't like writing first drafts.