The Secret to Successful First Drafts

How many short stories, novels or other writing projects have you started then abandoned along the way? If you’re like most writers, there are bound to be at least a few. Maybe the story didn’t gel, or the piece lost focus, or you lost faith in the writing along the way. It happens.

There’s a secret to finishing more of what you start. It’s a simple one, and I’m going to share it with you. See, writing is a left-brained task. The dreamer lives, plays and makes mud pies there. Revising is a right-brained task. The editor lives there, dots all the I’s, crosses all the T’s and pitches a fit about the mud tracked in on the floor. When these two clash in the middle of a first draft, writing projects suffer.

Repeat after me: First drafts are supposed to be fun. They are meant to be messy and chaotic. That first draft lets you play with ideas, test out language and phrases, see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes there will be more mess and mayhem than anything the editor views as productive, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes:

“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”

Which brings us to the secret of finishing more first drafts: Don’t. Look. Back.

When you begin writing, forge ahead and don’t worry about the previous pages. Keep the momentum going and figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. There will be time to come back and make repairs when the dreaming is done.

6 comments on “The Secret to Successful First Drafts

  1. But…but…but…my routine is to take the first fifteen minutes of day two going over and revising what I did in day one. It helps me get my head back into the story and I feel better about fixing the garbage. No, I don’t worry about fixing everything–just little things.

    You’re going to make me stop doing that, aren’t you? 😦

    • I’m not opposed to rereading. The revising part is my downfall. Once I let the editor stick a toe in those waters, I might as well hang it up. Besides, the chances are good that no matter what I revise on day two, I’ll still need to revise it again on days seven, eight, and nine.

      Here’s another way to look at it. My husband and I like to do home improvements. We cannot work together in the same room without making each other crazy. He will turn on the saw, cut a board, then stop to vacuum up the sawdust before cutting the next board. This makes no sense to me. I’d prefer to cut all the boards first, then vacuum. Revising before the first draft is completed is like sweeping up one mess in order to make a new one.

      Will I make you stop doing it? No. I’ll just point out you may be making extra, unnecessary work for yourself. 😉

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