This week I reached the end of a draft I’ve been working on for the last few months. This version was draft 19. I started draft 1 in 2001. I’m aiming to finish draft 20 (yes there will be at least one more) by the end of this year. I’m hoping it’ll be the one that is submission ready, and that it will do better than draft 8, which spent a year being rejected.
When I started draft 1, I didn’t think I’d needed 19 other versions, but that’s the fun of writing. Also fun is that this draft is only for book 1 in a 4 part series. Books 2-4 also have multiple drafts.
If you’re doing the sums in your head (and hating it because maths is not fun) you’re probably thinking the same as me, which is…
1) That’s a lot of drafts.
2) Why am I not a better writer because that’s a lot of practice.
3) It’s been a long time since I created a first draft.
Because it’s been so long, I can look back on my first draft foray with fondness. I’ve forgotten about staring at the blank page with no clue about how to start and have instead replaced it with my frustration of reading that first page yet again when endlessly editing.
Some writers don’t like the first draft because it’s hard to get started, especially if you’re a pantser. But a first draft isn’t scary and here are 6 reasons why you should love it.
1) It’s As Bad As Your Story Will Ever Be
Despite the 10th draft dragging on, or the 5th bringing that huge plot hole to your attention, the first draft is the worst your book will ever be. After draft 1, the only way is up, to all the breakthroughs, improvements, edits, and self-doubt.
2) You Just Have To Write
Anyone working on a draft they can’t remember a number for will understand the frustration of editing the same sentences repeatedly. The first draft isn’t about editing, checking for repeats, going through delete checklists or killing darlings, it’s just about writing, getting those words down and not having to worry about anything else.
3) It’s Full Of Discovery
Sometimes you’ll work on a later draft and a new idea will change the course of the whole story, but that doesn’t compare to your first draft, which is full of first ideas! Ideas like the one that inspired you to write the story. The crazy idea you didn’t see coming (and hope your readers don’t either), not to mention the discovery of your characters, plot, and settings. You don’t come across those in other drafts (unless you’re doing major re-writes—which for me, was draft 18 and 19), so enjoy those first draft discovery feels.
4) It’s Not Boring
By the time you’ve worked your way through the third draft, you know every single detail of your book. All the plot twists, all the character interactions, everything. When you’re writing the first draft, all of that is a surprise. It comes out of nowhere and isn’t boring. While each subsequent draft will rob you of that thrill, the first draft won’t, so remember to make the most of it whenever you start a new manuscript.
5) You’re Free Of The Rules
While editing is easier when you’ve followed the basic writing rules, if making sure every comma is correct or varying your dialogue tags is slowing you down, give them some leeway in the first draft. If you want to mention a detail in chapter three and then again in chapter five because it came up organically, go for it! You can work out where it fits better in another draft, along with fixing your placeholder of “thingy” with the right word. Use the first draft to write freely and worry about the rules later.
6) It Gives You A Reason To Celebrate
The final thing you should love about a first draft is that it’s the chance to celebrate. It’s the skeleton of your flesh and blood finished story, one that can’t hold up without those bones. The fact you started a first draft means you finally committed to getting the story out of your head. Not all writers do that. And not all writers finish that first draft. Celebrate that milestone and be proud of what you’ve achieved, even if it is bad and rule-less when you’re done.
The first draft might be something you end up hating. It might be something that breaks you, buries you in self-doubt, and delivers the sting of rejection. It might also be the start of something great. It can confirm you’re capable of crafting a story. It might lead to book deals and fame and fortune, or (realistically) to something you can be proud of. Something that will one day sit on a shelf alongside your favorite books, whether a publisher made it happen, or you did through self-publishing. None of that is possible without that first draft, though, and that should be the ultimate reason why you love it.
— K.M. Allan