A Closer Look: Editing and the First Draft

Deletion warning

From my list of Thirty Ways to Avoid Writing the First Draft:

22. Edit the first paragraph of the first chapter until it is perfect.

When it comes to writing the first draft of anything -- it a letter to Grandma, a blog post, or a novel -- it is important not to spend your time going back over a sentence that you've just written to ensure its perfectness.

I've have talked to a great many people well-versed in this subject manner, read a plethora of books on the craft, and even experienced it myself. The first step to getting anything written is to write it.

Let me repeat: Write. It. All of it.

 Don't pause to think of a fifty-cent word or a better opener. Don't stop to move paragraphs around.  Don't back up because you have a comma splice.* Trust me, it can wait.

When the creative spark is ignited, it is best to push on forward and type/write as quickly as possible. Get everything out and worry about organization later. That is why you write in drafts --emphasis on the plural. It is rare the writer that writes everything in the first sitting and has no need for edits or corrections. It's so rare, in fact, I would guesstimate that those who think they are one-hit-wonders, so to speak, are easily spotted in the crowd.

I struggle with my boys and their  school writing because multiple drafts are not taught in school. It's brainstorm, rough draft, final draft, and hand in. There is a good reason for this method, but that's a topic for another day.

Let me give you an example of writing it all out:
Recently, I saw an opening for a short story contest. Long story short, I decided to enter as the maximum word count is 600 words. I am now working on the fifth draft.

Not that I am a great writer by any stretch of the imagination, but regardless of a word count, there are certain things that have to be hit. Had I wrote out the first draft, cut the original 1,404 words to 600; checked for and corrected the grammar; and then turned it in, I would have lost the contest before I'd even been judged.

I know what you are thinking: Why didn't she just stop at 600 words or Why didn't she just start cutting when the word count got close? 

I had an idea for the story. Once I started writing, I let the words fall where they may. I had to make sure the main elements-- problem, conflict, climax,  and resolution-- were met without limiting myself early on or losing momentum. Yes, it was very hard to cut over half of the story, but made for a much stronger story and I love it even more than I did at the end of the first draft.

The most important take-away is getting to the end of the first draft. You'll never reach the end if you spend all your time on the first paragraph of the first chapter. No matter how fabulous or revolutionary it may be. Your readers are waiting.

*Just remember to get that splice later because, yikes. You don't want Captain Grammar Pants knocking on your door.


Sara Vaz said...

I cannot second this thought more! My book has changed it's "format" three times since I started writing it, because I have followed the rule that you write until you are out of thoughts. 
Although this process has annoyed my editor to the point of her threatening to fire me, she did tell me she is very happy with the end result. Drafts are key!!

Karen Aldridge said...

I just blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. I agree completely. Write the first draft fast and write it furious. If you bog yourself down in analyzing and editing as you write, you're likely to never finish. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird - one of the best writing books of all time - says to give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft (sorry for the language, but that IS what she says - she has a whole chapter dedicated to shitty first drafts). I always remember that when I'm writing a first draft.

Lori Helms said...

I always over-edit!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...