Monday, April 11, 2016

First Drafts Are Almost Always Bad

Writers have a picture in their heads on how their story is going to look, but it doesn't always come out that way. Sometimes...maybe most of the time, it doesn't look like that for awhile. Maybe a long while. The first draft probably doesn't look like it belongs in the same room.

And that's ok.

I recently gave a talk about writing to a group of teens and tweens during which I encouraged them to write their stories, and finish their stories, even if they are very, very bad. Almost every first draft is bad, I said. Even Rick Riordan writes bad first drafts (my apologies to Rick Riordan for using him as an example. I have no idea of his writing process. I am just guessing and knew there were some fans of his in the crowd).

The first draft only needs to exist. It doesn't have to be anything but a complete story with a beginning, middle and an end. Everything else can be fixed.

I wondered if this was good advice, and what I heard from my writing cohorts is that is something they learned later in their writing life, and the realization that what you produce does not have to be good can be life changing. It allows the freedom to write badly. You can fix it later, make the prose shine, work on the elements of your story, but you can't revise a blank page.

It seems writing badly is part of the process. Even the best of the planners, the ones with outlines of every chapter, probably have a lot to work on once the work is complete. Writing a novel is a journey, and things come up, sometimes for the better, sometimes down a rambling path of who knows what. 

I had to take a dose of my own advice recently, as I am currently writing a first draft and I am in the unfortunate position where this is all I have to bring to my critique group. Accepting your own limitations to write a terrible first draft is one thing, it is terrifying to bring pieces of this pile to be critiqued. My critique partners are knowledgeable, honest and kind, and I know their notes will help a ton during revisions, which is another big process that seems to have no definitive guide.