First Drafts Suck

September 29, 2009 at 5:39 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

First drafts suck.

Not only do they suck to write, they also tend to suck.

This was once all I saw. As a first-time novelist, I plodded through my first draft with bitter resentment and with no hope. I swallowed that ethereal phrase: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

After months of much angst, I essentially finished my first draft.

At that point, I stalled, feeling more resentment than ever towards what lied ahead: rewriting. Yes, my first draft was so sucktastic that I knew it required a total overhaul.

I am now four chapters into that total rewrite. And though the going is slow, I have never felt such bliss.

Despite the fact that I am rewriting every single word, save a few scraps of dialogue, it might be the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s coming out fast and good, and it’s one of easiest writing-related things I’ve ever done.

Why? What’s the magic ingredient?

The magic ingredient is this: one big helping of having the words there already.

That doesn’t make sense, you might think. I just said I’m rewriting every word.

But the big difference is that a first draft is like a foundation. Every word must be dragged and provoked out of your head. If you’re a pantser – that is, you write without outlining – you must actually come up with a plot right then and there. Besides storyline, every trivial, yet somehow important question must be answered. What exactly does Character A say after Character B snubs her? Does Character C stand or sit down during this scene? What’s the scenery like?

After the foundation is put down – however terrible, however simplistic, however cheesy – you are free. That’s the one word I can think of to describe it: free. You are all about making things flow. The level of work has reduced dramatically and you are all about rephrasing, about mixing up your sentence structures. You are all about giving Character A an even snappier response to that snub, about making Character C get up and pace around because you realize now, with the perspective of a finished draft, that that’s what he’d do. Things begin to flow, and you see your work beginning to reach its true potential.

And remember way back when you absolutely could not think of the right metaphor to describe those falling autumn leaves? It comes easily to you know, or it will soon, because the stress of needing to think of it NOW, while you’re writing it, is gone.

So, my lovely writers, remember these words:

  • Don’t get it right, get it written.
  • You can’t edit a blank page.
  • And DO NOT be scared of rewriting.

Thank you.

~ Emilia


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  1. Thank you.

    That’s exactly what i needed.

  2. *applause* Go Emilia! =D

    As someone who is currently in the depths of re-writing, I couldn’t agree more!

  3. **stunned applause**
    I don’t think I’d ever have it in me to do a total re haul. When I write, I’m more often than not recounting a scene that has already played out once or more in my heard. That means I wrote what I did, because that was what I saw. I might go through it again and try to rework it to make it better, but I doubt I could ever see something else, as it were.

    • Well, yeah. My definition of rewrite is basically taking the whole scene and writing it… again. Making it better. Not necessarily changing what happens, but how it happens. Rewriting sentences and stuff. =]

      • That I can better understand, as I too have occasionally scrapped whole paragraphs or turned black and white pages blue. Still, the thought intimidates me anyway. Hats off to you for your efforts. :D

    • That is what I am doing with Love Square. I did keep some things, but not everything, but still those things were tweaked/edited to some extent. As soon as I have gone through all of the rewrites, I can finally move on to write and actually finish it! Sooo excited!

      Good post, too! <3

  4. Wicked post Emilia. Great advice- must actually finish my WIP.

  5. I’m a little envious – I wish I could borrow your enthusiasm for rewrites. I’m making drastic changes to my novel, and the novel is much better for it, but I’m finding the process difficult and scary.

  6. “You can’t edit a blank page.” Man, that is dead on. Thanks for this–I needed it. :)

  7. So true!!! Awesome post, Emilia!

  8. I asbolutely needed this. After running through about 30k of my novel in three, I hit a rut and stopped moving forward for a week. I’ve been making slow progress today, but I hope to get this novel done before I lose all interest. I feel like I should know this by now, but reading this again has affirmed that I can’t doddle in the First Draft limbo forever.

  9. Also, Emilia – you rock my socks. And so does Riley. And Cameron.

  10. I’m going to try and remember these words of advice during NaNoWriMo.

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