Why You Should Love/Hate Your First Draft

Is there nothing as simultaneously thrilling and horrifying as finishing the first draft of your story? Unless you’re a stuntman, probably not. Depending on what kind of writer you are, you tend to lean towards one or the other: excitement or trepidation. No matter what side you fall on, don’t worry; there will be some reason for you to love or hate your first draft, and always a way to use this to your advantage.

First drafts are not pretty. They are not done. Many writers go by the “Three Draft” rule, saying that a book or short story is not “done” until you have revised it three times. In some cases, I think this holds up pretty well, although don’t be discouraged if you have a “Five Draft” manuscript. It happens. The most important thing to remember is:

You can improve it, no matter what.

Let’s face it—your first draft is not going to be a work of genius. A fresh look, an outsider’s opinion, a new technique, goes a long way in polishing things up. Look at F. Scott Fitzgerald; his first draft of The Great Gatsby, titled Trimalchio, had to undergo a few years’ worth of revisions to get up to snuff for Scribner. When you put Trimalchio and The Great Gatsby side by side, you can see just how much he worked to improve the plot and the character arcs, adding more substance (and yes, a thicker spine) to this American classic.

(Who else is super excited about the movie coming out soon, by the way?)

So, when you finish your first draft, there are some things you can think right away that can influence your later revisions. These trains of thought fall into two categories: narcissistic and masochistic.

“I love it! It’s perfect!”

– No it’s not. Look at all those grammatical/spelling errors. How can you submit this as is? The editor will run out of red ink.

– Character B is completely flat; I can’t connect to him/her. There has to be some way for Character B to tie better into the plot.

– This plot point goes absolutely nowhere/There is no satisfying conclusion to this.

– You did not do your research. This is not believable, not even in fantasy.

“This sucks. I hate it. It’s the worst thing ever written.”

– There is no “worst thing ever written” except for in the eye of the beholder. This is an original story penned by you; you are a unique individual, the only one who could have written this particular story.

– Your characters are believable and relatable; they are an interesting cast that draws the sympathy of the reader.

– Even if you didn’t wrap everything up, these plot points are very intriguing and deserve to be developed more.

– The beginning might be slow, or the ending might be abrupt, but somewhere in this manuscript is a golden core worthy of being fully uncovered. Spit polish that sucker and get it to shine.

Even though you may regard your first draft with love or hatred, one thing is the same: you can improve it, you can make it stronger, and you owe it to yourself and your muse to do just that. Do not get complacent, do not get bogged down with doubt. Just write, revise, write some more, and revise again. That’s the job. That’s what you’re meant to do. So do it.

What side do you tend to fall on when completing something? How do you get yourself to that revision stage?

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