The First Draft–Not The Last Draft

“The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material.” –Jennifer Egan

Frankly, we all know our first draft is a disaster. No argument there, but it really is where the ‘magic’ begins. The ideas flow to the page (and grammar just gets tossed out the window) and it becomes the first part of many stressful moments where you end up in the corner, fantasizing about how the story pans out rather than finishing it—after all its amazing to see the story play out, but reading your first draft is like being punched in the mouth. You question your ability to write, but not create because you know, ‘its just the first draft’, and many may follow. Every so often, we receive submissions from writers whose work never left the first draft—it’s often messy, filled with errors and only partial meanings keeping it intact. In their mind, its an amazing piece of work, but without the edits, what they are trying to convey is lost in translation. If the magazine sees potential, we will ask for a revision, something many publications won’t waste their time on—and yes, we understand why and sometimes face the reason: Some writers refuse to revise or edit their work. We have had a few who have, and of those, we’ve published, but all too often we get an email saying:

I DON’T REVISE.

What that means to an editor:

YOU DON’T WANT TO BE PUBLISHED

YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOUR PIECE NEEDS SERIOUS WORK

YOU HAVE MISSED AN IMPORTANT STEP IN THE WRITING PROCESS

I used to be the ‘one & done’ writer—never felt my work needed a second glance or real analysis. I was perfect, running around in a circle with a bag over my head. If you’re writing for you or simply to release some creative energy, then fine—but if you plan to release that work to the world, be aware that not everyone shares your disdain for editing. Trust me, I hate editing my own work, but love editing others. I tend to over edit and prolong work from hitting the finish line. It’s a writing sickness I hear.

What turned my thinking around was this simple thought:

No writer every just sat down and wrote a best seller by not editing—and if they did, clearly they have supernatural abilities and I must steal these powers for my own use (okay, maybe not the last part).

QUICK TIPS FOR THE DRAFT

  • Eliminate all distractions and find your writing comfort zone
  • After wonderful weeks long sessions of writing your heart out, re-read the work and start building an outline—just know the outline is just that, not the official blueprint of your novel. Change the outline as the ideas change
  • If you don’t feel like writing, focus on research—but also don’t get overwhelmed by the research and choose to do that more than you write. Find your flow and stick with it
  • Have your conflicts down pat—there’s nothing worse than having a well written story with no conflict for the protagonist to face
  • Once finished, leave it alone and let it marinade
  • READ YOUR DAMN WORK OUT LOUD IN FRONT OF PEOPLE—you’ll be surprised at all the errors and issues you will discover when you read out loud

Conclusion

The first draft is like the first kiss of a long and romantic (and anxiety stricken) relationship—its sweet, inspiring and you fantasize about it. In order to maintain this relationship, it takes work so think of it this way—do you want to pour your heart out on a page, just to demean the work by not refining it? If you have all the time in the world, go for it—but don’t expect anyone to want to read it.

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