Why Your First Draft Should Be As Quick As Possible

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Self Esteem by the Offspring)

This is just a short tip, as I’m moving through my second draft of my “part 1” of my novel.

It actually started with an idea I heard from the James Patterson MasterClass. He was talking about outlining, but he told viewers to make as many drafts of an outline as needed – as if it was an actual book and not just an outline. He said that when you consider all possibilities and work through all kinks in the outline stage, it makes your draft 1 that much better.

Now, not all of us are writing gods. Some of us can’t see what the problems will be with the story until after we’ve written the first draft. But I’ve come up against a problem time and time again that prevents me from doing my best work on the second draft.

I love my first draft too much.

You’ve probably heard the advice “Kill your darlings” – meaning if you absolutely love it but it doesn’t contribute to what you need to accomplish with the scene, get rid of it. I don’t entirely prescribe to that philosophy, but there have definitely been times in all my stories where I’ve needed to cut something out and I’ve been unwilling or unable to because I spent so much time on it.

So here’s what I’m thinking. If you move through the first draft as quickly as possible, just getting the barest idea of each scene out on paper, you won’t be as invested in it, and you can make cuts more easily in the second draft.

But let me backtrack a second. When I say “barest idea of each scene”, I don’t mean like a synopsis. I mean, if you struggle with dialogue, write as yourself for the time being instead of your characters, and give the conversation a structure without writing the actual dialogue yet. If you’re not great at descriptions, put a few filler sentences in until you can really hone in on what you’re trying to show the reader in the second draft. Write each element of the scene you think is necessary – what you’re trying to accomplish per your outline and the questions you develop for yourself – and answer those as quickly as possible.

I’m likening it to a drawing – people usually start with the vague outline of the scene before they start filling it in, and most major changes to the scene occur sometime between that first draft and the filling-in.

And, most wonderfully of all, that means you won’t be too enamored with your own writing to cut out things that obviously need to be cut.

So blast through that first draft (it’ll also give you momentum to get all the way through the project) and only after you have it all down should you take a look at the work as a whole and start cutting mercilessly.

That’s it! Short and sweet (not like me).

Yours, somewhere between tired and disgruntled,

-R.R. Buck


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