Whether experienced or not, all authors need a first draft. Why? What is its purpose? What is a first draft? Questions the following discussion is intended to address.
Until a first draft is finished, whether it be a book manuscript; magazine article; newspaper column; social media post; etc. the author or writer has nowhere real to go. Primary emphases and energy must therefore be on getting that first draft finished.
What is a First Draft?
‘Draft’ = A preliminary version of a piece of writing. (Oxford Dictionary)
Ideas for a story or any piece of writing, commence within the authors/writers imagination/mind. That is fine and good but until the first draft is written they really do not have anything to work on. Most people appreciate unless thoughts are extracted into a more physical form they tend to circulate in a never-ending cycle that rarely reaches a resolution. The first draft:
- is where the author gets their ideas out of their head;
- encapsulates the tale’s skeletal structure;
- represents the story’s building blocks.
Until authors free their minds from these circulating considerations they are unlikely to be able to progress: the mind, no matter how high the IQ, has its limitations.
What is the purpose of a First Draft?
The first draft enables an author to:
- Organise their thoughts.
- Develop the story.
- Get to know their characters.
- Discover whether the plot works.
- Identify plot/scenario errors.
- Develop an appropriate POV (Point of View).
- Identify where the story may be going off track.
- Recognise if there are unnecessary sections (padding).
- Find their unique voice (how text and story are presented).
- Create a basis for proofreading and editing.
Almost by definition a first draft is messy, disorganised, rough. But that is its purpose. Until the author has something written they have nothing to work on. In addition, until they get the revolving thoughts out of their head there is rarely room for new ones to enter. Most will acknowledge, no matter how well they have planned their book, it is at this stage they are able to develop the story and identify problems with flow, plot, character, etc.
Writing a First Draft
The first draft is only for the author. (There is no intent for others to see it.) It is the start of the writing process. It is where the author tells themselves the story.
To write an effective first draft the author should:
- Concentrate on getting the words out without concern for anything else.
- Allow imagination to run wild.
- Not worry about quality of writing.
- Forget introduction; preface; synopsis; etc.
- Disregard research requirements. (These may be listed for future action.)
- Avoid temptation to edit or refine.
The first draft forms the basis for subsequent development, proofreading and editing.
Hinderances to completing First Drafts
Authors, and not just those new to the craft, frequently publish concerns and requests for help (in author groups and social media) with regard to the completion of their draft manuscripts. Why? What is it that concerns them? What is it that is holding them up?
- So called rules?
- So called ‘writer’s block’?
- Drained inspiration?
- Lack of ideas?
- Life demands/priorities?
- Word Count?
- Other story ideas?
These are just some ‘off the top of the head’ suggestions. Of course there are others, many unique to the individual. The list is simply designed to get reader’s thoughts going. It is not intended to enlarge upon these issues which are primarily self-explanatory.
Whatever their particular hangup, authors need to ignore and overcome such hinderances. Their aim must be to get that first draft done. Thereafter they have a unique tool for developing the manuscript into a valid, quality, acceptable book.
Without a first draft most authors will be stuck. Leaving thoughts and ideas to circulate indefinitely within their minds will result in a blockage and prevent them from being able to develop the story or idea. This applies to all books: fictional and non-fictional.
All concerns for quality, style, format, etc. should be put aside until the first draft has been completed. It is the first draft that will subsequently provide the basis for development and enhancement.
First drafts are valuable and should never be overlooked.