Monday, 5 September 2011

First Draft / Final Draft: Two Very Different Beasts

It doesn’t matter whether you write articles, short stories, fillers, novels, non-fiction books or even blog postings … the first draft is exactly that … the first draft. It could be the first of two drafts, or the first of two hundred, but beginner writers need to understand that the first draft is never the final draft.

Many new writers don’t always appreciate this. The sheer euphoria at completing a first draft often has beginners reaching for an envelope and some stamps, or for a new email message, in order to send off their newly created piece of work. But this is not the right time. Writers are commonly told that the editing process is vital and that great writing isn’t written, but re-written.

Learning to accept that the first words you write won’t necessarily appear in your final draft offers many benefits:

1.     It frees up your writing. Many of us were taught at school to write properly. (Some weren’t, but that’s another blog posting!) Sometimes though, this instils in us the desire to get our words right from the start. It’s as though we were taught to get one sentence right, before we began writing the next. This kills creativity. It kills the writer’s early voice. Accept that the first draft is never the last and therefore you can be free to write what you want to write. Ignore grammar. Ignore punctuation. Get your thoughts down on paper, whilst you remember them! You can get the grammar and punctuation sorted later!
2.     Pooh-pooh Perfection. In the same way that a first draft allows you to forget grammar, punctuation, and even spelling, don’t get hung up on finding the right word. At this stage, any word will do. Sometimes we think that a multi-syllable word shows off our writing prowess, but coming up with that right multi-syllable word isn’t easy. So, don’t worry about it. Instead, opt for a simple word. Often, this simple word turns out to be the better word in the end, anyway.
3.     Ignore the logical left. It’s the left-side of our brains that deal with the details of life, and for writers this means the editing process. First draft creation is not the time or the place for left-brain interference. Let the thoughts and ideas flow from your right-brain. Nine of those thoughts may be completely naff, but if your brain needs to dump them on paper first, before producing the amazing tenth idea, then you need to get those first nine ideas written first!
4.     Ignore word lengths. The first draft is not the place to worry about word length. Just write. It doesn’t matter that you need to write a 1,000-word article or short story and your first draft is 3,000-words. It’s not your first draft that you’ll be sending off, is it? Once your first draft is complete, then you can let your logical left-brain jump into action and start culling.

Once a writer understands that a first draft is exactly that – a group of words that others will not see – it can free your brain from the restrictions of punctuation, grammar and perfection. And once you understand that you can throw perfection out of the window for the time being, you might surprise yourself at what you write in the first place.

Good luck. 


  1. I often turn off the spell checker so that I don't get distracted when I'm in full (but slow) flow. And if I can't think of the right word, xxxxx does the trick - then later it's obvious where I need to focus.

  2. Simon - I so agree that many new writers don't appreciate the difference between a first draft and a fifth or sixth draft! Even the keen - and good - writers in my classes seem to consider their piece 'finished' after they've tinkered with just a few words! It's quite a battle (and one I usually lose!) to get them to revise their way of thinking! Never mind, I won't give up!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this post. I have been putting off writing because of the reasons you listed. No excuses anymore... I'll have to get busy and put some words together.

  4. Yes, I think turning off the spellchecker is a good idea - not only will it not distract you, but you won't always rely on it either. Far better to check something in a dictionary.

    Another thought crosses my mind - perhaps TIME is a great editor, or rather the passing of time that allows us to consider each draft without bias.

    And yes, Callie, stop making excuses and do some writing. Any writing! It's only the first draft when you start. Good luck!

  5. Love this blog - how do I get an RSS feed to it? I don't see a feed button?

  6. Hi thebooklovers guide.

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  7. Thank you for this post Simon. It has been really helpful. Just started my W.B course and had the 'Lets get it right first time' syndrome stepping in. It was causing me problems and to be honest, it was beginning to get me down. Now I know I should just let my instinct take over and Write and forget about the editing until later. Great tip about spell checker too. From now on this will be turned off to lessen the distraction. Thank you.