NaNo WriMo starts today! With that in mind, I’ve prepared this post to wish us all well as we start our journey and remind ourselves of the purpose of The First Draft.
The following are 3 myths which we might consciously or unconsciously believe.
Myth 1 – My First Words Must Be Gold, Otherwise I Can’t Start
“I’ve read that the first page of your manuscript is the most important. It’s what hooks the reader. So I have to make the first lines the best.”
That’s very true, but not on your first draft. Your first words will very rarely be gold. More than likely they’ll be green sludge. But that’s not the point. The point is that you put words onto the page.
Editing is a marvellous thing, a process which discovers the gold in your manuscript. But it only works if the manuscript actually exists.
Don’t wait for the gold. Just Start.
Myth 2 – My First Draft Will Be Perfect
“I’ve got a great idea and some really good characters. I’m pretty well set. All I have to do is get it down on paper and I’ll have something to send out to publishers!”
Let’s not beat about the bush here – 99% of first drafts stink. They’re rough, badly spelled, just about impossible to follow and riddled with continuity errors. And this is exactly how they’re supposed to be!
First drafts are there for us to begin getting the idea down on paper. It’s the first time they properly see the light of day – like the little green shoot peeking out of the ground at the beginning of spring. Most first drafts glisten with potential, but there’s far more work ahead before they’re polished enough to submit.
Therefore they must not be perfect. I don’t just mean ‘they are not perfect,’ I mean ‘they must not be perfect.’ First drafts are your chance to play, explore and gallivant off into territories you’re not prepared for. The messier your first draft the better!
Sometimes you will read back over a 150 page first draft and find one page which tells you what the story is. Then you throw the rest of it out and start afresh with that one page. This is not a waste – it’s a process. Those 150 pages were absolutely worth it because they gave you that one page.
So, when writing your first draft, don’t go back and perfect every sentence, correct every spelling error and rewrite your opening paragraph 12 times till you’re happy. Write with abandon. If you’re writing on paper, then scribble, scratch out, write in the margins, doodle – make it a delightful mess. If you’re typing your manuscript, then type in caps, write scenes as you think of them without worrying about the order, write notes as you go instead of scrolling back up to change it now. Work on creating a happy flow which keeps you moving forward – because momentum is the most important thing.
Don’t let your messy drafts make you feel inferior to ‘published writers.’ Many published writers work on this principle. Don’t believe me? Listen to this interview with Andrea Levy, where she speaks about her first drafts as ‘the meandering of an idiot’s mind’ (29:30 minutes in). She goes to her local library and writes the first things that come into her mind “and they’re bad. The first things I write down…oh no…they’re not good.”
This post from Ann Aguirre over at Writer Unboxed also shows that it’s perfectly okay, in fact preferable, to have a messy first draft. She speaks about how each novel comes differently, some chapter by chapter and others completely out of order.
If the process good enough for them, it’s absolutely good enough for you!
And in case you needed one more reason, in this guest post by Martha Alderson over at Through the Wardrobe, she says:
As a matter of fact, the worse the first draft, the better. Trying for perfection before you know what you are trying to convey commonly leads to procrastination.
Myth 3 – I Must Have My Audience In Mind
“I’ve got to think about the people who will be reading this manuscript and make sure the story appeals to them.”
If you remember nothing else from this blog post, remember this: The first draft is for you.
Your story’s eventual readers will be reading the 4th, 9th perhaps 33rd draft of this story. Virtually no one will read your first draft. It’s for you.
It’s for you to discover your voice, your characters, the plot, unexpected scenes, special moments – to discover your unique story. It’s the opportunity for you to bond with this creation, to form the emotional ties and depths of understanding which will carry you through the following months or years of bringing it to completion.
Don’t let other people get in your way. Shield it if you have to – don’t tell others what you’re writing and don’t let them read it if you feel their comments will break your momentum. This is your creation and your special time with it.
Later on you will consider your audience and the hook on your first page and polish the work to perfection. For now, this draft is a first draft and it’s just for you.
So go write! Start now!
P.S. For those of you who haven’t plotted your novel, here is some great advice from Martha Alderson (mentioned above) about how to plot your story by scheduling it into the four weeks of NaNo WriMo.
P.P.S. Thank you to everyone who took the time to declare their novel. If you haven’t been following the comments, take a minute to pop back past the post and give feedback to our intrepid writers.
November 1, 2011 at 8:19 am
First words are the toughest.
I certainly have first-worditis. Unless I get a reasonably good first line going, the rest just doesn’t get into gear. It’s like I’m searching for the right key to unlock the door.
Good advice. Thanks.
November 1, 2011 at 10:03 am
I also have trouble with the first words. What you say is very true, they do feel like the key which unlocks the story.
But some days I don’t have the first words, so I just have to pretend I’ve written them and move on to the next words. (Some days that works, other days…)
November 1, 2011 at 9:22 am
So happy to see you make mention of Martha Alderson. I’ve been reading her newest book, “The Plot Whisperer”. It is GOLD for writers!!
November 1, 2011 at 10:05 am
I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but I’m looking forward to it!
Do you know about her youtube videos? She has a phenomenal amount of information up there!
November 5, 2011 at 5:03 am
Yes – that’s what got me hooked! Since I’m not doing Nano this year I’ve decided to take the month of November and plot out my story using Martha’s system. The added structure will be a big help I think in moving through my revisions from last year’s Nano draft… I still have such fond memories of Nano. Good luck to you this year!
November 5, 2011 at 11:25 am
What a great way to spend November. Let us know how it goes!
November 1, 2011 at 9:51 am
Great post. thanks for the reality check! Starting new job tomorrow, and my third attempt at NaNoWriMo! Third times the charm. :>)
November 1, 2011 at 10:07 am
A new job. How exciting!
Great to hear you’re taking on NaNo WriMo for a third time. The more the merrier!
November 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm
Jessica. THIS is gold for me, I have been writing and writing and struggling along, thinking .. that makes no sense, I already said that, no-one will understand this.. too much shorthand, but you have written out-loud what i needed to know, the First Draft is for ME. IT is a first draft! Thank you so so much reminding me of that.. c
November 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm
You’re very welcome. It’s something I have to remind myself of every day!
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