Asking Yourself These 5 Question Can Help You Write Better First Drafts
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When I speak of writing amazing first drafts, I don’t mean to imply that you’ll ever write a first draft that isn’t in need of revision. That’s not at all how they’re meant to work.
You see, first drafts are famously shitty — all of them — and they're meant to be. They're called rough drafts for a reason after all. That's why I like to think of writing first drafts as a mining process. I dig deep into the dark caverns of my mind to dredge up the gems of a story that will later be cleaned, cut, refined, and set into something truly beautiful.
So what qualifies a first draft as amazing if you are, in actuality, getting your hands dirty as you write? And what in the world do you need to ask yourself if you want to write amazing first drafts of your own? Let's dig into today's article, writer!
Discovering your unique drafting process…
When it comes to writing first drafts, all writers should strive to get the bare bones of a good story out of their head and down onto paper (or onto the computer screen — you catch my drift). But here’s the thing: there is no right way to draft a novel.
Every writer has a unique creative process, and so each of us approaches our work in different ways. The tips, tricks, and techniques that work well for one writer simply aren’t guaranteed to do the same for another, and that’s okay.
To write amazing first drafts, we must work to find the creative process that best fits our schedules, project goals, work ethics, and artistic energies — drafting process included. It’s only when we find the drafting process that works best for each of us that we begin to write first drafts that leave us feeling creatively fulfilled and eager to tackle the next steps in our writing journeys.
But how does one go about finding the drafting process that best fits their creative needs? Admittedly, this does take a bit of time and creative exploration, but have no fear! Asking yourself the following questions can help you find your groove...
Question #1: Am I a writer or a re-writer?
Some writers enjoy drafting, while others like myself prefer re-writing and revising. Neither preference is better than the other, but knowing what parts of the writing process you most enjoy will likely shape how you choose to draft.
For example, if you’re not a fan of revising, you may want to spend extra time and energy on your first draft, perhaps even doing a bit of editing as you write so the revising process isn't so overwhelming.
Or, if you’re like me and would rather revise than write, you may want to finish the drafting process as soon as possible by utilizing fast-drafting techniques. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to tailor your drafting process to fit your writing preferences. Doing so is just smart writing!
Question #2: How much pre-writing helps me draft with confidence and excitement?
Pre-writing tasks such as outlining, mapping out character arcs, world-building, and defining theme can be a sore spot for many writers, who far prefer the creative exploration of playing with characters and scenes on the page.
Other writers, however, love how pre-writing allows them to draft with purpose and precision, both enabling them to draft more quickly and to avoid heavier revisions later in the writing process. Still others find pre-writing to be the perfect bridge between the exploration of draft one and the careful crafting of draft two.
Discovering the level of pre-writing that allows you to make the most of your drafting experience may take time, but it should prove well worth your while when you find your writing groove.
For more pre-writing guidance, check out The Pre-Write Project today!
Question #3: Do I prefer to sculpt drafts or knit them?
We’ve talked a lot about discovering process thus far in today’s breakdown, but we’re not done yet. You see, many writers treat their first drafts as a sculptor would their clay, carving out a complete figure that they’ll later go on to revise and refine.
Some writers, however, like to knit the many elements of their stories together over the course of several drafts. In most cases, writers who work this way focus on dialogue and action during drafting, adding in additional descriptions, backstories, and narrative prose once they’ve finalized their stories’ scenes.
Again, there is no right or wrong here. Whether you’re a sculptor, a knitter, or somewhere in between, what matters most is that you’re utilizing techniques that help you make the most of your unique drafting process.
Question #4: What are my goals for my first draft?
Setting specific goals for drafting can help you find focus and clarity as you write, though the goals you choose to set can vary.
Begin by asking yourself why you’d like to draft your novel. Are you looking to fall in love with writing again? Do you plan to query agents, self-publish, or upload this project to an online fiction site like Wattpad? Are you writing for the sheer joy of writing?
Whatever the case, knowing your why can help you set actionable goals that put a little healthy pressure behind your drafting process. These goals may be time-oriented, such as writing for a certain amount of time each day or working to complete your novel before a specific deadline, or you may wish to set a goal for how many words you’d like to write per drafting session.
Of course, you’re also welcome to skip goals altogether in favor of a little fun, carefree writing. If you do choose to set goals, however, make sure to do so with your unique drafting process in mind.
If you’d like more help in setting goals that will lend you focus and clarity as you write, make sure to check out the Write With Purpose workbook.
Question #5: Where do I struggle most in finishing first drafts?
If you’ve struggled to finish first drafts in the past, it’s time to address the root cause of those pesky writing issues now so that you can avoid or counteract them in the future.
For example, if you often find yourself stuck on a scene for weeks on end, you may want to try non-linear drafting or writing notes within your draft, such as “I’m stuck here. Fix later!”. Doing so can help you maintain writing momentum as you work to rock your next first draft.
Is this not your particular struggle? Here are a few other common drafting issues you may face, complete with suggestions for conquering each one:
Struggle: Do you often lose motivation or edit too much as you draft?
Solution: Give fast-drafting a try.
Struggle: Do new and exciting story ideas frequently plague your attention span?
Solution: Combat plot bunnies with these popular tips and tricks.
Struggle: Do you often struggle to draft your story’s middle act?
Solution: Learn how to avoid Sagging Middle Syndrome with a little extra pre-writing today.
Struggle: Does your protagonist’s journey seem directionless and without end?
Solution: It’s time to take a step back and discover your character’s story goal.
Struggle: Do you frequently think of “better” ways to tell your story & find yourself starting over?
Solution: Learn how to conquer the fear of finishing a first draft.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the struggles you may face as you work to complete your first draft, but if certain pesky writing snags appear often in your drafting process, don’t be afraid to tackle them head on. Divide and conquer, writer. You’ll be whipping up first drafts before you know it!
There's truly nothing better than discovering what makes your creative process tick. Pre-writing extensively, fast-drafting my rough drafts, and pouring the bulk of my energy into revising my stories has worked wonders for my current work-in-progress, but it's taken nearly five years of explorative writing to figure out what works best for me.
One thing I can say about all these years of testing out tips and techniques? The time and effort put in to finding my creative process has been nothing if not worth it. In many ways, I'm still working to refine my creative process — and creativity can evolve with time, certainly — but where I am in my writing journey now is far improved from where I stood five years ago.
I encourage you to begin exploring your own creative process as well, writer. Nothing beats finding your writing groove, especially when that means you're writing amazing first drafts that leave you feeling on top of the world.