Writing Tip of the Week: Writing a Fearless First Draft

The ominous blank page.  Whether it’s a blank page flashing a taunting cursor from a screen, or a lined notebook daring you to fill its pages with ink, it can sometimes be challenging to get your brain and body moving in the same creative direction.

Every day, we see films, novels, and TV shows that move and amaze us.  But what we don’t see are the hundreds of hours of hard work, gallons of coffee or energy drinks, and the multitude of drafts that went into making what you’re watching or reading available for mass consumption.

The drive for perfection of the first try can be a detriment to creativity.  We demand perfection from ourselves, it doesn’t happen off the bat, so we beat ourselves up and walk away.  But nothing we see or read is the first draft.  Nothing we see or read didn’t start as something worthy of the recycle bin.  

Everyone’s first draft sucks.

And that’s okay.  If we were given insight into the early drafts of any best-seller or Oscar-winning film, we would be surprised to see that what is considered the standard of great writing starts off as mediocre at best…and unsalvageable at the very least.

I say this to tell you that writing the first draft of anything need not be a perilous and disastrous endeavor.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  First drafts are supposed to be bad. That’s why they’re called first/rough drafts.

So, let’s talk about them.

For Your Eyes Only

First a foremost, this draft is for you.  No one else.  Not your significant other.  Not your Beta reader.  Not your favorite child or pet.  You are the sole audience for this version of your story, and that’s that.

This is a place where you can openly write ideas, dialogue, description, and more that might be pushing limits or boundaries.  This is the place to test out ideas and story threads to see where they go.  This is the place to have fun with what you’re writing.  You are the Creator in this world; what you decide to do is what happens.

This draft should be unfiltered, unedited, and uninhibited.  While you’ll want to have a basic road map guiding where the story is headed, don’t let that stop you from shifting your imagination and creativity into overdrive in this draft.

You can always change it later.  The important thing here is to get everything down and out of your head so it can be fixed in subsequent drafts, because whatever you do…

Don’t Look Back!

You finished a chapter last night and woke up this morning with a new idea to change what you wrote.  Great.  That means your creativity is doing its job, but don’t return to that chapter and attempt to edit it.  Why not write a new version of the chapter with the new material instead?  

Writing a first draft is about momentum, the momentum to get from the beginning to the end without the pitfalls and hazards or going back and editing and revising. You’ll have plenty of time for that later.  Plus, what if you erase what you had and then realize later there was some dialogue you deleted that would’ve worked great in the revised version?  Now it’s gone.  

Keep it all in the first version and do that heavy lifting later.

Write the Fun Stuff First

We all have our favorite things to write.  It could be action sequences, romantic scenes, or comedy moments that really help drive the story and are fun for you to write.  These moments are likely the big payoff to a long buildup, so writing them can be an enjoyable experience.

However, we shouldn’t deny ourselves the opportunity to write these when we want to.  Write them when you feel like writing them.  When it comes to drafting, you always have the power to rearrange and change where chapters or scenes are located in the story’s world.  If you want to write the big finale first, do it.  Have a romantic scene that you’re itching to write?  Write it.  

While there may be traditional story structures needed when you put the story out there for the world, in the drafting phase, you can write what you want, when you want.  And no one can stop you.

The Creative Brain on Auto-Pilot

Sometimes your characters will begin to dictate what they want to do, what they want to say, and where they want to go. Don’t fight this feeling; let them take you there.  Often your subconscious knows what’s best for your story and can take you places you didn’t initially think of.  

This isn’t some weird phenomenon; it does happen.  And if it does, let your characters take the wheel.  Remember, if they steer the story down a wrong path, you can fix it later.  If they show you something fresh and new about your story or characters, it can be a great win for you and your story. 

Getting here requires you to tell that evil, no good, despicable part of your brain to shut up and go on vacation.  And that part is…

The Evil Voice of Doubt and Negativity

This horrible creature likes to loom around your creativity, giving making you unsure of what you’re writing, how you’re writing it, and if you should even be writing.

I sure hate this creature!

There are 24 hours in a day.  Give this monster a few hours off as your write and keep them locked out as you work on your draft.  This is all for you, not anyone else, so this evil creature is wasting your time by creeping into your head as you charge forward.  Even if the monster makes a good point about a scene or chapter, make a note or rewrite the chapter, but keep going.

Creativity is a big enough challenge at times without this specter of negativity floating about.

When You Feel Blocked…

Writer’s block does happen, but it’s how you handle it that makes the difference.  I would suggest when you do hit a wall moving on to another part of the story or work on another project to keep the creativity flowing.

It’s very tempting – and I’ve done this – to close the laptop, lay on the couch, and watch TV instead of writing.  While this is a quick fix, it doesn’t get you to your goal of finishing your draft and moving on to the next project.  

Do your best to stay focused and stay on track.  You may falter, but don’t let the block prevent you from writing for too long.

Have Fun!

As I said before, this draft is your time to play. It’s your time to test out ideas, see how they work or don’t work, and see if your characters take you anywhere new.

If you are bored with your story, have lost interest, or are dreading writing this draft, then there may be something wrong with your story, not you.  What is the reason you aren’t excited to write?  What aspect of the story is holding you back?

Unless you are writing this draft as part of an assignment, reevaluate your story and see where the issues are.  Maybe you are challenging yourself to write in an unfamiliar genre, or you don’t like the main character.  Whatever it is, make the changes you need to make the process enjoyable.

Writing is a journey. It’s a process. It’s a challenge.  And it’s something that can become addictive in a positive way.  As you begin to write your first/rough draft, remember that Stephen King, Jordan Peele, Grady Hendrix, and Maya Angelou all had to start with an idea, a blank page, and a first draft.

You can only get better once you have the first version out of your head and out on the page.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Maya Angelou

A powerful and iconic voice in American literature and poetry, Maya Angelou’s life and her works have mesmerized and empowered generations of people worldwide. Her resonant poems and her series of autobiographical works give us insight into who Angelou is. Her struggles and how she overcame adversity and racism to become the strong African-American woman she’s known as today continue to empower those who learn about her.

Most people have heard of her first autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Others are familiar with her powerful poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she read at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Angelou has authored eight autobiographical books, fifteen books of poetry, two cookbooks, seven children’s books, several personal essays, and numerous writing credits in film, TV, and theatre.  

Sadly, Maya Angelou passed away in 2014. Still, her legacy as a writer, poet, and speaker continues to impact and influence the lives of those who encounter her works and her words. Her voice is forever a part of American literature.

Learn more about Maya Angelou HERE.

Below are several interviews with Angelou over the years discussing her works, her life, her activism, and her writing.

Enjoy!

Check back next week for another great author!