You came up with a great idea. A killer idea! You made some notes in your phone, or your current favorite writing notebook, on post-its, old envelopes, or even on your laptop. You pictured scenes while listening to awesome songs.You can imagine the movie version so clearly! (that guy from Teen Wolf would crush the lead role, right?)
There’s just one teeny, tiny technicality: you have to actually write the damn thing.
Which is where the beautiful, messy pain of first drafts comes in.
Whether you’ve put together an outline, like we talked about before (which makes the draft your second step), or whether you’re an organic-style improviser and this is your first time putting words on a page for your story, you still need to get your raw material together. Outline or not, roadmap or not, you still need to start this journey and tackle a first draft.
And oh, that first draft is a complex beast for us writers. On the one hand, it’s truly amazing: you can write ANYTHING YOU WANT. You’re free flowing, improvising, letting those gorgeous ideas flow right from the muse and onto your page. You can write [make this better] and [funny line here] and [science this later], and that’s okay! You can write alternate versions of the same scene, or of the same line of dialogue. You can write out of sequence. You can write whatever you want.
The key thing is, you’re WRITING. You’re getting your story down. Even more than that, you’re putting the heart and soul of your story on the page (the body and brain of it will show up later… right now you’re dealing with the essence of your story).
This is where we turn to that pesky other hand.
It’s probably not very good.
There. We said it. #SorryNotSorry
Your dialogue probably won’t be diamond-sharp or leaping off the page with fresh, vivid originality. Your scenes likely won’t start or end the way you want them to. Your characters might not do the things you need them to do. There will be lots of those comments like [make this better]. Everything will be really, really messy. Mind-bogglingly messy. At the exact midpoint of cleaning out your closets messy, when apparently everything you own is scattered all around you and NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE. It’s like you’re building a house, and this is the stage where it looks like you’re actually destroying one instead. Basically, it will feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
But here’s the thing. It’s all okay. Why, you ask? How could all that possibly be okay?!
Because that first draft is actually PERFECT.
Yep. It’s perfect, because it contains everything you need to make a wonderful, amazing story. All your jumping off points are there. Your characters are there. The things they need to say are there, in one form or another. And, most importantly, the solutions to pretty much all your narrative problems are going to be there too. You just might not realize it. This is why it’s so important to NEVER EVER EVER CENSOR yourself when writing a first draft. LIKE, EVER. If it comes into your mind, put it on the page.
Everything you write is a clue or a seed or a possibility. You might find, when you’re editing your big finale, that you need a thing, or a character, or a piece of information. The great news is, whatever that thing is that you need, it’s probably lurking somewhere earlier in that first draft. Because first drafts are perfect, gorgeous things.
No story can exist without a first draft. Having an ungainly, unwieldy mess of a document is an incredible thing, because it means your story is now on the road. It didn’t even have wheels before and now it’s rolling down the writing highway. It still needs a few other things (by few we mean like, thousands), but it’s on the move, and you can see that signpost up ahead that says Editsville is the next stop). As Shannon Hale said, writing a first draft is like shoveling sand into a box so that you can build castles later. You can’t build a sandcastle without the sand, people. The first draft gives you all the raw material you need. And it’s exhilarating.
But trust us… it’s not as exhilarating as the next phase: editing. This is where your story’s soul will be crafted, finessed and sculpted into something cleaner, shinier… gleamier? The soul will not change. You cannot break your story and you cannot break its soul. Editing will take it to a higher plane of existence, man.
But we’ll talk about that next time. For now, luxuriate in knowing that you managed to put an entire version of your story on the page.