Every writer has a part of the writing process they love most. For some, they love going back to their manuscript and fixing and polishing, so they love to edit. For others, they live for the brainstorming and information gathering that is a pre-write. For many, including me, first drafts are the most desirable stage of writing.
Let’s talk for a moment about the first draft. What exactly is it? Obviously, it’s the first time you write your story down on paper. But there are a few other definitions and ideas floating around that are also useful. My personal favorite is by Terry Pratchett:
Then there’s Anne Lamott, who said in her absolutely excellent book Bird by Bird: “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them.”
It’s awesome to hear someone giving us permission to write something bad (pardon the language in the quote).
Jane Smiley says of first drafts: “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.”
Again, someone telling us it doesn’t matter what we write, as long as we write it.
So why do I love first drafts so much? I have five main reasons.
- First drafts provide a place for short-lived catharsis. We can say whatever we want, with no fear. We can yell at the top of our lungs about something unjust or painful. We can write something just because we want to write it and for no other reason. We can write scenes that ease our hearts and sing beauty to our souls… and then delete it in a later draft.
- There is no judgement. Seriously, this is the best place to write without fear of judgement. I don’t know about you, but some things I want to say or include, I don’t actually want to share. I just want to get it out. But I know it’s for me, not for the people who might judge it. And no one is judging how good it is or if you wrote something correctly. You can write as poorly as you want. An extension of catharsis, this is a place of no fear.
- It’s all storytelling and no fixing. It can be one of the fastest parts of the writing process, which can be encouraging to the feeling of accomplishment. I know some people edit while they write, but for me, I just love being able to zip through telling a story without worrying about what I already wrote or fixing keystrokes or scenes. It’s incredibly freeing, to have no worries about what happened before or what the edits will bring. I soar on the pages of the book. I get to live in the story. Speaking of which…
- You learn the story for the first time. Just like Pratchett said, the first draft is where the writer really gets to know the story in a way much more intimate and detailed than any outline or plan can give you. This is where the feels happen. This is where the magic happens. This is where you begin to find out what it is you’re actually trying to say with the story.
- You get to truly create… it’s magic. Writing is its own kind of magic. You create where nothing was before, and you shape it in the way you want, to play with the world you built and the world around us. You are in complete control of what happens. No other stage of the process can give you that pure creation. Everything else is innovating and improving what you start with. But the act of that first creation, the first keystroke or pen stroke, that is true magic.
Those are definitely my top five reasons why first drafts are my favorite part of the process. It’s a magic, creative endeavor that lightens the burden of everyday living and allows the writer to truly play. What could be better than that?
But what about you? What stage is your favorite? Why? Tell me in the comments!