1. VanillaFrosting
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    VanillaFrosting New Member

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    First draft is crap...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by VanillaFrosting, May 21, 2011.

    I've been working off and on for about 3 months on a story. (I write constantly for about a week and then I don't touch it for about a month =P) It's at 24k words...so obviously I have put a little bit of work into it.

    I printed off the entire thing so far and I find that I am so bloody disappointed in a great portion of it. There are parts that I love (the parts I always show people!), but for the most part I don't think it's great.

    My problem is keeping myself motivated to move past a first draft and make something I think it pretty good. It has happened time after time that I'll write something, get pretty far in it, then go back and read it only to trash it because it is so bad.

    Now, this current work is probably my best first draft so far, more than anything because I carry a gritty, crude, tone through the whole thing that I really like, whereas before my writing came off as a bit prudish and Victorian.

    Is it normal to have a crappy first draft that turns into something decent? How does one keep themselves motivated to continue working on something they don't think is that great?
     
  2. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    I dont' know if it's normal, but it's happening to me. Hopefully once I finished writing it I'll be capable to revise it and make something good from it.
     
  3. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not even the best writer's are capable of producing a perfect first draft. Most (scrap that, make it all) writer's I know are unimpressed with their first drafts - hence why're they're also known as "rough drafts". If you think it's crap then, clearly, you're able to identify the faults and therefore you're going to be capable of correcting them in later drafts. Shouldn't this be a good thing?
     
  4. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I don't think anyone can make a good first draft. I solve this by never reading what I have written until it's done. I keep notes of where I am, that's it. Not sure how well this works if you're working without an outline though.
    Let me tell you what mine are like. There is either no description or bad description. At times I don't even know where my characters are supposed to be. I have one scene that is all dialog, and I've been too lazy to add tags to them... And there is the lovely: "They kissed. She left the car. He drove away." An actual quote from my current first draft. This follows some very romantic moments, but I got sick and tired of the whole scene, so once the dialog was over with, I just wrote that to get a move on.
     
  5. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Yeah, That's why it's called a first draft :p I bet mine is pretty crap too, but the purpose of a first draft is just getting everything you need to say onto paper, not trying to perfect it just yet. After that, you should re-edit it, so that what you need to tell makes sense to the reader. That's just how I see it. I agree with spklvr, I stopped reading everything I write now, and I'm just writing along. The more you stop and pick and imperfections, the longer it's going to take to write the first draft.
    I guess the fun I get out of it keeps me motivated. Just keep reminding yourself it's only the first draft, you're not going to send that out for people to read. ;D
     
  6. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Even the best and famous writers have said that their first drafts were usually crap. Anybody who claims to write a "good" first draft is either not human, lying to you and themselves, or insane. Really. After all, as many have told me, writing is, in truth, rewriting.

    Rewriting doesn't just mean making more and more drafts - it also means redesigning your plot, characters, and other elements of your story as you find better ideas and/or weed out old ones that just don't work. There's a reason why some authors have spent years on some of their books. Me, myself, I currently have three projects; two of them I have been working on for five years, and that's not counting the fact that I already finished a first draft for both (one by hand, and one by computer), and the fact that I even almost finished the sequel for one of them. I'm still returning to work on them, fixing the characters, rearranging the plot, changing around the atmosphere and mood, figuring out how to work in other elements... It's a really, really drawn out task, but it's so worth it, because in the end, I know I'll get a much better story than the one written in my first draft.
     
  7. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    I've never written anything good in first draft form. Not even one scene, one time. It's always terrible.

    "Easy reading is damn hard writing." ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
     
  8. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm never satisfied with my first draft. That's why we edit after completing a draft. You look over your work and add/subtract things as you feel. Once that is done, rinse and repeat.

    No one ever writes only one draft of a story.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, they do. All the time. It's bad writing, but it is, in fact, something that people do.

    Writing second to final drafts is never easy. The best way to be, in my opinion, is very critical of yourself. Be a little bit proud of yourself when you're writing; you're composing, and for that little effort, you deserve some pride, but be ready to read it over and look at it in the worst light possible.

    I like to wait a few weeks after finishing something to read it over, and once I've done so, I take the time to actually look at the aesthetic value of what I've written, and the flaws in the logic of the plot line and characters, et cetera.

    It's even better when you, like me, have a good friend who is into words and literature and isn't afraid to tell you when you've done something wrong. You can take their opinion and agree or disagree, but you've at least got a second opinion. EDIT: I feel the need to add that there is nothing like a good friend to help you edit. A beta reader doesn't cut it in a majority of cases. They're not going to know what kind of person you are and will therefore force their opinion in the wrong places when you've done something on purpose in a certain way to get a certain effect, if you know what I mean.
     
  10. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on the writer how 'crap' a first draft is.

    It's not a problem in any case. Re-writing and editing is what makes your work shine n polished.

    I'm working on the latter now, and it ain't a quick job...

    Good luck.
     
  11. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suppose I'm a bit of the opposite. I mean my first drafts aren't what I would call brilliant, but I've never not once looked at something I've written and said 'hey, that's crappy.' It's probably because I don't write anything unless I feel it's worth writing. I can always go back and amp up the quality of the writing or tighten the scene, but as a general rule I'm usually satisfied with my first drafts, because they always go according to the grand plan. And I suppose thats the thing. There's always a plan...
     
  12. rikithasta
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    rikithasta Member

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    Some of the best advice I was given was about writing (though in the context of research manuscripts) - if you don't think the first draft is crap, its probably worse than you realize.

    That's not to say that a good first draft is automatically elevated to something worse than 'crap' but if you can't recognize that its problematic you're going to have problems with re-writes. You might not be able to see the re-writes it needs, but you also might not be able to see the greater potential of the story.

    I think 'my writing is crap' is a stage writers just go through at some point. If you still sort of like something, anything about the story, then its worth at least a hand at edits and re-writes.
     
  13. James Scarborough
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    James Scarborough Member

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    Not only is it normal for a first draft to be crap, that's the way it should be. Ernest Hemingway once said "The first draft of anything is always sh*t." That's just the way the writing process works for most writers.

    Your objective and your motivation should be to produce a completed first draft. Trying to re-read, revise and judge the quality of your work before doing this is a useless, self-defeating, waste of time and is the reason many aspiring writers never succeed. My advice is to just keep writing until you've completed the first draft and not worry about the quality.

    Then, you begin the re-writing process. This is when you become brutally honest with yourself and ruthless in your judgment. If you're like me, you'll spend a lot of time re-writing, maybe producing two or three complete additional drafts before you're satisfied and ready to submit it for third-party reading and editing. Depending on the feedback you get from outside readers and/or editors, you may decide to make further revisions or possibly even another complete re-write. However, you shouldn't attempt to start this process until your first draft is done.

    Here's how I do it. I'm currently working on a contemporary thriller novel. When finished, it should be about 300 pages in length or 70,000 to 80,000 words. Working six hours a day, I can write an average of three to five first draft-quality pages a day, or approximately 5,000 to 6,000 words per week. I know that my first draft will need to be at least 100,000 to 120,000 words in order to allow for re-writing and editing. This means that it should take me about six months to finish my first draft and my objective (and motivation) is to stick to this work schedule and finish my first draft within this timeframe.

    If I start re-reading and revising before finishing my first draft, I'll never complete it in time and probably will never complete it at all. I'll be doing exactly what you're doing now - spinning my wheels, not making any forward progress, becoming discouraged, and losing my motivation.

    To prevent this from happening, I basically write as if I'm wearing blinders. I absolutely refuse to look at anything I've written, even if I know its bad and I can improve it. My sole objective now is to finish the draft and stick to my time schedule.

    I don't know yet what my time schedule will be for re-writing and how many drafts I'll need to write before I finish. I can't even think about this until I have a completed first draft, but I know that it will take a minimum of three or four additional months and maybe much longer. Whatever it takes, I can't do anything about it without having a completed first draft, so why even worry about it now.

    One further note about my work schedule: I write full-time. For me, this means six hours a day. I know I can't be productive or creative if I try to push myself beyond this. Anything else I do during my work time - such as research, emails, posting here, journal-writing, etc., takes time away from my writing and pushes back my schedule. There's a certain amount of slack built into my schedule to allow for this, but not much, so I have to be self-disciplined and not make excuses or waste time.

    The only reason I have time to write long posts such as this is, at the moment, I'm not even trying to work due to a family health crisis which causes constant interruption and worry. Rather than getting frustrated about it, I simply decided to take a couple of weeks off and push back my schedule as necessary. It's not a big deal. So what if it takes seven months instead of six to finish my first draft. However, for me, it IS a big deal if I try to write during this time and can't do it because of all of the interruptions and worry. For me, it's much better to take a "leave of absence" from my writing, just as I would from any other job, until the crisis is over. So, rather than sit around and do nothing, I'm using the time I have available to post here and do other things.

    This is the process I recommend to you as well. Just keep writing and stop re-reading, judging and revising your work until your first draft is done. Then. take all the time you need to re-write and finish it, but don't even think about this until you have a completed first draft.
     
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  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Im of the opinion of most of the others. My first drafts always leaves a lot to be desired, lol. And the rewriting takes so much longer than finishing the first draft. Sometimes I feel like abandoning the story Im working with atm, but then I remind myself that then I will never have the satisfaction of seeing it as good as it deserves to be,= as I 'see' it in my head. So i just keep on writing. Sometimes I just need to let it 'sit' for a while to see what needs to be done with it.
     
  15. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    Perfect rough drafts are unicorns. If you manage to find one, I'll let you pet my dragon. Expect your first draft to be terrible at best. "Not half bad" in your own opinion is horrible in everyone else's. It's a bit like digging up a diamond. The original is obviously a diamond, but the rough edges and dirt obscure the jewel's true beauty (and more importantly it's marketablilty). So the diamond needs to be cleaned and cut until the true beauty (need I emphasize marketability once more?) dazzles the eye.
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm guessing it's very different for different writers. I often work out scenes in my head before putting pen to paper. When I'm not sure what to write, I often take a pause and work out the scenes in my head until it feels like the story works again. In a way, I've already made several sketchy drafts of a scene in my head before I write it down.
     
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'll never understand the obsession with first drafts. I suspect it comes from the naive notion that writing is all just an over-pouring of emotion from the soul, and that it should come out poetic and wonderful the first time.

    The shame is that so many new/young/aspiring/novice/student (however you want to say it) writers put so much pressure on themselves and so much onus on first drafts. It doesn't matter. I wouldn't be proud of a sloppy first draft any differently than think I accomplished something by a relatively clean one.

    Even worse is that these writers often don't understand that different people have different methods. I'm a mental plotter, and by the time my first drafts are typed up, I usually know the characters so well that even if I'm making up scenes on the spot, it comes out pretty clean and polished. Naive writers seem to feel threatened by this, or worse discouraged, as if my ability to type up a clean first draft has any bearing on their ability to produce a polished final draft. And they often don't realize that because everyone has different methods, while they're sitting down to type up a first draft with a brand new idea, I've been mentally planning and drafting for weeks, months or sometimes even years.

    So to everyone I would say stop obsessing and worrying or even being curious (unless you're studying to teach English composition, at which point the topic becomes relevant). Refine your own methods, and try to understand that first drafts are really only things novice writers obsess about when they haven't yet learned to finish a story. When you've learned to finish a story, and have gauged what the entire creative process takes, you realize how insignificant and pointless it is to even think about first drafts, much less worry about the quality of one.
     
  18. ZeaMayz
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    Sorry to hear about your family heath crisis. Taking leave of absence seems like a wise thing to do. Hope things look up soon!

    This is very good advice. I am only starting out on the writing road (extremely part-time). I have this story that I want to write, and over the past years I have written the first chapter about 5 times, changing from 1st person to 3rd person, trying different approaches, editing, fussing, not getting anywhere. I've created scenes here and there scattered around the story, bits of this, bits of that.

    I get so discouraged because I don't have the skill yet to do it properly. I have the framework of the story worked out, I think it is a brilliant concept, but I don't know how the heck I will ever be able to put it down. I'm simply not ready yet to sit and write it from end to end.

    Now I realize, when that day comes, I must do it like you said, put on blinkers and don't stop until the last chapter is done. It'll kill me. I can't stand paging back and correcting.
     
  19. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    To be honest, I think the "obsession" comes from the reasonable desire to do a good job and save time for the work of revision. Ideally the first draft should require some polishing and nothing more, it may be frustrating if you have to rewrite entire paragraphs or if you realise that you're tried to do the best and the result isn't anything you would consider worthy of being read even by yourself.
     
  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm...interesting point. MAkes me wonder if there is a connection between being that 'listen to the soul'-kind of writer who doesn't plan anything beforehand but just make everything up in that very moment and the tendency to expecting a perfect first draft? maybe im way out of line here but to me it seems like it wouldn't be impossible.:rolleyes:


    I am about the same, I can think about a story for weeks, months or even years too... Regarding the story im currently working on I planted the seed something like 20 years ago... :rolleyes: of course I haven't been thinking about it all the time since, but not many days has passed by since last summer that I haven't ben planning and plotting and trying out different scenes in my head before deciding what to keep and how to write it. I can go through a scene in my head all day at work and still not being happy with it, so it will take another day or two... And I think it makes my first drafts a little less messy, because when I sit down to write it I have already almost the exact words in my head and knows just where it is going. That said there still is a lot to do with it and things to change and rewrite etc, but my first drafts aren't as confusing as many people say their are... I still can think a lot of it is crappy but that is what rewriting is for. when starting at it I didn't realise how much rewriting and editing it would actually take, but I'm loving the whole process. :)
     
  21. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Read the rest of my post too, please.

    The point is a) there IS no 'ideally' when it comes to writing or first drafts, because b) everyone does have to find their own methods, some writers spending 75% of their time drafting in their heads, so less has to be done with an actual manuscript, while other writers write out an idea and do 75% of their drafting on paper.

    That's the issue. Either way, successful writers spend a lot of time polishing and revising and making what starts out rough into something polished. New writers often seem get excited to get ideas down on paper, then discouraged with it isn't good? It's counter productive, because as people have pointed out, a quality first draft, while not always bad, is never really the indicator or mark of anything, especially when every writer actually puts the story down on paper into a 'first' draft at different stages, so comparing your stage to theirs is irrelevant.

    All that matters is the final, polished draft. How one gets to that point varies. But what doesn't vary is that if someone is obsessing or worried about the quality of their first or early drafts, the likely hood of them ever getting to a finish product is greatly lessened (in my experience and observation).

    The other point is that it really shouldn't be frustrating to revise. Successful writing IS revising, and it's an important lesson, imo, not for writers to be encouraged or consoled because their drafts are bad, but to realize it doesn't matter, and time wasted worry about it is time wasted not revising.
     
  22. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure about that but the logical assumption would be that those type of writers should be expecting a very 'imperfect' first draft. For these people, writing is like experiencing a dream, they create and perceive their fictional world at the same time. And reviewing a first draft is like looking back at a dream. Perhaps it's a bit vague, strange, incongruent. You know what happened, but a few details don't add up.

    This is different to the planners, who create their fictional world in their heads, then perceive it (ie. write it down). Their first drafts naturally should be better. It's all about where you assign the bulk of the creative process. Is it en route to the computer or at the computer?
     
  23. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer Member

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    For me, writing a first draft is like taking a lump of clay and plopping it onto the table or the wheel in something vaguely resembling the shape you want it to look like.

    No one reaches into a bag of clay and pulls out a beautifully finished pot or sculpture.

    So my thoughts are: if your first draft looks like a sloppy, ugly, muddy, mess, that's fine. That's your starting point. Then you shape it. Then you shape it more carefully. Then you refine it even more carefully than that. Then you really put it through the fire. Then you add the finishing touches. Then you put it through the fire again.

    Alchemy. Ceramics and writing are both forms of alchemy, transforming something base into something golden.
     
  24. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I have to disagree with this. There is no "ideal" when it comes to first drafts. They are what they are, and you get them down on paper and then go from there. I see too many posts where new writers are agonizing over issues like word count, POV, story ideas (as in "is this idea any good?"), tense, active voice vs. passive voice, adjectives vs. adverbs...etc...that they're not thinking about the really important stuff, like making the characters worth knowing and the story worth reading. They read advice about ideal first drafts, and it becomes just another barrier to writing.

    IMO, a writer should just write the bloody thing. Get it on paper (or into a WORD file), give the characters life, get the story written and THEN you can worry about all the other stuff. That's why God created second drafts...and third drafts...etc. I think the biggest barrier to creativity is trying to edit it and write it at the same time.

    I've written four novels. Each one of them has gone through at least a dozen edits. If I'd tried to make the first draft of any of them so that they required "some polishing but notheing more", I never would have finished any of them. YMMV.
     
  25. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    In my opnion, a first draft is always going to be crap if you are just going to put your ideas down. I don't find it worth my while to even look at it. I sometimes just put it in my fireplace and watch the fire burn the paper into ashes. Then I work on something else. Just like I did my first novel, Manifestation, about a 17-year old living in condemnation. The idea sucked, and the plot line made absoultly no sense. Therefore, I gave up writing on it and started writing something else. Then maybe I would come back to the same idea about the teenager and his condemnation. I don't have the patience to read a worthless piece of material I made and no one else would even read it. I don't even know if I still have the novel. I just have the planning stage of it still. That's just experience with writing. I'm not pointing anyone else out nor am I even telling anyone to do the same thing I'm doing.
     

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