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  1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    The 1st draft

    Discussion in 'Revision and Editing' started by deadrats, Jun 18, 2019.

    Why does everyone seem to think the first draft is supposed to be bad or doesn't really count? My first drafts aren't perfect, but I do put a lot of work into them and I don't intend for them to be crap? I guess some of this is something a lot of writers feel like they need to hear. I've never been a fan of books on how to write. I much prefer to just read great stories. The stories were my first writing teachers, not how-to books or forums. I don't know. I think there is something important about giving your first draft some importance. It doesn't mean that there won't be more drafts or that it will be perfect, but I think it should be taken seriously on some level. Am I alone here? Does anyone else think the first draft is important? I've heard people say the hardest thing to work with is a blank page, but that's another one I don't buy. A blank page can be much easier to work with than bad writing. And in my mind a bad first draft isn't always a step in the right direction. I guess this is just a word of caution to those who think a first draft is supposed to be crap. Instead it can be a stepping stone in the right direction. I just have a hard time believing if a first draft is really crap, the second will be much better.
     
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  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Then again maybe this is part of the reason some of my writing seems to take forever. But I still think the first draft counts for something.
     
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  3. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "count"? They're obviously necessary, but many writers' first drafts aren't polished enough to share. Mine never are, and I don't see that as a problem.
    Not for me.
     
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Why was this moved to critique? This has nothing to do with critique. This is a general writing topic.
     
  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    This was moved to critique because this is the forum in which we discuss all matters to do with reviewing and perfecting your draft... why the first draft is crap (or not) is such a topic

    There is no such thing as a 'general writing topic' - general writing is the bucket in which threads that don't fit anywhere else wind up, everything else gets moved
     
  6. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    These are two different things. Indeed I've also gotten the impression that most people operate under 'just hack out', because their process works better that way. Not mine, and I don't really understand why someone could write that way but that's neither here nor there. If it works for them, that's fine. As long as I am allowed to work differently and don't get pressured to write according to some holy grail of writing, other people are entitled to their process as well.

    I think (take it with a grain of salt) that writing and editing as I go has served me well so far. I'm a much better writer than when I started and I believe that's due to the perpetual polishing and honing I do along the way.

    But the second, that it 'doesn't really count': I've never encountered this opinion. Writing a first draft, no matter how bad, is an accomplishment everyone can be proud of. I've yet to finish my first draft :oops:.
     
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  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Also its not that its supposed to be bad, its that people give themselves permission for it not be good (especially as first time writers) so that they don't suffer the perfection block of not being satisfied with anything they write.

    It was Hemingway who said that the first draft of anything is shit... although of course he was writing on a typewriter so editing as you go wasn't really a thing

    that doesn't mean anyone should purposely try to write shit, the idea is not to beat yourself up if you do
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think it's about how different people handle the creative process. Some people have trouble combining the creation and self-evaluation processes.

    I don't have that issue for wordsmithing--words and phrases and paragraphs, coherence across an expanse of several hundred words, all that.

    But I DO have that issue for plot. If I allow myself to worry about, "Why is this happening in market square? How does he know that thing he's accusing her of? How does she know the thing she's countering with? That guy that just joined them was halfway across the world a few scenes ago; why is he back? That other guy is witnessing the whole conversation; where is he hiding that allows him to hear it?" and so on and so on, I can't write the sene.

    So I write the scene, merrily writing past those concerns. Then I fix them later.

    And even when the scene is internally consistent, it may be inconsistent with other scenes. I fix that even later.

    I love books on how to write. I don't obey them, but I always like to read about anything I'm doing.

    That doesn't mean I don't also read. For decades, I read probably five novels a week--some of them new to me, some of them novels that I'd read several times before. I'm trying to get back into that habit.

    I think that depends entirely on the writer. My first draft is extremely polished at the scene level, but that's because I get an inherent enjoyment from producing polished pieces of writing. Almost all of my writing strategies are about enjoyment, because enjoyment keeps me writing. If I were going for efficiency, I think I would indeed write a quick and sloppy first draft.

    Oh, that's not at all true for me. I say that even though I rarely write really fast and sloppy. Whenever I start a new scene the hardest point is forcing myself to write SOMETHING, something that I can then tear up and put back together.

    But why not? A person who can't simultaneously create and self-correct could still be a person who can perform those two activities on the same work at different times.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    This is probably overly simplistic, but it was certainly my experience: "The function of your first draft is to figure out the story. The function of every subsequent draft is to figure out the best way to tell the story."

    Don't ask me where that quote originally came from, because I don't know. But for me, it fits.

    Here's the related adage that truly annoys me : Your first novel/story is always shit.

    No, it's not. It's only shit if you refuse to make the changes it needs to become good. Seeing what's wrong with a story and learning to fix it is, in my opinion, the most useful thing a writer can learn to do. Once you've recognised a problem and fixed it, you won't make that same mistake again. Giving up and starting over whenever a story isn't working can mean you keep repeating the same mistakes and abandoning each project for the same reasons you abandoned the first one. I'd say stick it out instead, and make your bad writing come good.

    I do believe if you acquire that habit, your writing probably WILL become better out of the starting gate. I know there are many mistakes I won't be making again, simply because I have learned to recognise them. The more writing you do, the more polished you become at it.

    I know @deadrats writes A LOT. I mean ALL the time. And she's studied the craft as well, and has an MFA in Creative Writing. So it's very probable that her first drafts are pretty damn good.

    But I wonder what your very first first drafts were like, deadrats? When you first started out writing? Were they as polished as the ones you're producing now? Maybe they were, but I suspect practice does make perfect—or at least makes things better.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2019
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  10. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Well ya, sometimes I try to reassure a writer who is down on their work. I don't know if I've ever used crap but my first draft is rough, bloated and simultaneously stringy. I usually am writing to find out why I'm writing or what I want to say. And because it's not planed sometimes really great moments aren't in the best position. My first draft is usually terribly paced.
    I love to read them but I find they're probably more helpful for page turners than general fiction.
    I do. They're the bones. I find it much harder to work from nothing than something. A first draft for me is like a raw chunk of diamond it looks to others like a worthless bit of quartz until you start cutting and shaping it.

    Actually I find a lousy first draft always helpful because even if it's crap that needs to be tossed you've at least discovered how not to write it. I don't find blank pages scary I find stumbling to get the tone right scary. For me nailing the right tone is everything it's even more important than the first draft.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2019
  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    If the first draft is perfect (typically never), then
    you have to edit it. Then get some betas to read it,
    and fix the plot holes and other things that don't
    work within the story. So it is more like draft 3
    is the bare minimum for a publishable manuscript.
     
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  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    that adage (also hemingway) was that the first million words are practice... I don't entirely agree with that but there's no doubt that the first thing i wrote (which wasn't the first novel i published) was terrible.
     
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  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    My first and only completed novel (to date) was a laughable mess when I finished the first draft. I mean, when I look at the first draft now, it was hilariously bad. Quotably so. I made every creative writing mistake in the book—or lots of them anyway.

    I have it on several good authorities that it's now a well-written story. I'm happy with it myself. It's not a different novel. It's the same one. I just worked my ass off getting it right.

    It was the story I wanted to write. I didn't want to 'be a writer.' I wanted to write that story.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019
  14. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    @deadrats John Truby agrees with you kinda, but probably even more harshly.

    "For most scripts, the second draft is worse than the first draft."

     
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  15. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    My takeaway from the video was that he was specifically speaking about plot, themes, characters, and the like, and not prose/wordsmithing. Which is a significant distinction imo. If he is speaking about prose as well, then I simply disagree. I've never experienced a "cemented" attachment to the prose of my first or second drafts. Not remotely.
     
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  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    My first first drafts came out at different levels, but I've always played with my writing while writing. Still, not everything works and I get that. And even though I do finish most things I set out to write, I'm also willing to accept what doesn't work and for those things multiple drafts I don't believe are really solutions. I do take the blank document approach with some and just rewrite a story completely without looking at what I've done. It's pretty much always a different story, but anything worth remembering seems to stick. I'm also a believer in that often we have to write the bad to be able to write the good. For a long time I wrote a short story every week and I would say that every forth or fifth story was a keeper. But none of my first drafts have ever been super messy even when it comes to the ones that I don't think are worth salvaging. I think a lot of that comes from having been an avid reader. I was never reading first drafts so I never thought about writing crap or allowing myself to write crap. I was always aiming to write at the same level I was reading. I just have always found that to be a better goal than just getting something or anything down on the page.

    It's not that I don't edit and rewrite, but I need my writing to be at a certain level to feel like I can work with it, and even then not everything is worth working with. Also, when something is accepted for publication, there is quite a bit of editing involved. It's way more editing and rewriting than I had thought before I started selling my work. But, again, those editors aren't working to clean up something messy. Places don't buy work that's not already at a certain level. So, yes, there are always improvements to make, but unless a piece of writing can come out at a certain skill level, I'm not sure the editing process or the idea that you can fix it all later really works.

    People write for different reasons, but I believe most writers do so with plans or hopes of publishing. To get there takes a lot of work and a first draft should take a lot of work if your goal is publishing. This, of course, is just my opinion. I, personally, think it's better to play around while writing the first draft than to plow through just to finish. We can make ourselves write and finish things with just about any approach, but publishing is a tough game. I've learned that my first drafts need to get better for my writing overall to get better. When you're writing just to write I guess it doesn't really matter, but I think improvement needs to start at the ground floor to produce successful works. And this belief has helped me improve overall and start writing things that sell. It doesn't mean first drafts are perfect, but I want something I can really work with and not something I feel needs to be cleaned up before it's ready to work with.
     
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  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I sort of do think the first million words are practice. If I look at how much creative writing I had to do before I started selling it, it makes sense at least for my journey. Of course, I didn't think it was all just practice at the time, but, for me, it was for the most part. And there was no shortcut. I had to write what would probably be considered mediocre work for a long time before anything was really good.
     
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  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Though I'm not really a planner when it comes to my stories, I do agree with a lot of this. Sometimes when I get some sort of idea I just sort of sit with it for a while. I'm not so much planning out a story, but maybe giving thought to a character or situation before putting words on the page. My creative writing rarely comes out the way I thought it would even when I think I have more of an idea for where a story might go. But I do allow some sort of an idea to mature a little before just taking the plunge. Other times I do jump right in. I'm a slow writer. I think it usually takes me about an hour to write 500 words. But that's the speed where I'm usually at my best. I do think once it's down on paper, it does sort of cement the story. That's why I'm willing to scrap some things or start all over. And that's been what works for me.
     
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  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    All that being said, I just got an insane amount of edits to do for a short story I'll have published in the near future. And there are a lot of them. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I can't imagine what this super-marked-up document would look like if I had ever started with something messy. This story was worked on so much by me solo, but I would like to believe even draft one was decent. Man, it just never ends. Getting to this point was hard enough and I gave it everything I had from the beginning. There was never a messy draft for this piece, but I'm not sure my editor would believe it.
     
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  20. HeathBar

    HeathBar Active Member

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    deadrats - I'm curious whether editors typically do such heavy editing? I haven't submitted/queried anything yet, so I don't know how the process works. [I think] I'm getting close to querying my novel. I suspect that process might be different than with short stories, but I guess I'm curious about the degree to which an editor works with a writer if they see what looks like an unpolished gem (as opposed to just rejecting it). I suspect the answer to that is in the "it depends" bucket (depends on how great the underlying story is; depends on whether the editor knows the author and knows they can make the piece sing after editing; depends on how well the story fits something the editor looking for; etc.).
     
  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    In my experience the editing has always been quite heavy and a lot of work. It always seems like more than I thought it would be. It can feel discouraging at first, but selling a piece of writing is what counts and these editors do know what they're doing or they wouldn't be in these positions to start with. I try my best to make every edit because I want to be easy to work with and I know that every time the writing benefits from their contributions. It can be a bit hard to swallow when it seems like every paragraph or sentence even has corrections, but it becomes a sort of bite-the-bullet thing. I recently had a story with less edits. I made them all and then was told that was only the first round of edits I had gone through. I think the bigger the publisher, the more edits you can expect. But it's important to remember that these editors or on your side and are doing this to make you and your writing look better. By the time I submit my work, I always think there are few if any edits. And an acceptance letter can lead to the same feeling. But, oh, the edits... Not fun, but at the same time they are an important part of the process. I don't know if others experience the same, but this has pretty much always been the case for me. You can dispute the edits, but there are always too many to dispute them all. I have rarely stuck to my guns on anything, but if there is something I want to keep the same I need to really think about it and why I don't want to make the change. And sometimes just giving it that level of thought I sort of come around and see that the editor really does know better. There can be a bit of back and forth. Some of the edits might say , "Say this sooner" or "explain this more" or "find a way to bring this up two or three more times throughout the piece." We are rarely talking about SPAG issues. So, the editing process isn't easy, but it's a must when leading up to being paid and published. It is a lot more than I ever thought it would be, but I am getting more used to the process. Just don't be taken back by it. Your work wouldn't be accepted if they thought it was too much to deal with. And that's really the important thing to remember.
     
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  22. HeathBar

    HeathBar Active Member

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    Thank you for your response - this is encouraging. I wasn't sure whether editors were expecting perfection from the get-go. I mean, I'm not querying or submitting anything until I'm satisfied that it's perfect. But I would expect -- in fact, welcome -- feedback on how to make it better. But this:

    So. much. this. I really enjoy it, but everything takes forever for me. I don't talk to many people about my writing, but when I do, the one thing I always say about the process is that I'm shocked by how much time it consumes. I write a lot for my day job -- unwieldy stuff that needs to be perfect -- and I'm still shocked by how much work the novel has been. Again, I love it and it's worth it and I'll keep doing it. But it's so much work.
     
  23. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    What sort of writing do you do for your day job? Do you work with an editor for that? Before I was a creative writer, I was a journalist and did some travel writing. I found that newspapers just made the edits and I wasn't really part of it. For magazines, it was a lot different. There was more fact checking and a lot of back and forth editing. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with the edits on my first magazine piece. They had about a four to six month time period before a piece was published and the editing process could take that long, but usually was taken care of before that.

    With creative writing, the edits are a lot more intense. I think this might be because how a story is written is equally as important as the story. And editors and publishers for this kind of work are looking for things the be pretty flawless and as close to perfection as possible. I'm publishing my creative work with some really great places that have reputations to uphold. Don't ask me how it happened, but I broke into the industry at a pretty high level. I would like to think I'm getting the hang of things, but the amount of editing still remains high for me. These editors know how and where to tighten and smooth out writing in a way that's still above my skill set. When I get edits back, there is usually not a single paragraph that is fine as is. They're not all big changes, but overall they make a big difference. Not all editors are writers, but I believe them to be quite well read. And I kind of had to learn to trust them. They are paying me for my work and I have to give them what they want and be able to do what they're asking. It's not easy, but, again, it proves to make a big difference. All worth it in the end. And I don't expect the book publishing process to be much different. Places with high standards know what they can and can't work with. My perfect is not their perfect, but they've helped me get there.

    Creative writing is very time consuming and at times draining. I know I give it everything I've got, which has proven to be just good enough for them to work with. I've been asked about what I'm working on and having a book in progress. People in the publishing industry know other people in the publishing industry. It makes me super nervous even if it's what I really want. But needing heavy editing on my work hasn't stopped my name from being mentioned for future opportunities.

    I think the best thing you can do is trust an editor. They're not beta readers or your writer friends giving your feedback. This is what they do for a living. Your success as a writer is a reflection on them. I say try to get your work as good as possible, but that really only means it has to be good enough not to be a waste of their time to work with you. There's so much competition in the industry, but these editors are trained to spot talent. That seems to be more important than anything else. But there is a big difference between the final draft I submit and what is eventually published. I don't feel like I'm giving up any creative control. I'm super grateful that people have seen something in my work and are taking it to the next level. So, when you do sell your novel, hopefully you get a great editor who can work magic the way the editors I've worked with are able to do. :)
     
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  24. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    Hello, friend. :superhello:

    I see more the first draft as your ideas that comes to your mind first. Of course will end being a mess, which is why the second part is to see if works or not. Is not necessarily bad, but is not perfect as you have pointed out. Is more for you to rewrite, add, or remove stuff that makes or no sense.
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    That part of what you said really hit home for me.

    My husband's long career was as a News Sub for a major UK newspaper. It was his responsibility to edit whatever reporters gave him, and make it fit for publication. Not only did he have to deal with SPAG issues, but also check facts, etc. Cut bits that didn't fit the alloted space in the paper. Even add in stuff so everything DID fit. And then he had to provide a lead-in paragraph and construct a headline to draw the reader's attention to that story.

    It was a LOT of work. And yes, it was something the reporters didn't bother with. The reporters were responsible for the raw copy, but that's it. They didn't bother writing perfection, because somebody else would 'clean it up' anyway. So just being a journalist doesn't necessarily mean a person has all the writing skills in place to produce sterling finished work. Sometimes far from it! Reporters have to know their subjects and not make factual mistakes, but they are essentially just gathering information and providing a 'slant' on the issue. The actual editing and polishing IS done by others. Or at least it used to be.

    That being said, many people who started in journalism (as reporters or columnists) have moved on to become extremely successful novelists and short-story writers. They are often great at spotting what makes a good story, and at figuring out what readers like.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2019

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