In this post, we look at what a first draft is, the methods for completing one, and give you tips for finishing yours.
What Is A First Draft?
A first draft of anything you write is just the beginning. It is a process of getting your thoughts on paper. If you are writing fiction, it is how you get the story that keeps you up at night into a workable format that can be shaped into a reader-friendly product.
It’s important simply to get the story down on paper. Tess Gerritsen says: “I don’t stop to revise during the first draft. Because it’s all going to be changed anyway, when I finally figure out what the book is about.”
Once you’ve written the whole story down, you can look at it objectively. You will find out if you have a story.
Remember that nobody writes a perfect first draft. There will be many rewrites and edits after you’ve completed this first step. Most writers write at least three drafts and sometimes as many as 10 or more.
- Jeffrey Archer says: ‘Do not imagine that the first draft of your book is the one that will be published. My latest novel, The Sins of the Father, was 14 drafts and took approximately 1000 hours.’
- Jeffery Deaver says: ‘I revise a great deal. My publisher doesn’t even get a peek at my manuscript until I’ve revised it at least twenty or thirty times (and I mean major revisions).’
- Max Brooks says: ‘My rough draft has one goal; to write “The End”. I have the next 200-300 drafts to make it good.’
No matter which method you use, it is always useful to have a one-page synopsis as a starting point for your story. Use our synopsis template to create yours. Also, list the four main characters you will include in your story.
- The Timeline Method: Create a timeline for your story, with a beginning, middle, and ending. The write the story in a linear format.
- The Scene-By-Scene Method: If you are more organised, you may have created a plot. You could have a list of all your scenes and sequels, with a brief outline of what happens in each. Keep this to hand and write your story scene-by-scene. Use our scene templates to help you plan these.
- The Pick-A-Scene Method: This is similar to the above, but you may not want to write from beginning to end. Because you have all the scenes planned, you can write any scene or sequel whenever you want. You could dip into the middle or ending before you write the beginning.
- No-Method: If you want to just sit down and write whatever comes to you, go for it. This is pantsing in the extreme. Sometimes called lucid dreaming, it works for some writers.
You may get stuck when you are busy with a first draft. Everybody does. It is important to push through this. Leave a gap if you’re struggling with a scene, or part of a scene, and carry on writing. Just get it done. You can fix almost anything later. Robin Hobbs says: ‘I enjoy rewriting much more than I do first drafts. First drafts are really hard. Rewriting you’ve at least got something to work with.’
How To Finish A First Draft
- Set aside a certain time to write every day.
- Stick to a daily word count.
- Set a deadline.
Once you’ve finished this, you have the diamond in the rough. You have something to polish and perfect. As Nora Roberts says: ‘The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.’
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.