The Secret First Draft You Can Work With

(My apologies for the lack of an image; I’m having internet issues, and trying to add one was crashing WordPress tonight.)

Just get the first draft down, even though it’s probably bad, and you can make it good in the second draft.”

This is common advice that you’ve probably all heard at least once.  And it is good advice in its way – you have to be able to finish drafts even when you’re not always inspired, and if you try to make them too great, you might get hung up on perfectionism.  For myself, I try to patch huge issues as they arise so that I don’t end up with an irreparable problem later, but other issues like a character’s personality changing partway through, for example, I just make note of in my editing doc to come back to in the revisions, and keep on going.

However, as I was writing the outline for one of my more recent projects, I realized that we don’t have to go to the work of writing the whole 50,000+ word first draft to patch holes, because developmental feedback is a thing.  (For purposes of clarity, I’m assuming that you’re not a total panster.)

We have a secret tool: we can use a chapter outline as if it’s a first draft.  If you have a fairly complete one, then use it to check for problems.  Do you have the important plot points?  Is the MC’s character arc realistic and the way you want it?  Do the main events follow each other logically?  Is there something important that you still need to add?  Is there a subplot that just doesn’t serve the main story, or a lack of subplot you want to correct?  Now is a great time to fix those problems.  Since you haven’t written a whole ton of words yet (probably – I used to know someone who crafted outlines that were the length of a small novella), it’s easy to cut something without losing much work, or rearrange events so that they fit together more smoothly.  Developmental feedback doesn’t seem to be talked about as much as, say, content editing or having beta readers, but making sure you’re starting a project on solid ground can save you unnecessary work down the line.  See if the story needs revisions now based on the outline, and maybe get feedback from others too, and you can save yourself some rewriting and rearranging later on.

If you’re more of a panster, this won’t help you quite as much.  But if you’re a plotter or planster (a combination of the two, and honestly the coolest of the three terms in my opinion), or otherwise have an outline to work with, you have the chance to get an overview of your story and resolve major issues now, rather than dive into writing the whole first draft and then learning about them when it’s harder to rewrite part of the story smoothly.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment!

2 thoughts on “The Secret First Draft You Can Work With”

  1. I’m not a writer, so I had to look up “panster” vs “plotter”. 😀 I’m sure that if I were a writer, I would be closer to the plotter end of the spectrum. I generally go with the idea of developmental feedback in so many other things. I’d like to think I can remember “later” where that assignment needs correcting, or that spot needs cleaning, but by the time “later” gets here (which can take a while), it’s hard to remember just where that spot was, and why I cared. “Just do it now while it’s fresh on your mind”, I lecture myself.

    Good luck with the computer issues. Sounds frustrating…

    1. That’s one reason I love Google Docs, when it comes to finding things to correct. It’s easy to slap a comment on whatever the problem area is, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting it, but aren’t spending time fixing mistakes instead of continuing the draft, or cluttering up your word count with parenthetical notes to yourself :P.

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