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Don’t Be Horrified if Your First Draft Is a (Really) Rough Draft

Well, we’re up to Writing Rule #28 and discussing first drafts, which admittedly can be pretty bad.

Here’s a common enough story about the novel-writing process for your entertainment and edification…

Staring at that last line on the computer screen, Arthur was ecstatic. He’d done it! After five years of talking about it, he’d actually gone and done it. His novel’s first draft was complete. Forget cloud nine. Arthur was on cloud fifteen. It was a really good draft too. Of that, he was certain. Arthur was typically a realistic and analytical kind of person, so he wouldn’t be feeling this good about something he’d created if it wasn’t a strong start. Besides, he’d spent a total of ten months really thinking it over, pondering the plot points, establishing the setting and rounding out his characters. It was good. Simple as that. So when the next day dawned and he eagerly picked up his manuscript to start editing that first draft, he knew he’d be wanting to make small changes to it here and there. But overall, he expected a great read because he’d written a great read. Sure enough, the first paragraph was strong. Captivating even. It set the tone and drew him right into the story, making him smile with the kind of pride that had his eyes tearing up a little. Yet that moisture cleared up pretty quickly after the third paragraph, which made Arthur remember a detail in chapter three that he’d totally switched around in chapter twenty-two. A significant detail too. And then paragraph ten contained some exceptionally cheesy dialogue he was ashamed he’d ever written. Paragraph eleven made his heroine come across like her author was back in middle school. And paragraph thirteen? Oh my word, but paragraph thirteen was appalling! Was this really what he’d written?

If that story snippet sounds familiar, it’s because it’s about as common an authorial tale as you’re ever going to find, particularly when said author is just starting off.

Here’s the thing, my fellow writers, in the creative writing world, your first draft is pretty much supposed to be horrible.

So stop freaking out, and just breathe. Breathe. You’re not a horrible writer. You don’t actually have to show your first draft to anyone. And unless you’re E.L. James, your manuscript is fixable.

(If you are E.L. James, then just throw that manuscript in the trash. Please. For your own dignity’s sake, if not for the larger world’s benefit.)

That’s what countless other novice writers have discovered after their initial I-just-finished-my-first-draft euphoria is cruelly conquered by their critical sides. They've successfully thought through their editorial issues – and lived to tell the tale!

Essentially then, Writing Rule #28 acknowledges that you’re human. That you just wrote a 70,000-word – or more – story, and that that’s a lot to handle.

It is!

I’m not throwing out excuses to make you feel better. This is me being critical and realistic and all editorial here. We’re talking about a creative enterprise that probably involves at least a dozen different characters, a setting you may or may not be familiar with, and a plot that stretches across more than a hundred pages that you certainly didn’t write out in one straight shot.

It took you months to compose your manuscript’s first draft, which means your creativity had plenty of time to roam around, going off on bunny trails and getting lost and finding alternate routes.

As such, there are going to be mistakes. Plenty of them, no doubt.

But that’s normal. And besides, you’re not done yet.

That first draft of yours still has a little ways to go before it’s ready to graduate from manuscript to full-fledged published novel – a creative writing journey Innovative Editing will happily take with you if you want some encouraging company.


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