Mastering the Art of the First Draft


Personally, I find the first draft to be a whole lot-less daunting than it’s made out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a little difficult to get the ball rolling, but once you manage to start, it all becomes easier. I mean, think about it, the possibilities are endless. You are free to take your narrative in whichever direction you wish! And that my friends, is the beauty of the first draft.

I like to tackle my first drafts head on – like a pair of jousting rhinos. When I started writing my second novel – which I’ve now nearly finished the first draft of – I barely even had a plot outline. I had one character and a goal for said character. I started writing and just let things happen as they did. I find myself really getting into the minds of my characters when I write. I aim to detach myself from the real world and tell the story from the world of my characters, it really helps me to develop some great ideas. I find that in first drafts, this is a great way to go about writing one.

Just let the words flow out of you. Let them grace the pages and let them form in whichever order they desire. It’s like the above image states: first drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written. So don’t strive for perfection, simply strive to get words onto the page. Then worry about perfecting them later.


I think that the sole purpose of a first draft is to add a bit of meat to the bones. It’s about laying down the foundations of your story, foundations which can be built upon in your rewrites. No one writes a bestseller in a single draft. It’s just not possible. Do you really think that successful authors just take a seat in front of their laptops, write away to the sounds of the spring breeze and the chirping birds for a few months and then come out at the other end with a bestseller? Fuck no. They put in the work – they focus on getting the words down, knowing that they can reshape them later.

Having said that… I bet that if you compared one of my first drafts to that of Stephen King or Khaled Hosseini, the gulf in class would be ridiculous. I mean, they aren’t globally successful authors for nothing. Those guys are creative geniuses! But nonetheless, my point still stands, even with their creative genius, professional authors do not write perfect first drafts. Fact. Which makes you attempting to do so rather absurd, don’t you think?

My golden rule. When writing your first draft, I have one golden rule which I personally find very helpful. DO NOT REREAD YOUR WORK. I REPEAT, DO NOT REREAD YOUR WORK. This is a LOT harder than it sounds. The temptation to go back to chapter one and reread what you’ve written can sometimes be overwhelming, but you must fight the urge. You must resist. The future of your first draft depends on it. Or more specifically, the likelihood of you ever finishing your first draft depends on it.

I find that if I go back and reread my work, I tend to waste precious minutes – and sometimes hours – rewriting sections, when in reality, I should be adding more, not rewriting what I already have. Sometimes I’ll read a part back, delete the whole section and start afresh. I would advise against this also. Just don’t read your work, it’ll be catastrophic. Trust me.

In the best case scenario: you should only reread your work when your first draft is done. Completed. Finito. Why? You may ask. Well let me answer that question with a question of my own. Have you ever come across something in your house – maybe in a drawer, or in a dark corner of your bedroom in which no one dares to set foot – that you wrote a long time ago and you can’t even remember writing it? For a moment you’re actually wondering if you ever did. You’re reading in back thinking: ‘did I write this? Hmmm. It’s actually pretty good!’ If you can relate then you know what I’m talking about. If not well, here’s the point:

The reason that you find that writing good is because you are reading it so long afterwards. You haven’t seen it in so long that it is totally new to you, almost like reading the work of someone else. You ever noticed that no matter how good people tell you your work is you always think it sucks? And you always think everyone else’s work is far better than yours? That is because we are our own biggest critics. We are so doubtful of ourselves. But don’t fret, it’s only natural to be that way. it’s in our genes. It’s human nature. But it can all be avoided by NOT REREADING YOUR FUCKING WORK! Do you get my point yet? Good.

So, by the time you’re done with the first draft, those early chapters are going to have been written so long ago that it has this same effect. And by the time you get round to rewriting the later chapters, you’ll have already spent a considerable amount of time rewriting the first half, so they’ll be fresh too. I hope that makes sense. It does to me (sort of. Somewhere in here it does).

I hope that my little bit of insight on first drafts has come in useful to someone out there. But you don’t have to listen. I’m certainly no massively successful author. In fact, I’m not an author at all. By any definition. I’m just a writer looking to help people who are on the same mission as me. That’s what this blog is all about: sharing my writing journey and sharing what I learn along the way, in a hope to help and inspire others.

So get to it. Go and start that first draft. And if you’ve already started, then go finish. Quit being a lazy C-U Next Tuesday! And remember: no rereading. I mean it! I’m watching you!

Happy writing, fellow creative minds!

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