Why your first draft doesn’t have to stink

There’s a lot of opinions floating around in the writing world: show don’t tell, limit backstory, don’t overuse dialogue tags, careful with too many adjectives, and the list goes on.

While there’s a lot of truth to these and these ‘rules’ are definitely worth taking note of, there’s one in particular I find I simply can’t agree with:

Yep, I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with Hemingway. I’m not saying first drafts are ready for the world. Absolutely not! Any first draft is going to need work. But shit? Not necessarily.

How you write the first draft is up to you

For example, I recently received a newsletter that said you probably won’t use a word of your first draft. While their message was well-intentioned, I couldn’t relate to this at all, because for me, I produce first drafts that are extremely tight.

Resist the urge to shake your head at me. My ego isn’t that big, I promise!

The reason my first drafts are tight is because I break another ‘rule’ of writing, and that is:

I edit as I go.

First draft

I know, I know, first drafts are supposed to be all about letting go and getting your thoughts and ideas on paper, and not worrying about style, but in the process of writing six books I’ve discovered that’s not how I work.

I let my imagination go for hours, weeks, sometimes months before I start writing, so I don’t feel in any way repressed by this approach. It feels natural.

I also write chronologically and rarely start a new chapter until I’m satisfied with the previous one. Sometimes this means it can be pretty slow going, but not always. I’ve learned to accept the ebbs and flows of writing a first draft.

Write the first draft that feels right for you

In my case, I’ve accepted I’m not going to write a first draft in a month because that’s not my style. No crazy write a novel in a month NaNoWriMo for me! My style is to knead and mould the story over several months until the first draft is something that needs polishing and perfecting rather than complete remodeling.


The reason I wanted to point out my unorthodox approach to writing a first draft is so others shouldn’t feel afraid to discover what works for them.

Yes, there’s rules, but not all of them are life or death, and sometimes you have to find the courage to do things your way. Creativity isn’t a formula, it’s a unique process for each of us, so don’t be afraid to trust what feels right for you.

And hey, even if your first draft does stink, you’ve most likely created some great fertilizer to grow some roses! 😉

How do you approach a first draft? Like a steam train or slow and steady and easy does it?

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