Rarely, if ever in the history of the world, has the first draft of a novel or non-fiction book been the final draft. Consequently, we may feel like the first draft is of little value to the end product.
You would be oh so very wrong.
There are a number of reasons to value your first draft but first, a brief history lesson.
Once upon a time, in the land of San Francisco, Chris Baty and some friends decided to encourage each other to write their first novel. They were tired of sitting around, drinking wine and bemoaning the fact that they hadn’t ever written the “Great American Novel.”
Chris decided that what they needed was a deadline. “Thirty days,” he said. “We’ll set aside thirty days in which we write until our fingers fall off or we hit 50,000 words, whichever comes first.”
“Novels are written by everyday people who give themselves permission to write novels.” Chris Baty
Now, I may be paraphrasing just a little but from that initial goal grew Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. A month in which, now 12 years later, almost 500,000 people worldwide participate in the great novel writing effort. They have the thirty days in November to write a minimum of 50,000 words.
Chris will tell you, as will anyone else who has participated and reached the goal, that the only way to do this is to write.
By that I mean, no editing. No re-reading. No second guessing your plot line. You just put your head down and write.
At the end of the month you will have a first draft. It may be crap, but it will be complete. From the first word until you type “the end,” you have a story.
You may ask, why do this if the end product isn’t worth publishing? I didn’t say it wasn’t worth publishing in fact; several books originally written during the Nanowrimo process have reached the NY Times Best Selling list! Books like Water for Elephants (Sarah Gruen), In the Day (Kevin Marman) and The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Click here for a listing of all the published novels that originated with Nanowrimo.
They all started with the first draft.
“The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written.” John Dufresne
On to the 5 benefits of that first draft:
- You get the story out of your head and down on paper. This is the whole premise behind Nanowrimo and the foundation of Halo Publishing International. Getting your story down on paper is the starting point and the first step in self-publishing your book.
- If you keep your mind open and just write; your creative juices and characters will take over the story. You have to be willing and open to let them travel where they will; make bad choices and totally mess up your carefully planned outline; but often times this first draft becomes richer and more relatable than what you set out to write.
- You may find that the story you originally set out to write doesn’t have enough oomph to get you to the end, but a totally different story takes over. One writer friend of mine decided within the first 5,000 words that she needed to kill off her main character. Talk about an unexpected twist. Unless you get your story down in a first draft, you will never know what really works and what doesn’
- It is a starting place, a foundation for the editing process to begin. In the article 5 Tips on Writing the First Draft, author,Chuck Sambuchino, reminds us that you don’t have to let anyone read it. However, Chuck does have a little advice:
“But if you decide not to show it to anyone, it may be best not to tell anyone about it either. Otherwise, your well-meaning friends will keep asking you how it’s going, and you will have to distract them with beer or chocolate or witty conversation on another topic (my personal favorite).”
5. In a first draft you will determine the true genre of your story. Author Sabine Reed talks about the purpose of a first draft and gives this insight:
“Although you might have in mind the idea of a fantasy story, sometimes it is possible that the protagonist’s motivations or journey may cause the story’s genre to change a little. A fantasy could turn into fantasy romance, a romance could turn into paranormal romance, a sci-fi could turn into romance sci-fi or a thriller could turn into horror.”
So embrace your first draft. Be proud of the fact that you finished it. You are an author! Celebrate the accomplishment and then put it away for a little while. You have just birthed an entire story from beginning to end and you need to separate yourself from the characters and rejoin the world around you before beginning the editing process.
Bottom line: The first draft is a gem that should be cherished for what it represents.