First Drafts

If you’re familiar with the writing process, you’ve probably often heard the dreadful—yet too often considered to be the Truth—saying that every first draft is crap. A sentence that basically means that anything you attempt to write is always already worthless until you start it over. Another saying of the same nature states that good writing is good rewriting. Well, no.

Let’s take a step back, and analyze what such negative definitions do to us.

Saying that every first draft is crap is a hurtful lie which conveys the subliminal message that every writer is bad until they work with beta-readers or editors to rewrite their drafts. Defining every first draft in such a way is spreading gratuitous negativity which often leads to self-doubt and anxiety for the writer. It is also highly disrespectful of the hard work invested in the writing of that first draft, and completely dismisses the idea, intrigue, and characters present in the story. Indeed, a novel is not only about linguistics, but also—and actually even more—about narrative lines. Therefore, while every first draft is incomplete, certainly not every first draft is worthless.

How about looking at first drafts with a little more positivity.

My first draft is good. My first draft is not crap. My first draft contains mistakes, typos, bad phrasings, unnecessary elements, that need fixing. But despite that, my first draft is good because it contains a story, a novel written from beginning to end, an idea fleshed out in thousands of words.

While acknowledging that my first draft is far from constituting a finished novel, I value the work that I have put in it and I actually look at its content. I know that I will have to work more on certain parts and perhaps even rewrite some bits completely, but I also know that I have a good basis on which to work. So instead of saying that the first draft as a whole is crap, I separate its different elements: the basic idea of story is good, the language and phrasing needs corrections, the structure might be improved.

My first draft is good. It is promising and I am motivated to edit and revise it to make a great second draft. Which I will in turn edit and revise to come up with an awesome third draft. So on so forth until I am happy with the final draft of my novel.

Please, beta-readers and editors, for the sake of writers’ mental health, stop saying that all first drafts are crap, stop saying that a story is worthless because it is not yet in its definite form.


4 Replies to “First Drafts”

  1. I think it depends on how you write your first draft.
    If it’s just bare bones, random scenes that yet have to be stitched together or even removed entirely, the feeling of “crap” might be there – and it’s not necessarily negative then. It’s more of the moving forward: “I know it’s not good, but I have the tools to make it better.”
    On the other side, when the first draft was carefully outlined and slowly written (and not rushed to “just get the words/story down onto the page”), it’s nowhere near “crap”.


      1. Yes. The thing is, many people consider it the first draft, even though the plots are dangling unresolved, characters behave erratically, and so on. I think your (and mine for that matter) perception of what a first draft is differs from other people’s perception, and this is where the feeling of the inadequacy of the common saying comes from.


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