Light%20with%20Cobwebs_edited.jpg

How To: Survive The First Draft

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Editing and Publishing

The first draft of your story is always the most exhilarating. Fresh, unpredictable, the very act of creating something from your mind - there's nothing like that first draft feeling. That is, until you actually sit to write. From there, you could be faced down by an empty page just daring you to type. Or you could overthink every line, second-guessing your story and your skill. Many sites would love to give you some advice, but wouldn't you rather get it from Big Names who actually have a best-seller or two under their belt? Let's get some welcomed guidance from authors who know a thing or two about first drafting.



Get Through the First Draft Quickly


"Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly." — Joshua Wolf Shenk "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good." — William Faulkner “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something — anything — as a first draft…Until it exists, writing has not really begun.” — John McPhee



Let It Be Messy


"The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material." — Jennifer Egan “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box, so that later, I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale “To become a proper writer, you have to forgive yourself the catastrophe of the first draft.” — Alain de Botton



Try Different Approaches


"The Russian-born novelist's writing habits were famously peculiar. Beginning in 1950, he composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Since Nabokov claimed, he pictured an entire novel in complete form before he began writing it, this method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased." ― Mason Currey “If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.” — Seth Godin



Maintain Eagerness


"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." ― Ray Bradbury “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” ― Jane Smiley “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” — Nicholas Sparks



Expect Rubbish


"The first draft of anything is shit." ― Ernest Hemingway “Most times, I’ll just sit there, suffer, write shitty sentences, and hope I can make the next draft less putrid.” — Daniel Pink “To become a proper writer, you have to forgive yourself the catastrophe of the first draft.” —Alain de Botton



Get It Written, Not ‘Right’


"Many first-time novelists end up rewriting their first two or three chapters, trying to get them 'just right.' But the point of the first draft is not to get it right; it's to get it written - so that you'll have something to work with." ― Matt Hughes “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” — Michael Lee “Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed…For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” — Neil Gaiman


1st Draft Is Yours Only


"Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right - as right as you can, anyway - it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it." ― Stephen King “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ― Terry Pratchett “I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them—without a thought about publication -and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.” — Anne Tyler



Pick A Focus For Each Draft


"Once I’ve got the first draft down on paper then I do five or six more drafts, the last two of which will be polishing drafts. The ones in between will flesh out the characters and maybe I’ll check my research." ― Colleen McCullough “I had a few key plot points in mind, which I played around with mentally for a couple of months, then one day I just started writing. Not having an outline led to some cool plot twists, but also many rewrites! A lot of the plotting happened on subsequent drafts.” — Chevy Stevens “My first draft is usually how I meant it, but my second and third drafts is how I want to be understood.” — Selena Haskins



Accept Criticism, Decline Solutions


"Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." ― Neil Gaiman "I never pass up the opportunity to let fresh eyes on the page during the early drafts. They nearly always pick out my blind spots." ― K. L. Martyn "Never trust a reader to do a writer's job. I barely trust my editor with that responsibility!" ― Lloyd Robertson



Anything Is Better Than Nothing


"You can always fix crap. You can’t fix a blank page." ― Christina Dodd “It doesn’t matter if it’s good right now, it just needs to exist.” — Austin Kleon “Get it all down. Let it pour out of you and onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.” — Anne Lamott


The first draft of your story is always the most exhilarating. Fresh, unpredictable, the very act of creating something from your mind - there's nothing like that first draft feeling. That is, until you actually sit to write. From there, you could be faced down by an empty page just daring you to type. Or you could overthink every line, second-guessing your story and your skill. Many sites would love to give you some advice, but wouldn't you rather get it from Big Names who actually have a best-seller or two under their belt? Let's get some welcomed guidance from authors who know a thing or two about first drafting.



Get Through the First Draft Quickly


"Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly." — Joshua Wolf Shenk "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good." — William Faulkner “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something — anything — as a first draft…Until it exists, writing has not really begun.” — John McPhee



Let It Be Messy


"The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material." — Jennifer Egan “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box, so that later, I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale “To become a proper writer, you have to forgive yourself the catastrophe of the first draft.” — Alain de Botton



Try Different Approaches


"The Russian-born novelist's writing habits were famously peculiar. Beginning in 1950, he composed first drafts in pencil on ruled index cards, which he stored in long file boxes. Since Nabokov claimed, he pictured an entire novel in complete form before he began writing it, this method allowed him to compose passages out of sequence, in whatever order he pleased." ― Mason Currey “If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.” — Seth Godin



Maintain Eagerness


"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." ― Ray Bradbury “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” ― Jane Smiley “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” — Nicholas Sparks



Expect Rubbish


"The first draft of anything is shit." ― Ernest Hemingway “Most times, I’ll just sit there, suffer, write shitty sentences, and hope I can make the next draft less putrid.” — Daniel Pink “To become a proper writer, you have to forgive yourself the catastrophe of the first draft.” —Alain de Botton



Get It Written, Not ‘Right’


"Many first-time novelists end up rewriting their first two or three chapters, trying to get them 'just right.' But the point of the first draft is not to get it right; it's to get it written - so that you'll have something to work with." ― Matt Hughes “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” — Michael Lee “Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed…For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” — Neil Gaiman


1st Draft Is Yours Only


"Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right - as right as you can, anyway - it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it." ― Stephen King “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ― Terry Pratchett “I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them—without a thought about publication -and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.” — Anne Tyler



Pick A Focus For Each Draft


"Once I’ve got the first draft down on paper then I do five or six more drafts, the last two of which will be polishing drafts. The ones in between will flesh out the characters and maybe I’ll check my research." ― Colleen McCullough “I had a few key plot points in mind, which I played around with mentally for a couple of months, then one day I just started writing. Not having an outline led to some cool plot twists, but also many rewrites! A lot of the plotting happened on subsequent drafts.” — Chevy Stevens “My first draft is usually how I meant it, but my second and third drafts is how I want to be understood.” — Selena Haskins



Accept Criticism, Decline Solutions


"Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." ― Neil Gaiman "I never pass up the opportunity to let fresh eyes on the page during the early drafts. They nearly always pick out my blind spots." ― K. L. Martyn "Never trust a reader to do a writer's job. I barely trust my editor with that responsibility!" ― Lloyd Robertson



Anything Is Better Than Nothing


"You can always fix crap. You can’t fix a blank page." ― Christina Dodd “It doesn’t matter if it’s good right now, it just needs to exist.” — Austin Kleon “Get it all down. Let it pour out of you and onto the page. Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.” — Anne Lamott


  • Instagram

Want tips like these sent straight to your feed?

Connect on Instagram!

Latest Articles