How to Write a First Draft

Forgive me, for I am here to destroy your insecurities. Your excuses. That thing you do when you tell yourself that your first draft must be perfect. The illusion that great writing is born in a single moment of inspiration.

I want to destroy those things so you can get down to the business of writing. And that begins with first drafts.

First drafts tend to scare the hell out of most writers. Even the greats. Kurt Vonnegut said, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

So when a writer of his caliber makes a statement like that … do you think you will be any different?

You won’t.

The bitter truth is that nothing is as beautiful as you can imagine it. NOTHING. Not even your story, no matter how good you become, no matter how many books you read, or how many titles you have written.

Contrary to popular belief, writing is mostly rewriting

So, how do you go about it all?

How does one silence the many, many demons that whisper to your ear the kind of words that stifle your creative spirit?

Well… you could follow a few simple rules. Ten, in fact …

  1. Close the door. It’s just you. Only you.
  2. Work in a physical and mental condition that makes you want to write. Get there by all means possible. Turn your phone off, the TV, throw your Internet router out the window.
  3. Write yourself silly.
  4. Allow your imagination to go to weird places. Nothing is off limits. You can clean up your mess later.
  5. Break every writing rule known to man.
  6. It’s OK if it reads like a letter from a lunatic.
  7. Steal from other writers, as all great writers do.
  8. Do not stop until it’s done.
  9. Once finished with your first draft, leave it alone for days — if not weeks.
  10. Celebrate. The worst has passed.

And then?

Well, it’s time for rewrites.

31 thoughts on “How to Write a First Draft

  1. I’ve got #6 down to a fine art!!

    I read somewhere that it is okay to have a shitty first draft. Isn’t that the idea? A first draft?? I find that if I think too much, I start to write not like myself. I need to get it all out first and then start the process of shaping and forming.

      1. Oh I hear ya! I’ve gone back and read stuff written a while back and thought some of it was far better than what I write today. Back then I just wrote with no “rules.” Seemed to be more my style or representative of who I am.

  2. Some useful tips shared here, thank you. I doubt myself at the end of every sentence, every page and every chapter, often destroying same to start again. I will continue…

  3. Thanks, Cristian, for the reminders. I have begun writing Day#26 on Day #22… time to write a stream of consciousness… time to let it sit… and then a couple of days at least to go back and do the necessary editing. Read it aloud to myself. Read it to a friend. Then create the tags and choose the topics. Then look at it a couple of times on the site before finally clicking the “publish” button. I think that kind of time and mindfulness really is helping. It still ends up with mistakes sometimes, though, even after all that! My “V” for Vacations blog posted with left justification… even after I went back twice and edited for center justified! Grrr… oh well, I like the tenth step best, … “Celebrate! The worst is past.” Yes!!

  4. I am a new blogger, and I appreciate many of the gems on your site. I actually reread your posts and make notes for myself. I really like your words “writing is mostly rewriting”. Thank you.🙂

  5. Reblogged this on The Knowledge Taco and commented:
    Cristian’s article on writing a first draft contains excellent advice for writers of any genre: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even eighth graders struggling with an essay the night before it is due. (Sorry, but procrastination is your own demon that you must continuously battle.)

  6. As a beginner here myself, this struck a chord! Thank you so much for sharing this. It was scary when I started writing first..and you’re right about the insecurities. The ‘what-ifs’ have been plaguing my mind ever since the idea of writing a book cropped up. Thankyou so much again! 😊

  7. Fantastic List! It is also is an encouraging list that is not only inspiring but gets you motivated to write. So Thank you so much for sharing.

    There is also an awesome book I once read called, ‘If You Can Talk, You Can Write’ by Joel Saltzman. Information shared in the title alone pretty much sums up the theme of the book.

    That message also has stuck with me and I hope it does for others as well. So cheers! to joyful writing and beating those writing blocks down! Blessings.

  8. I feel like I need less editing when I actually let the inspiration flow freely. But still, the need to edit is there. I think it also has to do with the type of writing. Stories, in my case, need less editing, less than posts on thoughts and facts.

  9. Ignoring the rules and just writing without restraint is the hardest thing for me to do. Almost every draft that gets scrapped by me does so because I grow to hate it before it is even fully conceived. This is great advice, I just need to follow it.

  10. I like to think my first draft will be just fine but when I read it, I always add something different or change a sentence or give up an idea even though I liked it so much. But that’s writing and I know that’s the way it works.

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