Understanding the role of the First Draft

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The messiness of first drafts can either be terrifying or liberating (or occasionally, both). Initially, I wasn’t a big fan. I’m an impatient learner – I want to get things right (if not perfect) the first time around. I’m the sort of person who will pick up a guitar and expect to be playing full melodies within weeks of learning the basic chords. So the idea of labouring through a very average first draft of my novel wasn’t appealing. Twelve thousand words later, I am coming around.

Wise words from authors and bloggers have helped (this post by Standout Books is a great one – Writing your first draft is not as scary as it seems), but there was a particular article which was like a lightning bolt of inspiration directly to my brain.

I wish I could share it with you, because it really was awesome, but alas, I have lost it to the immensity of the internet. I do, however, remember its central tenet, which I will now do my best to faithfully recreate.

Remember the word ladders we used to do in school – the ones where you would have to move from one word to another in a five or so steps by changing one letter at time? First drafts are a lot like the first word, with revisions representing the subsequent words until you get to the final draft – the final word.

Look at the four sentences below:

1. The man stepped out into the cold July winds and buttoned his coat up against the onslaught of icy snowflakes.

2. He stepped out into the night. Icy snowflakes attacked him immediately, striking the bare flesh of his face left unprotected.

3. An icy tempest of bitter winds and sharp snowflakes assaulted him as soon as he stepped out.

4. Beyond the room, snowflakes like icy daggers attacked him with the full force of the winter tempest.

With each sentence there is a clear and easy transition to the next, but when you compare the first and the last, there is a huge gulf between them. The last sentence cannot be reached in a single leap – it is the product of an evolution and can only be generated by way of a series of steps. That’s why you need to find the shape of your novel in the first draft, before you can properly write it.

This idea gives me huge amounts of comfort – firstly, because it declares the necessary evil of a messy first draft; secondly, because it shows that the first draft is really the first step to creating an amazing final draft.

 

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Understanding the role of the First Draft

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