When you’re writing your first draft of a story, you want to be able to just let yourself roam freely into the story, and get down the essence of it, with as little distraction as possible.
Put simply, that means no editing - just writing.
It's a separation of tasks that will really help you to get a story written.
Some writers talk about this as simply allowing yourself to write badly. Basically, you just write what you want to write, as descriptively, but as simply, as you want to write it - and just let it out.
You don't worry at this point about how good, bad or stylish your writing might be. You can deal with all that when you edit it later, after your first draft is complete.
Your mission is to just open your mind to the story and imagine yourself as a conduit that the story is using to get told. And you need to try not to get in the way of it getting onto the paper or the computer screen.
The great Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
I was greatly inspired by that quote. It really helped me to understand how important it is to let the first draft flow out of you, with as little interference as possible.
I used to write a single paragraph and then immediately read it back. Of course, I would then find things I didn’t like, and would start editing that paragraph, which would often lead to me reading and editing other paragraphs that had gone before, and so on.
Of course, as I found, if you're doing that, then you’re not getting on with the job of actually writing the first draft - of telling yourself the story, as Terry said.
Now, when I write, I don’t do that. I just get on with writing new paragraphs, until I reach a point where I run out of steam.
At that point, it is usually okay to go back and read what you’ve written, to try and find the scent of the story again, like a sniffer dog. But try not to be tempted to change anything - just use it as a way to inspire yourself to add more paragraphs to the story.
Then, once you’ve written an end to the story, even if it wasn’t quite what you had in mind, you can begin the task of editing the first draft, which is a different process.
The really important thing to remember here first is to congratulate yourself once you have written that first draft, because you have just done the hardest job of all!
Getting the first draft down is the most pivotal part of the writing process - without it, there is nothing you can do. Pat yourself on the back because you have just turned a blank page into a piece of writing!
In architectural terms, you have just built the foundations and the essential structure of your story. All that remains now is for you to embellish and polish it.
Sometimes, that can mean cutting parts out and doing rewrites, but it all begins with the first draft, so it's vitally important.
Personally, I recommend walking away at this point. I suggest you come back later on that day, or even the next day, to actually begin the process of editing your first draft.
When you come back to it, you will then have a more objective view of the story, and be more readily able to spot bits that need some more work.
I’ll talk about the editing process in the next post.
In the meantime, go and write a few first drafts!