Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Importance of the Rough Draft

Writing a rough draft is probably the hardest part of the writing process for me because I’m always tempted to go back and revise before the draft is done. I’m sort of like an impatient chef. I’m always changing ingredients and trying new things and I never get the thing cooked or on the table in a reasonable amount of time. So, there my manuscript sits, half-baked and half-done, and I’m already discouraged and starving, so to speak.

That’s why the rough draft is so important. There are things I learn in the rough draft that I can’t learn if I’m constantly picking at it. It’s cathartic because with drafting, I don’t have to worry so much about word count and whatnot if I can just let myself go, (which I try really hard to do.) Drafting is really all about just getting the story down and shouldn’t be so much about trying for perfection at this point.

Drafting is a great teacher for me. When I’m drafting, I learn a lot of things about my characters—who they are, what their motivations are, and their reactions to the situation. Even if some of those things change in revisions, I have a core knowledge of them because I’ve written them. I’ve written their story from Point A to Point B and I know them.

The second thing I learn while drafting is the basics of my plot, and if this plot can really carry through the entire thing. I have a history of writing really great beginnings, but then I have a tendency to have a sagging middle before my ending. While drafting I can at least get the basics down to support my middle plot and pinch points, so then, when I’m in the revising mode, I have the foundation in place to make my middle just as exciting as the beginning. I’ve also noticed lately that more ideas will come to me as I’m drafting (that I can write in the margins to flesh out later, even though it’s tempting to stop and revise or add.)

The last thing I learn while drafting is that I can do it. I can write this book from beginning to end. Once I get to the end of that first draft, I know that I have the skeleton of my story down and now it’s just a matter of fleshing it out and dressing it up.

It’s exciting to me to have that first draft down because I know it’s a big first step in my publishing process, and although it takes some willpower, once it’s done, I am much closer to my goal than I would be if I’d stopped to change my recipe if you will.

Obviously, the manuscript is not ready to be submitted after a first draft---there’s still a long way to go---but that first draft is like my ticket into the Big Dance. I’ve paid the dues, now I’ve got to prove I’ve got the moves. (I’m just full of analogies today! Sadly, you wouldn’t want to see my dance moves. It would probably scar you for life.)

The rough draft is your foundation and it is an important step that shouldn’t be overlooked or thought about too hard. It’s just something you have to do and, in the long run, you’ll be glad you did.


Stacy Henrie said...

Great advise - not to think too hard about it, but just doing it! I like to just get the words down with the first draft too, but I struggle with turning off the internal editor as I do it and allowing that first draft to be far from perfection.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Stacy, that's totally my problem--turning off the internal editor and letting it be far from perfect. It's a process for sure, but I'm glad there's someone else out there like me! :)

Stephanie Black said...

It's very freeing to remind yourself that it's just a first draft--you can fix it later! Shannon Hale talked about it as shoveling sand into the sandbox so you can use it to build a castle. I love that analogy--I don't have to worry if it doesn't look good yet, but the sand is there, and in revision I can make the castle.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

What a great analogy Stephanie, thanks! I love that one and it's so true. (Out of curiosity, did that speak to your California girl heart? That's not too stereotypical is it?) :)

Debra Erfert said...

This post was so timely. I'm re-reading over my last few chapters and I'm making little changes that aren't necessary at this point. You've reminded me that I'm writing that basic foundation to a story. I'll save the editing for later, after I have all walls built and they can actually support the roof.

S.B.Niccum said...

I need to keep that in mind! I agree with Debra, timely, very timely.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks Debra and S.B. I'm so glad! :)

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Great post, Julie! I'm about to submit my complete novel and I can't wait to start drafting the next one. Thanks for the kick of inspiration!