Ever read your early work and thought to yourself “what the hell was I thinking“?
I know I have. In fact, I’ve probably cringed at most, if not all, of my first drafts at some point or the other. The grammatical errors, the unnecessary fluff, the questionable dialogue, it all stands out like a sore thumb when you’re looking at that first manuscript with fresh eyes. But that’s completely okay.
One of the most common and well-loved pieces of advice that any writer is bound to hear is “don’t be afraid to write a bad first draft.” And quite honestly, truer words have never been said.
No one expects you to write a masterpiece on your first try (although if you do, that’s pretty awesome). The first draft is the scaffolding that comes before the house; the steel that hasn’t yet been forged into a sword. But sometimes, the first draft is much more than just that. And I only came to realize this after losing all my motivation to continue writing.
Here’s why sometimes revisiting your first draft can be extremely helpful.
Where the Magic Lies
I was on the second rewrite of a novel I’d been working on for what felt like almost a decade when, one day, I simply lost sight of where I was going. I didn’t know what to write next. And, on top of that , I just didn’t feel like continuing.
“What’s the point?” I asked myself, and shortly after convinced myself that the book was terrible anyway, so it didn’t matter if I didn’t keep at it.
After that, day after day, no matter how much I tried I couldn’t bring myself to continue writing.
Somewhere in the midst of my seemingly permanent bout of writer’s block, I ended up stumbling upon my novel’s first draft. It was tucked away in a subfolder of a subfolder containing quite a number of unfinished projects. I opened that first draft. And as I began to reread it, I discovered something almost magical.
Reading through my first draft for the first time in years, I found a lot of grammatical errors and cringe-inducing dialogue. But that wasn’t all. As I read through the first few chapters of that draft, a wave of emotion washed over me.
It’s the same wave of emotion that hits when you find that special book after scanning the shelves at Barnes & Noble; the same wave that hits as you exit the theater after a really good movie. It’s the same wave of emotion that comes with opening up a blank word document and watching as the words that once only existed in your mind come to life.
I had felt it before.
In fact, I’d experienced that same rush of emotion the day I first conjured up the plot of my fantasy novel.
Reading that poorly (and, at the same time, beautifully) written first draft reminded me of the passion that I had both for writing and for my story – the passion that had been slowly fading away thanks to depression and burnout.
And that’s the beauty of a first draft.
Your first draft might not be where your best, most polished work lies, but it’s often where most of your passion and inspiration does. It’s where most of the magic is.
In my opinion, the first draft is to the final draft what writing fanfiction is to writing a novel.
Ever sat down and read (or written) a less-than-perfect Wattpad or AO3 story? Chances are, you finished it in less than a week, and you didn’t even notice or care about the lack of editing because you were just so engrossed in the story. You were just so passionate about the characters and their journeys and what they had to say.
Writing the first draft is often the same.
As Stephen King puts it, writing the first draft is akin to “writing with the door closed.” There’s no pressure to look or be (or write) perfect, and so more focus is placed on the more enjoyable part – simply being inspired; simply creating.
So the next time you find yourself at a loss for words or starved for some inspiration, try turning to your first draft.