First Draft Blasphemy

I’ve been hesitant about writing a post about first drafts because I don’t want to just reiterate what’s been said a million times. It’s an important topic though, so I don’t want to neglect it either.


So I guess I’ll tell you the way I get my firsts drafts on paper, which isn’t exactly the norm.

Most have heard the Just-Get-It-Down rule, but as I’m aware not EVERYONE is able to slap words on the page without looking back, I’d like to add to the rule. But first a disclaimer: this works for ME. If you have no problem just slapping down a first draft then excellent. Please continue to do so. Truly, this method is for those like me who feel the need to edit SOMETHING along the way. People like me.

Ok. That being said, my philosophy when writing a first draft is to just get it down…but if you HAVE to edit, edit yesterday’s writing.

Now, now, before you all burn me at the stake for being a heretic, let me explain.

When I say edit, I don’t mean spending hours looking over what you wrote and moving major plot arcs around or anything like that. Please, PLEASE don’t do that. It’ll make finishing that first draft very near impossible.

In this case when I say edit, I mean review. See, every morning before I jump into writing I like to look over what I wrote the day before. This can take me anywhere from five to thirty minutes depending on how much I wrote. Why you ask? This is why:


1.       GET IN THE ZONE. The first few words of the day tend to be the hardest (for me at least) to write. Reading what I wrote yesterday puts me back in the zone. I fall into the story again and rather than trying to pick up based off the last paragraph, I remember everything that happened the day before, including those little nuances I completely forgot about so I can include it in today’s writing.

2.       OH WAIT BUT I GOT AN IDEA. Sometimes when I’m reading what I wrote the day before I get an idea. Sometimes it’s a big deal, sometimes it’s a minor adjustment. Either way I’ll incorporate it before I start today’s writing goal UNLESS it’s a major OH CRAP THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING event in which case I’ll start today’s writing like it already happened and make a note to change it later.

3.       IT PLEASES ME. The perfectionist in me in satiated when I read over what I wrote and make minor adjustments. After I do so I can shut off the editor and write freely for the day. Some part of me is just happier knowing that yesterday’s work wasn’t COMPLETE crap and that whatever I put down today will be tweaked tomorrow. Maybe it’s just me. Either way, in some weird, twisted way, editing yesterday’s work shuts off that part of me that wants today’s work to be perfect.


The rule is simple:


See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?

The reason this rule is so insanely important is because if you read anything more than that, you will fall into the editing everything trap. This is fatal. Ok, maybe not FATAL but very difficult to recover from and you really don’t want to have to deal with that, do you? Let me answer that for you: no. No you don’t.

So! Moral of the story is DON’T EDIT EVERYTHING PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! Get that first draft down. Don’t stop to look back, but if you MUST then glance a little at yesterday’s work. Then move on. MOVE ON AND GET THAT DRAFT FINISHED.

Because shiny confetti is pretty until you’re being smothered in it.

What is your philosophy on first drafts? Do you tend to edit or just slap it down?


Jennie Bennett said...

I like to slap it down, but I think your rule is good. If you go back and edit the beginning when you're almost finished you lose your focus.

Michelle Rene said...

I actually do edit a chapter right after I write it. Like you said, not for major changes. I proofread mostly. I find that if I reread and edit what I just wrote, it helps cement the info in my brain and I have fewer consistancy issues later. But then again, I also write a loose outline before I ever do any writing on a first draft. I don't always follow my outline to a T, but I do write one. I thought that was normal until I spoke with a few other writers who looked at me crooked. So please don't smother me in confetti...I'm a heretic too. :)

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...


It's a tempting trap, but it must be avoided at all costs.


There will be no confetti smothering for you, we're both heretics. :)

Re-reading helps me especially when I'm pantsing, but even if I'm not...well I already explained it. Anyway! As you can see, you're totally not alone on the minor editing-while-writing.

Thanks for commenting, guys! ^_^

Krista said...

I love this suggestion! I just "finished" my first novel and I mostly just slapped it down. Every once in a while I would do what suggested (by accident I think).

When I got to the end of my novel I had to do a TON of editing which was not fun. I like your suggestion better - and it is how I plan to do my next project.

I also like the idea of revising a chapter after you have written it. Another mistake I made with my last project is I did not divide into chapters until I finished my first edit. (I know! Stop looking at me like that!)

Oh, and I also write a detailed outline (which I don't have to follow, but it helps). I tried writing like Jen does - by the seat of her pants :) - doesn't work for me.

Again thanks! I think this will help a lot with my next writing project.

My Blog: I Take the Pen

G. Donald Cribbs said...

The only caveat I would make is that I might do this on occasion, but not every day. Some days, I can't wait to get to the computer to write, and other days I do benefit from rereading what I wrote yesterday.

Also, I'm done with my first draft, so I'm all good. Please don't bury me in sparkly confetti b/c I can write easily on some days. :D


Gabe (Ava Jae) said...


Glad I could help! Just remember it's light editing...more like reviewing, really. I expect you'll still have tons of editing to do at the end. :)

Also. Definitely divide into chapters while writing, lol. Though it seems you've learned your lesson there.

@GD Cribbs

Congrats on finishing your first draft! YAY! I think I might bury you in confetti in celebration (rather than punishment) ^_^.

Thanks for commenting, guys!

Unknown said...

Miss Ava, you and I are heretics together! We can hold hands as we are burned at the stake. Okay, kinda gruesome image, but moving on.

I keep a special notebook for any ideas etc. I get when I review the work I've done before. Occasionally, if I feel the need to overhaul, I save the file separately, get it out of my system and leave it alone. I never take the overhaul full stock, but sometimes there is a nice nugget in there.

The notebook is nice because I am easily distracted. If I just write down the tangent or thing I want to research, or do, I can always come back later. If I can't find my notebook (it happens), I use TomNotes or Basket Note Pads. These are free and open source software titles.

Other times, I just put a comment in the first draft. I don't do this often, because it can get ridiculous.

Unknown said...

Dear Ava,

You are a genius. The End.

No wait! I'm not finished yet, lol. That was my naughty joker of an alter personality. Anyway... I LOVE this post, I wanna frame it, make it into a brodery, wear it on my head, and tattoo it on my... oh-kay, that's enough now. :P

You may think I've gone crazy but that's exactly what I need! I get boggled down with reading all of yeaterdays' reading, not just one day or I don't read and get stuck in the middle of a chapter or... you get my driftage.

Bless you for being so smart. I think it's from those words you've mongered. You're Popaye and they're your spinach, and if this reference is too outdated, I apologize, lol.

I'm saving this on a word document for years to come. I'll be selling it when you get all famous and I have no money to buy fake teeth. :D

Anonymous said...

For the most part, I just slap it down. Occasionally, I will go back and re-read what I wrote and make changes, but the majority of the time I just write it out and save it for later.

Personally, I find it harder to edit something while the writing is still fresh in my mind. If I JUST wrote something, then I KNOW how it's supposed to read. Therefore, my mind tends to skip over minor errors that I make. If I let the piece sit and come back to it later, then I'm more likely to catch the errors that I made, because it's almost like reading someone else' writing.

Melissa said...

Most days I like to go back over what I have written the day before too. I could never really understand why I wasn't supposed to. In the beginning I tried to follow the rules of writing, then I gave up and just wrote. Reading what I wrote the day before is like a huge jolt of caffeine - it wakes me up and gets me started. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and just begin but I find I get a bit lost along the way and have to backtrack, so most of the time I try and discipline myself - read first, write after.

I am really glad I came across your blog. I'll definitely be back.

Megan Paasch said...

I do the same thing. I have trouble getting started without reading what I wrote the day before and possibly fixing things here and there.

Ava Jae said...

I've found that it can definitely help get you started, particularly if you're having trouble getting back into the writing zone before a sprint.

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