Looking Back at First Drafts

Photo credit: Rsms on Flickr
So I've talked many many times about how first drafts tend to be terrible. I've mentioned the importance of getting the words down even when they're not great, and how you just need to get the story written and you can fix everything later, and, yes, it's okay if your first draft is awful because most first drafts are.

Last month I finished first drafting Into the Black, which was a really encouraging and exciting experience. First drafting that book was odd, because it was the first manuscript I'd ever written knowing with absolute certainty that it would be published. There wasn't any question about getting through submission, or writing it and revising it and possibly putting it away forever, because my publisher had already looked at the proposal and said, yes, we want to publish this.

It was really cool, and a little scary, but also super exciting. And by and large I felt good while first drafting—I mean, it was a first draft, sure, and I knew it'd be nowhere near perfect and was already anticipating revisions when I finished, but I felt decently good about it while writing.

All of that said, however, writing it also felt, in many ways, like any other first draft. I threw down words that, even as I was writing, made me think eh, this could be better. I mentally catalogued things I'd have to change as I layered words on top of words—removing filter phrases, describing a lot more, expanding the world building, etc. I knew there were gaps I had to fill, and even as I wrote "The End" I'd already started mentally cataloging things I'd need to add or fix later.

So before I started my first read through on the draft last week, I braced myself. I knew after those initial chapters that were revised already for the proposal, the quality of the writing would drop. I knew it wasn't going to be as clean and polished as the manuscripts I'd been revising the year before. I reminded myself this is just the first draft; now I need to take note of what to fix.

And I started reading. And the more I read, the more I felt a sense of relief—and wonder. Because that terrible first draft I was expecting? Wasn't so terrible after all.

I'm not saying it's a perfect first draft because it's absolutely not (I don't believe perfect first drafts even exist, to be honest). But as I read, I couldn't deny that this first draft—my fifteenth—was undeniably better than my first drafts from a couple years ago. Which in retrospect makes sense—I've certainly learned a ton between now and 2014 or so—but seeing such a marked improvement from older first drafts to this new first draft was really encouraging.

Naturally I still have a lot of work to do. But this first draft may be my best one yet. :)

Have you had a similar experience from draft to draft? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae talks seeing improvements from first draft to first draft. (Click to tweet)

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