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I Loathe Writing First Drafts!

I loathe writing first drafts. LOATHE IT.

There. I said it.

I know, I know. I’ve heard all the writerly bromides: “First drafts are  supposed to be bad.” “You can fix anything but a blank page.” But the perfectionist who lives in my head doesn’t listen. She’s singing, “Let it suck, let it suck, let it suck!” – to the tune of “Let It Snow” – at the top of her lungs, and not believing a word of it. Being I’m seventeen chapters into my WIP, with three more chapters and an Epilogue to go, the finish line is in sight! But some days it’s all I can do to open the dang file.

Tessa Dare feels me:

Yeah, I know. La Nora’s right. Once the first draft has been written, the words can be fixed – but I’ve learned that I’m one of those writers who much prefers revising, and who sometimes vapor-locks looking at a blank screen.

This hasn’t happened in a while, so it’s taken longer than I’d like to admit to remember, then try, some of the tricks I’ve used in the past:

Step away from the computer. I pick up a notebook and pen, set the timer for 10 minutes, and free-write everything I think I know about the scene I’m working on. This inevitably turns into beats of dialogue, at least some of which are usable, and usually reveals the scene sequence: Who does what? When? What information is concealed and revealed? How do I connect the dots from the previous scene to the next? Once I go back to the glowing screen, I’m warmed up, and have a better idea of where I’m going.  

Eye games: I sometimes change my word processor settings so words are displayed in white text on a blue background. Or I write first drafts single-spaced, so it doesn’t look like a “manuscript” yet, and the stakes feel lower.    

Just talk it out, a/k/a “First Drafts for Dummies”: sometimes I fire up my Dragon voice recognition software and simply talk about the scene, with no pressure to produce anything usable. Soon, voila! The page is no longer blank! And then I can revise, revise, revise, which I much prefer. 

Hmm. Looks like Nora’s right after all. Was there any doubt? 😉

Writers, how do you get out of your own way and just get that first draft down on the page? Any tips and tricks you can share?

19 responses to “I Loathe Writing First Drafts!”

  1. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I’m with you. Hate, hate, hate first drafts. If I spend 8 months on a WIP, the first 6 will be on the first draft and the last 2 with be on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts.

    I often write with my eyes closed. Just hands on the keyboard, slumped back, eyes at rest. The misspellings are epic, grammar bad, and no double quotes to be seen. It all has to be fixed later. But it would be anyway.

    And I sometimes leave myself [reminders in square brackets.] Especially when the words are escaping me but the next paragraph isn’t.

    Oh, we writers are such complicated people 🙂

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Beth, my sister in brackets! I sometimes leave notes for myself using pointy brackets. I also tend to use “THINGIE” as a placeholder when the right word escapes me – which happens more frequently than it used to. 🙂

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  2. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Change writing locations. I swear I have never written an entire book in the same spot. But my favorite is to bring it outdoors—my backyard, a park, a coffee shop patio, the beach, etc. So long as the activity around me is not too distracting I find the fresh air and change of scenery to be invigorating and inspiring.

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  3. Heather McCollum says:

    I go back to my visual cues for the WIP – pictures I have for the hero and heroine, the villain, the locations, etc. Pictures usually help the story start to move again. If not, then I go to Pinterest and find MORE pictures. If something catches my attention (like a beautiful garden or old clock), it usually spurs some type of scene which I can then imagine going horribly wrong for my characters.

    Right now I’m about 3/4 the way through my current rough draft, and the usual panic is setting in. You’d think after 18 manuscripts I’d know that the panic is part of my process. I think the book is crap, but with deadlines I must keep going. But by the time I’m finished revising, the book is fantastic. Yep – part of my process and the part I like the least.

    Thanks for the great post, Tamara!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> the usual panic is setting in

      OMG, THIS. I feel ya. Right now, my thoughts are whirling, trying to remember what my characters’ GMCs are again, and…I know I had a theme here somewhere, where did it go? And maybe now seems a good time to do some research, choosing the exact cell phone my hero might have carried a decade ago…

      GAH.

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  4. I’m in the opposite boat – revisions are my kryptonite and first drafts are the fun discovery part. But I do write single spaced and in a completely different font than my final drafts, so maybe that’s why my brain doesn’t put as much stress on the first draft.

    When I’m stuck, I usually find that I need to shake things up – get exercise, take a shower, go to a movie, take a drive, do something to get away from the stress-brain of me trying to force it and just let it happen. And I am 100% with Jenn! One of my most helpful habits is what I call taking my computer out to lunch – which doesn’t sound like much, but there is something about changing my environment and being in a different place that always kickstarts my productivity in a massive way. Good luck with your first draft, Tammy!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Another recommendation to change environment. This seems worth a try!

      Routine-wise, I’m quite set in my ways, but what I’m doing right now doesn’t seem to be working as well as it should. *kisses*

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  5. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I, too, despise writing the first draft, Tammy. I love thinking about it, however, putting it on the page is painful. When I first began writing, I had no problem vomiting the story. The more I learned about story structure and good narrative, though … BIG SIGH. Now, I find it nearly impossible to turn off my inner editor. The upside is my first draft is really clean, and the editing process is a LOT easier. And I ADORE editing and polishing. As a Virgo perfectionist, making my baby shine, is super rewarding.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      My perspective is very similar to yours, Laurie. It’s hard to put away that inner perfectionist, isn’t it? I think my situation is sometimes complicated by the fact that, in my practice as a (former) software developer, the goal was to get my code as correct as I could the first time around, to prevent bugs from occurring, so less rework was required later in the process.

      This is a difficult habit to break. 😐

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  6. Addison Fox says:

    Tammy – what a great post!

    Unfortunately, I have little to say as I’m in the other camp. I LOVE me a first draft and just…don’t…love revisions.

    That said – I think the different advice given works regardless of which side of the draft you’re on. New scenery. Taking a walk. Giving yourself mental permission to play. Whatever it takes to get to the outcome, really.

    In the meantime … wishing you a very speedy last 3 chapters + epilogue so you can get to those glorious revisions!!

    xo

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  7. Diane Mayer says:

    Tamara, great post from one perfectionist to another. Like you, I prefer revising/polishing, my brain reinforcing my efforts, with high fives along the way.

    First drafts are ugh, like trying to swim through mud. I also find that (15-60 minute) sprints, push me through
    the compulsion to edit, edit, edit. And meditating is a real help. Closing my eyes, slowing my breathing, chanting my mantra, and imaging myself flying through that first draft has allowed me to pick up the pace, and more often write with my heart, not my head.

    I’m Finishing up the first draft of my first novel with five to six chapters to go. I keep pushing myself to spit it out, just put the damn words down, you’re almost there, revision is almost within reach.

    Thank you again, Tamara for opening this discussion.

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  8. Rita Henuber says:

    Oooo. Using different colors is an excellent idea. I use Dragon also. I read drafts out loud myself like I’m reading it to a group trying to make an impression. 🙂 Thanks for the tips.

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  9. Like a few others, I love first drafts. it’s the discovery of what is going to happen next keeps me at the keyboard. Once I do know, it’s over for me. I long to move on.

    Some great tips were shared on how to jump start the task. Thank you for prompting them.

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