Why I Love First Drafts

Originally published on my website 3/18/11 (www.lisalregan.com)

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how I have to find time to write in the little nooks and crannies of my daily life (i.e. while waiting in a doctor’s office, while my kid is asleep, on my breaks at work, etc.). I’ve also talked a lot about how when I get that ten or fifteen minutes or half hour to squeeze in some writing, it often feels wooden and awkward at the start.

Recently I tried Operation Write in the A.M. which involved me getting up an hour and a half before my family and using that time to write. Having uninterrupted quiet time that lasted longer than fifteen minutes really helped with that initial awkwardness. It was going smashingly well until everyone in my house got the flu—that debacle lasted three weeks. So I haven’t returned to morning writing although if I get involved in a new project I probably will.

Recently I finished a major revision of Aberration. (And thus, I have completed one of my New Year’s Resolutions! Go, me!) It took me way longer than I anticipated and trying to find time to work on it was excruciating. Illness had a lot to do with that though—cannot be helped. Anyway, it was painful. I made some major changes to the plot and several times I found myself stuck as to where to go and how to make it work within the existing framework of the book. The truth is that sometimes I love revising and sometimes I hate it. It is hard work. I did many revisions of Finding Claire Fletcher over the years and actually enjoyed working on them for the most part. But this particular revision almost kicked my ass. I found myself to be very irritable and cranky while working on it. I am grateful to my family for putting up with me during that time.

Honestly if I had a dollar for every word I changed in that book or in Finding Claire Fletcher AFTER the first draft, I wouldn’t have to work. It makes me laugh to think of all those times that I had ten minutes to write and pulled out my notebook only to be daunted by the awkwardness of the words leaking from my pen because it really doesn’t matter WHAT you write in your first draft. It doesn’t matter what the content is or what words you use or how crappy it is—it’s all going to be changed later. Maybe not drastically but it will certainly be revised to some degree. Sometimes there are some passages that you don’t change but you still may have to move them around or even delete them altogether. Everything is susceptible to revision which actually is a good thing.

That is kind of why I love a first draft. It is so liberating. You can write anything. You’re not bound by anything you’ve already written. Sure you’re bound by your idea and the outline of your plot—don’t get me wrong, your book should make sense. I’m just saying that you have a lot more freedom when you’re writing a first draft then when you are revising something that you’ve already worked on ad nauseum. I just love first drafts. There is no stopping, no need for hesitation. You just write. You write whatever the hell comes out and worry about it later. You go for it. You have no inner-filter, no inner-censor and you (should) shut down your inner-critic. It’s just you and the page. The sky is the limit. You can have fun. You can experiment. Try things. Do your worst. I love that feeling—the heady rush of it. Writing a first draft is like the long night of partying and revising is like the hangover.

I tend to be a much happier person when I’m writing a first draft than when I’m working on a revision. As I’ve said, revisions make me cranky—even ones that I am enjoying—because I’m constantly worrying about what changes I am making and if they are going to work. When I’m writing a first draft, I’m not worrying at all. Thus, I am light and happy and somewhat euphoric.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m down on revisions though. The really fabulous thing about them is that your book can become so much better. Also I think you can learn a lot by revising—you start to see how to make a story tighter, how to cut words, how to improve your pacing. I always learn a lot by doing a revision and I think that ultimately makes me a better writer.

My next writing project (and next New Year’s Resolution) involves writing a first draft so I hope to be far less cranky the next few months!


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