There are several aspects of the drafting process. The most commonly accepted form is to have three drafts; an initial write, a rewrite/edit, and the third draft, which is ready for submission to a client, publisher etc. I try to stick to the above guidelines, because otherwise I’d be drafting forever and I’d never actually submit anything. This post is going to focus on the the first draft – which is, for me, the easiest. Some people prefer to underwrite their first draft, nutting out the essentials and coming back later to embellish, but I’m an overwriter to the extreme. Whilst I know that’s not the same for everyone, the first draft is where I set my imagination free.
If I’m writing a non fiction piece, I call this process the Possibilities Draft. It is the first time I have taken the results of my research, moulded them into thoughts and placed them into a piece of writing. The finished product is always multi-faceted and has the potential to be split and rewritten into several different pieces. I’m sure you can see why I call this the Possibilities Draft! When I’ve finished writing, it’s time to decide which of the possibilities I want to focus on. There’s a few criteria I use here. The first and most important is to ensure my choice reflects what the client is after (even if the client is myself). The second most important is word limit. There’s no point picking a minor aspect of the writing if I need a 500 word finished product. Likewise, best not to get carried away with something too long winded if the piece needs to be short. The third criterion is interest. Which choice has the most potential for engaging the reader, whilst still fulfilling the guidelines? Even the most perfectly written piece still has the potential to be utterly boring – a doom I am determined to avoid. Once these decisions are made, I adjust the Possibilities Draft to reflect my choices. Sometimes this requires an almost entire rewrite, sometimes a little bit of tweaking and rearranging. Once completed, this becomes the official first draft. You could argue that I’ve actually done two drafts in this process – and I have – but I consider them completely interlinked. To me, the first draft is only considered complete when the basic bones of the piece have been nutted out.
Now let’s do a flip and consider creative writing. This is where I love to be, particularly in novel form. When I’m doing creative work, it is almost impossible for my fingers to keep up with my brain – in fact, I type my drafts because handwriting is simply too slow for my thoughts. I cannot get it out fast enough and my hands cramp from the effort. So it is imperative I have access to a keyboard. When I’m writing in this way, time seems to stand still. It’s like a kind of trance, where characters come alive and I’m writing down whatever they tell me to, even if it’s not what I was initially expecting. I call this the Brain Poo. Sorry for the visual, but for me it’s true – a hurried evacuation that often leaves me wondering where on earth it actually came from. As with my Possibilities Draft, the Brain Poo is not the first draft. It is a collection of my thoughts, gathered in one place for me to sort through later. The Brain Poo is wild and raw. It contains all sorts of grammatical errors and at times may even contradict itself. Once it’s written, I usually need a nice cup of tea (because the one I made before I started is cold) and a few minutes to collect myself. If it’s been an especially long session, a little stretch and some chocolate might be in order, particularly if my legs have gone to sleep or my blood sugar is low. This actually happens more often than I like to admit – one of the perils of being a diabetic novelist. When I’m ready (and I have children too, so sometimes ‘ready’ is actually the next day, or a few days later, or even in a week) it’s time to read through what I’ve done and have a think about it. I need to consider the actions of my characters and the implications they will have on the rest of the story. I need to make sure their voice and deeds are in keeping with who they are, or the situation they’ve been presented. Once my thinking time is over, I go back to the start of the piece and alter it accordingly. Sometimes there are sections that need to be deleted, others rewritten. Maybe I’ll need to add a bit in, or go back and adjust something from a previous chapter to complement what has just happened. I fix the grammatical errors and clip all the long sentences. Take out all the fluff and create more punch. Most of all, the atmosphere needs to be correct. I won’t go into it now (a post for another day) but to me, the singular most important aspect of any writing, particularly creative, is atmosphere. I will keep writing and adjusting until I feel that I’ve rounded out all of the above. Then I go back to the start of the piece or chapter and do it all over again. And again, and again – until I am no longer altering and just reading through from start to finish. I’m not looking for perfection at this stage, just a nice flow. Once I’m at this point, the first draft is complete. If I’m working on a novel, then I’m ready to move on to the next chapter and begin the process all over again. If it’s a short creative piece, then I’m ready to begin the second draft.
The first draft is not perfection. Oh no. It is, however, a beginning. With this in mind, it needs to have the proper shape and feel, or it will never achieve the desired end result. This applies to both fiction and non fiction. What about you? Do you love a solid platform to start with, or do you like to make a few dot points and flesh them out later? What do you consider a first draft and what is the process you use to achieve it?