First Drafts Suck. Here’s Why.

Anyone who loves first drafts has an emotional range as vast as the sea.

Plainly, I am a plotter-and-revision lover. A PR, if you will. I’ve drafted many books in the span of my baby writing career. As time passes and I write more, my habits and favorite moments become clearer. With the first draft I am working through now, I easily discover that I have to plot, by all means.

I tried a new method of simply having ideas of where I want the story to go, but dive into the draft without an actual outline. It took about two weeks of struggling to write the next sentence, the next paragraph, where I finally gave up. I like to play things by ear, but I also like to have loose plans. As I currently draft, I find myself implementing elements that I did not include in the outline. That is what a first draft is about—trying out anything and everything.

The view from our writing retreat; North Carolina mountains. Follow my friend @abigailvcarlson on Instagram!

But, at the same time, first drafts are where dreams go to die.

For me, my self doubt is the highest in this stage. I’m concerned about not writing fast enough, not having high enough word counts, knowing that this draft sucks, and so many other self-deprecating thoughts I just can’t shake. It wasn’t until I was on a writing retreat with my friend did I realize the reason for this.

My friend is a big fan of first drafts. They’re her favorite parts, and I can understand why. You get to experiment. But as someone who almost always puts work before emotions, first drafts are hard because it is all emotion. Every time you sit to write in your first draft, you are pouring every single emotion onto the page. You are putting feeling behind every word and dialogue. It is exhausting.

Upon revision, we add the emotion that we unknowingly (or knowingly) skipped over in the first draft. Perhaps a character should have cried more or yelled louder. Each scene of a book requires emotions that we as writers give the characters. We have to experience these feelings before we give them to our characters. We might not know what it feels like to drop from the sky on a dragon’s back, but we might know what it’s like to ride a roller coaster. We have to touch those memories and feelings and portray them on the page in a lyrical, comprehensive, and appropriate manner.

That’s a lot of work for a single person, right?

Writers, we have hard jobs. Just know that I see you and I am suffering with you. I hope you weren’t looking a way to cope with the struggles within this post because I’ve got nothing for you.

I say to my friends that first drafts are like running while you’re on fire: you have a better chance at living if you keep running rather than standing still. But it still burns like hell and you start to consider death as a relief.

Keep going, friends.

Until next time,

Marina Hill

1 thought on “First Drafts Suck. Here’s Why.”

  1. I love your writing style: down to earth (dragon ride excepted), unpretentious, vulnerable, humorous. Your descripton of writing a first draft is much like my painting experience: I know I should plan everything first, sketch it out first, then do the painting. But I have an incredibly hard time trying to force myself to do that. So, of course, I have any number of halfway done paintings that don’t work, get gessoed over and then something else gets painted on top. Many of the other halfway done paintings end up with multiple layers of corrections (exhausting).

    Until reading your blog, I never recognized the similarity in the writing and painting processes. Thank you.


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