It is common advice that a completed first draft is far more important than the actual quality of that first draft. Writers are universally urged not to get sidetracked by editing while writing the first draft; all those imperfections will be resolved in the later drafts.
Completing the first draft is essential, but I think that this universal advice needs tempering. There is a synergy in first drafts that needs to be honored, a magic sense of focused story promise that informs the later shaping of the work. A ‘crappily written’ but complete first draft with that synergy is a joy to revise; a ‘crappily written’ first draft without that synergy is an aimless bog of revisions. The goal of any first draft is not just to type ‘The End’ on the last of a sequence of pages, but to have embedded within those sequential pages the details and clarity necessary to make subsequent revisions purposeful.
How to get to a synergistic first draft? Step 1: Know what your writing process is and honor it.
Two Basic Writing Processes—Trimming and Embellishing
In my experience writers, like artists, tend to fall into two basic writing patterns—those who trim and those who embellish. Michelangelo took solid blocks of stone and carved away the extraneous pieces; Degas added clay and materials bit by bit to an armature to build up the forms that were later cast into metal. Writers who are trimmers take a first draft and then tighten and cut until it is focused; writers who are embellishers generate a bare bones full draft and then flesh it out until it is complete.
These differing writing strategies—trimming or embellishing—have consequences for what kind of first draft is needed. [Read more…]