Don’t Sweat the First Draft

Writing the first draft of your manuscript is tough. I think it’s easily the hardest part of the entire publishing process. Not only are you trying to create a plot with authentic characters in a believable setting, but you want it to sound good. There’s a constant pressure to write something worthwhile, for you and for your future readers.

However, there is one thing I constantly have to remind myself of before I get bogged down in perfecting my first draft: don’t sweat it so much.

This is a bit of a mantra among the writing community. We all say not to sweat the small stuff int he first draft, because you’re going to edit it later. It’s going to be messy, your characters will not be perfectly developed, and you will probably add, subtract, and rewrite sections a dozen times before it’s actually any good.

But it’s still sometimes difficult to remember all of that as you’re writing.

My Own First Draft Struggles

This past week or so I’ve been working on the first section for one of my secondary POV characters. This was a planned character: I knew I needed to have a person in this particular setting, with a specific background to provide the necessary context and perspective to the larger story.

What I didn’t know were a lot of the details: who was this person? How did they get to where they are now? What are their day-to-day motivations? How do they interact with the other characters around them? What’s their personality like?

I didn’t even know this person’s name or gender until about three weeks ago. Turns out, he’s a dude.

So, in his first POV section, I wanted to lay some valuable groundwork for how he will impact the story later on–and how he ties in with the protagonist, Arden.

He has a conversation with another character who was somewhat established in WoEM. They’re allies, but also sort of rivals. Their ultimate goal is the same, but how they want to get there and how far they’re willing to go to achieve it is a little different.

I probably spent way too long thinking about and writing their conversation, as well as a follow-up conversation the POV character has with one of his closest friends.

I wanted it to be perfect, to tie in all of the narrative threads that will ultimately be pulled by this character, to set the tone between these characters, and to build tension for the rest of the story.

And that’s great. Those are the reasons this character is so important.

But–and here comes the mantra again–it’s too early for me to sweat the details about him. I’m barely one-fifth of the way through this draft. I hae plenty of time to build up his arc before its conclusion.

Obviously, I want to lean on this first section to inform later sections. What details I expose and leave out will help build tension and make him feel fleshed out. But I can’t get bogged down in the minutiae of a single page of dialogue.

Don’t Sweat the First Draft

That’s really the point when we say not to sweat the first draft. You want the first draft to be a framework from which a more detailed, more nuanced version of your story can be built.

But it will change. For now, we have to focus on getting that framework down. Make an important conversation do what it needs to move the story forward. There will be more than enough chances to come back to it later and make the dialogue pretty.

It’s okay to remind yourself of that throughout your first draft.

Steve D

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