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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rough Drafts Are Meant To Be Rough

It amazes me that there are any number of authors who think they've failed because their rough draft doesn't look like a published book. My theory is that this is the product of a broken education system that insists on forcing children to write essays at the drop of a hat with no time for revision or critique. People walk away from this experience with the idea that their first draft is the final draft and everything must be perfect.

That's not how writing works.

A rough draft is you throwing words at a page. They don't all have to make sense. The segues don't need to be perfect. You certainly expect the first rough draft to be anything more than a loosely linked pile of scenes, and even then some will be out of order. Don't fret. This is the raw matter of story telling. You have to create this mess before you can have a thing of beauty.

Remember, all those pretty statues and painting in the art museums of the world started as unwashed rocks and berries. The rocks were broken, the berries crushed, and you get marble busts and paintings with deep emotion. But it's a messy process. Don't be afraid of the mess.

Write your rough draft. Pour your heart and soul into it. Get crazy. Get messy. As the infamous Miss Frizzle said: make mistakes! Take chances!

It doesn't matter if this won't work or your not sure if anyone will love this scene, write it anyway!

It doesn't matter that this bit will be cut in editing, write it anyway!

If you try to contain the rough draft and keep it prim and proper what you get is a sterile, lifeless draft that is missing the essential soul of your new story. No soul, no story. Everything will flop over and die and you'll realize that trying to contain the story on the first go wasted more time than editing unneeded scenes later.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan of attack or that you shouldn't plot anything, but don't be afraid to wander. If you see the sparkle of a great idea, pursue it! Chase into the jungle underbrush and grab that sparkle!

Then, when the rough draft is as finished as you can make it, tuck it away to simmer for a season.

Really, don't stress about having an ending. Don't force an ending on a rough draft. I can count on one hand the number of rough drafts I've had an ending for. The number hovers right around zero, and it's only that high because I've written some short stories all in one go.

The ending will come once you've started editing. So give yourself some breathing space. Step back. Write something else. Edit something else. Send a short story or a novella or an article off on submission to earn you some rent money.

And then, after you've stepped away and gotten some distance, pull the rough draft out and edit like you're editing for a friend. Leave comments. Fix errors. Don't coddle Draft 2. Draft 2 is the boot camp for books where you take the sloppy raw matter and give it form and function. It doesn't have to be pretty, but it's gonna be done.



*hands you rain boots and a bright umbrella*

Now get out there and get messy with that rough draft! And, when all else fails, remind yourself you can fix it in edits.


  1. I can't do messy. Not on purpose anyway *side eyes novel*

    1. You need to embrace the messy. And finish that novel editing so I can read it. I'm waiting, Misa.

      *eats cookies and patiently waits for more Misa books to read*