Getting Toothpaste Out of the Tube: Writing a First Draft

The first draft is the worst part of the writing process for me. Why? Because, that brilliant, vague, abstract idea in my head is forced through the imperfect filter of my keyboard. First drafts are always a disappointment to me; I never write as well as I imagine I will.

Nevertheless, until science dictates otherwise, authors are forced into a grotesque mockery of what will hopefully end up as a presentable piece of writing. There are no hard and fast guidelines as to how best to get the toothpaste out of the tube – this is the perhaps the most organic and unstructured part of the writing process – but here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful.

 

  1. Use your planning

If you’ve planned well (as discussed in A Skeleton to Flesh Out and Storytelling on the Bus) then use that planning. Trust your instincts – if it was a good idea when you first wrote it down in pre-planning then it is a good idea now. There will usually be a time somewhere in the middle your first draft when you feel things aren’t working and when the easiest thing is to move onto another project. It is at this point that you must fall back on your plan. Grit your teeth and follow what you wrote – bad writing can be edited, but off-the-cuff plotting can lead to a project being abandoned.

 

  1. Minimise your distractions

Find yourself somewhere quiet where you can sit and write for at least an hour without being interrupted. I won’t say don’t have your phone near to you. I won’t say don’t write in front of the television (guilty as I write now). I won’t say don’t listen to music. Just be aware that these distractions will influence your writing.

 

  1. Leave your writing on a good note

First drafts will usually take more than one sitting to complete. I find it helpful to leave my writing in the middle of a rich vein of inspiration. If I walk away from my desk at a difficult section, I am less likely to return any time soon. When I stop, my fingers should be dancing over the keyboard. Ideas should be fizzing and snapping around my head. I should arrive at my writing the next morning and be able to pick up exactly where I left off – tappedy tap.

 

  1. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be…

Once your first draft is done, save it, print it out, file it away, and forget about it. Get some space; get some perspective. I always stagger my projects so that I never edit a piece directly after having written it. I come back to a story with a fresh ear and often pick up mistakes and discrepancies that I had skipped over. A professional editor is useful because they view writing from a coldly and analytically. Writers can go some way to achieving this by letting a draft rest before taking the red pen to it.

 

Thanks for reading. As always, comments are welcome. Previous instalments in my writing advice series are available below

 

Igloos in the Tundra – Idea Formation

A Skeleton to Flesh Out – Pre-planning

Exploration and Sterilisation – Research

Storytelling on the Bus – Planning

6 thoughts on “Getting Toothpaste Out of the Tube: Writing a First Draft

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