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Your First draft: 8  steps to writing one that's Perfect

Hemingway once famously wrote that the first draft of anything is shit.” But that'’s a harsh judgment of something that exists only as a sketch.

I would argue that all first drafts are perfect. The purpose of your first attempt is to put your ideas on the page, however you can. You have nothing to prove to anyone at this stage. Give your imagination free rein and write whatever you want. 

Following a few guidelines may make the first draft process easier.

Writing techniques to Try as you write your First Draft

  1. Write from a loose premise. If you’'re working on a novel, aim to write active scenes with strong scene goals. So before you begin writing, ask yourself one question: Who wants what in this scene? 

    The answer to that question provides the only direction you’ll need to start. And if your answer is: 

    A poor tailor wants work, as in Rohinton Mistry’'s bestselling novel A Fine Balance, your imagination will get to work on that goal.
     
  2. Imagine the who, what, why, when, where, and how of this scene and begin writing all you know about that, and provide information that will orient readers in the place and time of this scene. 

    Who is this tailor?
    What is his name? 
    Where is he now? 
    What does he look like? 
    Why does he need a job now?  
    When will he apply for work, and where
    How will he get to the interview? 
    Who will he go with? 
    How does he sound when he talks? 
    ~  What character traits best define him?  
    How does he show these traits through his actions?
    ~ And what happens at the end of the scene to aid or prevent your tailor's progress toward his goal?
     
  3. Stay calm. Don’t fret about any of this, or get “blocked” by anxiety because you think you must get every word right the first time. 

    Whatever you write here is perfect for now. Paste that sentence on the top of your computer screen if you have to: Whatever I write today is perfect for now!

  4. Write whatever comes to mind. If it helps to write the scene goal at the top of every page, do that. If it helps to write questions you will answer at intervals on the page, do that.

    If you’'d rather approach a blank screen, go ahead, but keep your scene goal in mind

  5. Make writing as easy for yourself as possible. If you have an idea, write it down and explore it. This is your idea bank, a sketch to fill in and develop later.  It is written on a computer screen, not in stone, so you can change it or discard it.

  6. Remember:  Nothing you write is or should be sacred. This is a first draft, not a finished manuscript.

  7. Write in 10 or 15-minute blocks, and then get up for a glass of water or a few stretches. When you come back, pick up where you left off.

    Set a timer and stop mid-sentence if you have to. Your imagination will gnaw on the rest of the sentence even as you walk away, and you won’'t wonder how to begin again when you return. You will finish the sentence you started.

    Or you can delete that sentence and start with a fresh one. You're not trying to write a masterpiece at this stage, and certainly not the final product. Author Alice McDermott calls this first draft "spillage."

    Whatever we call it, first draft writing is all about process, about rewriting, and about layering—--repeatedly going over and over a piece to make it better and better and better. 

  8. Approach writing according to the Japanese notion of kaizen—--to incrementally make something better through small changes.

    Each time you make the weakest aspect of your work stronger, you greatly increase the overall quality, so this philosophy works well for writers.

    Shunryu Suzuki-roshi wrote: You are perfect as you are, and you could use a little work. 

    So it is with your first draft, and your second, and your third. Allow yourself to write some of your worst sentences early on, and in most cases, you'’ll also write some of your best. 

Now go HERE and use Amazon's  Look Inside feature to see how long Rohinton Mistry takes to answer all those who, what, when, where, why, and how questions (11 pages).

Use his story as a guide, and sentence by sentence, imagine your own character. Write about her goal, imagine her situation, and answer similar questions.

Before long, you will have a perfect first draft.

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