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First Drafts: Fast and Free

By Katherine Reay

As I write this, The Bronte Plot launches in two weeks and my next manuscript is due in a few days… As you read it, both are behind me. And at both times, I’m buried in first drafts.

My son is working on college application essays and one of my daughters is tackling her first two high school English classes and all the writing that goes with them. First drafts are flying around this house!

And they are stymieing my kids…
The Bronte Plot
First drafts are tough because we want them to read like the final product. We want the words to flow with resonance, cadence and brilliance – and the ideas should do the same. But idea-generating, honing, editing and revising all in one moment is seriously hard work. You might be able to do it (I can’t), but I suspect you’ll end up frustrated, anxious and, maybe, have only a couple sentences down at the end of the day. A full manuscript will probably never come…I’m doubting we’ll even get a 200 word college essay around here.

But if you remind yourself that NO ONE needs to see your first draft and you can turn off your own internal editor – the first draft can be a fun, free and creative experience.

You know where you want to go – just start typity-typing. Get sidetracked? Follow the trail. Someone new pops in with something to say? Hear them out. That little voice could turn out to be the one later. (That happened to me in Dear Mr. Knightley – a little one-scene kid named Kyle stole the story and my heart.)

And I believe this advice works regardless as to whether you’re a “plotter” or a “panster.” I’m a hybrid and still find my best work, at the early stages, comes when I say “anything goes” and simply enjoy the voice that comes to the page.

I will say that I can get so off-track that rather than do a full-first draft, I need to go back occasionally and “ground” myself before I let the ideas start up and fly again – so the advice is adaptable. What’s important is that the first time you come to a section or a scene – it’s a “No Editors Allowed” moment.

And that’s what I keep telling my son… Get the heart of why you want to go to that college down on paper and refine it later. After all, for him and for us, without the heart of the matter firmly settled – the rest is only words.

Have fun writing!

Katherine Reay 2015Katherine Reay is the author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane and, most recently, The Bronte Plot. She’s a wife, mother, rehabbing-runner, former marketer, avid chocolate consumer and, randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved to back Chicago.

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2 Responses to First Drafts: Fast and Free

  1. Thanks for this post! I used to expect my rough drafts to be perfect, but soon learned that’s the best way to kill a story! Now I love the revision process. 🙂

  2. Becky Wade says:

    Yes! Your post resonates with me. I seek to do the very same thing with my first draft — just get it down, create, have fun. Good advice!