Surviving a First Draft

Based on completely unscientific evidence, I would say the downfall of most writers (let’s say 88 percent) is getting through a first draft. They jump ship; they just can’t make it.

Those writers (perhaps 12 percent) that manage to finish a first draft have a much better chance (let’s say 77 percent) of making it through at least two more drafts and sending their work on its way into the world.

To sum up: if you make it through an entire first draft, you have a decent shot of taking your project to a stage that is publishable or producible.

It makes sense that it’s so challenging to finish a first draft. After all, you’re creating something out of absolutely nothing. This notion has terrified writers, painters, sculptors, composers, and architects for centuries. But, fortunately, some of them don’t give up. And those lucky few find that subsequent drafts are easier because they are no longer wrestling with that overwhelming blankness.

Maybe this will help: the first draft doesn’t have to be any good. In fact, it can be mostly garbage. If you recognize that a first draft is merely a first step and you have the courage to power onward, writing bad page after bad page, then you’ll get through it. Just keep pressing forward, putting down whatever comes to mind.

And I guarantee some good stuff will peek through regardless of how rambling and shambolic that first draft is.

Let’s say you’re kind of stuck so you show a character moving through the grocery store, tossing items into his cart, and to fill up space, you tell us about the cucumbers and yogurt and pita bread and (for a splurge) the double-decker cookies. And, look, without even trying you’re discovering something about this character.

This is the idea behind Gotham’s Novel First Draft course. You set a weekly word-goal and try to meet it. Plus you get lectures and worksheets that help with your first-draft journey. But you don’t submit your actual novel for critique, because, well, you’re not supposed to worry about the quality at this stage.

The picture above is an Instagram post from Jaime Krug (@jamiekrugauthor), one of our Novel First Draft students. She’s happily announcing that she made her 4,000-word goal for the week.

It’s a good motivator, setting a weekly word-count. Try it. Do whatever it takes to make yourself a first draft survivor.

Sidenote: We are now collecting these letters from me (and the ones from Kelly, our dean of faculty, in our Writing Advice newsletters) on a Gotham blog. The blog will also show our Facebook and Twitter feeds. In short, it’s a cornucopia of a great stuff about the writing world!

Alex Steele

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