We all know what first drafts of our writing projects are like. Sh****, rambling, incoherent. First drafts are generally too long at the unimportant places and embarrassingly short at the meaty. In the haste to put down all the points on paper, the mind jumps ahead of the pen and we get typos, incomplete sentences and unexplored ideas.

First drafts can be edited, improved and rewritten. We can polish them into gems. But the task is daunting to most of us. I know, because I have the first draft of last year’s NaNoWriMo sitting heavy on my hands. After I finished the first draft, I took time off for a few weeks before picking it up again. And then it became a huge gargantuan task that I simply could not tackle.

It is easy and far too regular to get intimidated by First Drafts. Here are a few things that I learnt about getting back on track.

1. Strip down to the bare bones

Call it outlining or summarizing, but after everything that is in your head put down,  it is time to sit back and find out the story that you are telling. In a fictional piece, tell yourself that story again. Take away the cosmetic fillings, the recurring themes, the metaphors, the irony and plot for yourself what the real story is. Find out the protagonists and what happens in their lives in your book.

For a non fictional piece, outline your premise, the arguments for and against,  the supporting evidence and the conclusion. Once you are clear about what essentials you are presenting, you would be able to get a hang of where you are going next .

2. Shake things up

After writing the first draft, it might just seem very difficult to get back to it. Inexplicably, you can’t seem to get back into the same frame of mind as you were before. That is just fine because to move to the next level, there needs to be a change in attitude. 

Change that attitude by getting into a different frame of mind. You would have already spent a little time away from the first draft. Now shake things up by changing how the draft looks. Get a printout for a soft copy. Change the fonts. Change the margins. For the text itself, change the point of view. Have the story told by a different character. Examine your narrative from a different angle. 

3. Be ruthless

Be ruthless with the script you had laid out.  You know the story and you are raring to go and embellish and present it differently. Let go of things and characters that you know do not sound right or are not going to work. Chalk out what needs to be elaborated upon and what needs to be cut out. 

Above all, be ruthless with yourself. It is time that the first draft moves to the second draft stage and after that see the light of the day. It is something that you owe to your readers and to yourself. 

Dear Writer friends, how do you tackle your first drafts? 


9 thoughts on “3 Ways to get out of the First Draft mess

  1. Insightful article here. Your suggestion of changing fonts or POV does seem like something that would have a strong subconscious effect.
    Thank you for the post. Onward march, Friday Listicles!


    1. Changing the fonts is something I like to do very much. In fact, I read about it from another blogger and tried it for myself. It works!!

      Thanks a lot for supporting my Friday Listicles 🙂


  2. I’ve used the lots of beta readers and lots of time method. My books were hugely overwritten, and it took seeing them through other eyes to get the job done. And one beta read didn’t get all the cuts, not by half. And as I learned to edit, I grew as a writer. Plus, I have eight completed novels, so I cycle through them. I’m finally getting to where I think they might be publishable, but it’s taken three years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eight complete novels is amazing!!

      I think with your dedication to editing and giving it time so that the story evolves, you would be ready with them before long.

      I hope you would share more about your writing process, Cathleen.


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