One of the conventional pieces of wisdom fiction writers hear is, “Write a quick and dirty first draft. You can always fix it later!” As someone who has been writing fiction since 2014, I have heard this advice a lot from both professionals and amateurs. It’s practically canon, up there with, “Show. Don’t Tell.”
I myself have cranked out a first draft for a 120,000 word cyberpunk novel in a mere two months. Many people use the month of November for this very purpose.
Now some people swear by this model. It may work great for many folks. But it doesn’t work great for everyone. For me, writing a first draft is like laying concrete for a sidewalk. Once the concrete dries, it’s difficult to go back and repave it later. A story evolves naturally from character motivations. If key components of your characters’ motivations have to be changed later, then you are going to have to do massive rewrites of the plot itself, practically writing a new book. It’s like building a road to one location and then discovering you are going to have to build a whole new road because the location has been changed.
And apparently I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are several other writing sites out there that explain the pitfalls of rushing a first draft, which I will link to at the end of this article.
Rushing a first draft may work very well if you are a planner. If you have all the key plot points, scenes, and character motivations written down in an outline or in your notes, then rushing the first draft itself could work very well for you. Things like setting and the choreography of action in a fight scene can always be improved upon later. However, if you are like me, and write things by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a manuscript that takes way too long to revise because you didn’t think through key story components beforehand. Much like building a house with faulty components, and then having to build over the weak material–which is often harder than just building a whole new house from scratch.
Things you should think about before you write your manuscript:
- Main characters and their motivations.
- What makes your characters likeable? What do they struggle with? Why should people want to read about them?
- What is the arc of the characters?
- What is the key conflict of the story?
- What is the premise of the story?
- Key plot points. “Tent pole scenes.”
- Genre and conventions of the genre.
- Research key components of world building.
Problems that can happen with rushing:
- The rewrite process takes much longer than it should.
- You may end up rushing your book to publishers before it’s ready.
- You may lose interest and end up working on something else. If you wrote something that takes so much time to fix that you basically have to write a whole new novel on top of it, you may just prefer to write a whole new novel instead.
- You have something that is fundamentally not marketable.
Anyways, that’s why I’m not going to rush my next first draft until I have key components of the story thought through. This will be difficult for me, because the writing process itself is what is fun for me, and not the planning process. But I think if I can force myself to do a little more planning beforehand next time, it will pay off in the long run.
And also, it’s OKAY to write something that doesn’t sell or get published. Ultimately doing something is better than not doing it at all. Perfection is the enemy of the good. However, as we evolve in our craft, we should also work at getting better with the planning process as well.
Why Fast First Drafts Aren’t for Everyone (The Write Practice)
3 Ways to Avoid Rushing Your Book (Writing Cooperative)
5 Pitfalls of Rushing Your First Draft (Script Wrecked)
2 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Rush The First Draft of My Next Novel”
I’ve actually experienced both end of this topic, and your analogy on laying concrete is so on point, because that’s how it felt when I couldn’t write a shitty first draft too.
But then I also realised that having things make sense in the first draft was kinda a waste of time, since there was no guarantee that any of those sentences would make it through the second draft.
Now I just embrace the fact that I’m a wishy-washy writer and just do whatever feels most natural at any given time.
Interesting topic though. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for sharing your process, Stuart. Writing sure is hard! I’ve been writing for the last 8 years and I’m still figuring out my process.