Starting to write

What should I expect from a first draft?

“There are legendary stories of great writers describing how rubbishy their first drafts are. Anne Lamott, in her book on writing, says that the only way she can get anything written is to write ‘really, really shitty first drafts’. A first draft is just a preliminary exploration, like sending a reconnaissance party ahead. The American writer James Michener once said that he never thought of himself as a good writer, but he thought of himself as one of the world’s great rewriters.”

“Of course some people find it easier to work on a piece over and over again and to get it pretty well right, whereas others need to sketch the whole thing and then resketch and bring the whole thing down. Where possible I get people writing as detailed and ‘as for keeps’ as possible early on because they’ve then got stuff in the bank.”

“I think one good thing about a first draft is that you don’t know yet what’s going to make it to the final version. That means you don’t have to stop your writing to check facts, get the quote right, complete the reference, all that boring stuff.”

“I think the difficulty for all of us, because we’ve rarely been told this, is that there is a drafting process. There are points at which you need to bang everything down and scatter things in notes and do clusters and mind-maps, charge around in crazy ways, and then get obsessive in certain areas. There are stages at which you must do that, and from time to time you keep on doing that, and that’s not only okay, it’s actually desirable, to push things out as far as you can and to feel what the possibilities are.”