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The myth of the good first draft? (1 Viewer)

piperofyork

Friends of WF
Just about everything I've read or watched on first drafts says that there is no such thing as a good first draft. Words like 'garbage,' 'trash,' 'inevitably sucks,' etc., crop up at just about every turn. My question is: does anyone know of any examples of first drafts of successful novels that needed very little work?
 

Mr.Mingo

Senior Member
Just about everything I've read or watched on first drafts says that there is no such thing as a good first draft. Words like 'garbage,' 'trash,' 'inevitably sucks,' etc., crop up at just about every turn. My question is: does anyone know of any examples of first drafts of successful novels that needed very little work?

A lot of Kerouac works have been claimed to be high speed stream-of-consciousness near first drafts before publication. Kate Chopin, who I actually like quite a bit, was notorious for not editing her work past initial phases.

It is possible, but not very likely.
 
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JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
I think to get a good handle on this we need to establish just what a first draft is and what it is not.

The purpose of a first draft is not to deliver 24K literary gold from your brain to the readers' eyes. The purpose of a first draft is to lay groundwork, assemble a cast, and give you the writer the general lay of things. This benefit is for you and no one else.

Let's put this in a more practical perspective. Suppose you have a youth (or group thereof) that you've begun instructing in the finer points of motor vehicle operation. Now objectively, most people have a benchmark for what constitutes a good car. This is probably based on fuel economy, interior appointments, cargo capacity, acceleration, safety features...you get the idea.

A good car is one you buy yourself for daily use.

A good first car is one you'll want for beginners. Something with tolerably forgiving bumpers, decent visibility, limited horsepower, low acceleration, and enough dings and dents that backing into a lightpost or scraping the curb won't hurt it any.

Most people will look back on their first car and tell you what a clunker it was. They'll usually say it with a faint smile, too, because even if their first was an utter piece of a crap it still taught them plenty and opened up a world of nicer options better refined for their purposes.

First drafts are the same. It's garbage. It's supposed to be. It's not supposed to be good, because a first draft is a springboard to better work.

A good first draft is the twelfth-owner 1987 Honda Accord with mismatched panels, three hubcaps, and a funny smell from the trunk when the temperature goes over ninety. It is the blood-sweat-tears-and-rampant-cussing first step on the way to that Ferrari you want. And as long as it runs and gets you from home to market and work and back, it's a good start.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Weird that this should come up right now, I just finished watching an Alexa Donne video on Fast Drafting/Zero Drafting/Dirty Drafting that was very helpful to me personally.

I don't believe that I should shoot for a clean first draft, that's not what drafting does in my writing process at all. My writing is usually much better as I work through ideas and rewrite. So I just plan for that now.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I suppose my process is unique - I only do ONE draft, and so far it's turned out fairly clean. What I mean by that is I've never done a rewrite of the first draft, so it's a one and only. Mind me though, I still edit it a lot because I'm persnickety (IR is pleased with himself for using persnickety in a sentence).

It's not due to good writing, it's that way because of my process. I refine the plot to the nth degree before striking out on the draft. The following edits are about trolling for plot holes and and cleaning up the prose.
 
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