The Agony of the First Draft during NaNoWriMo

If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, it’s very likely the agony of the first draft will hit you. Very few writers can complete a first draft without doubts and even dislike creeping in. But never fear. Suddenly doubting or loathing the story you’re working on isn’t unusual. Just keep these points in mind.

The first draft is supposed to be ugly.

If you write a pristine first draft during NaNoWriMo, that needs no editing whatsoever, well done! You are an extreme rarity in the writing world. For the rest of us, we have to edit. An ugly, really ugly, first draft doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track or that you have no future of a writer. In fact, if you think every first draft is perfect, you probably haven’t studied the craft enough. Understanding that all writing can be improved through rewriting and editing is a sign of maturing in the art.

You can’t fix what doesn’t exist.

Despite its ugliness, the first draft is necessary because you can’t get to the second, third, or umpteenth draft without it. It’s impossible to fix a story that only occupies your imagination. Now I like the editing process. It’s only when I’m into the fourth or fifth draft that I can finally judge whether a scene is working.

Please don’t think I have worked out to perfection how to handle the agony of the first draft. In fact, I’m hoping by writing out this view, I will find the motivation to continue my first draft of my second novel.

I have taken a break for two weeks because I felt like my first draft was going nowhere. In my imagination, I have the plot and clues entirely constructed. But when I actually put words to those imaginings, it reads horribly. I’m doubting whether I can write anything new or interesting. So I need as much reminding as anyone that the first draft can be agony and in the end be polished to diamond-dazzling brilliance.

Do you love writing the first draft? Or do you hate it?

4 thoughts on “The Agony of the First Draft during NaNoWriMo

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  1. I have a couple of friends who’ve been working on their first draft for the last couple of years, and I tell them what you mentioned here, the first draft is supposed to be ugly. A lot of effort is dedicated to developing massive complex worlds, characters, and the like, but they haven’t focused too much time on the storytelling. They go back and redo previous chapters to make it fit in the changes to their universe. (Hand slap) I don’t want to mention how many times one friend rewrote his beginning chapters. When we get together, I mention focus on finishing and then you’ll find the beauty in editing.

    1. A lot of truth in your comments. It’s not a story until there’s an ending. Many writers get caught up in certain aspects of their story world because that’s fun. Finishing a cohesive story is a ton of hard work.

  2. I love the excitement that comes with writing the first draft (so much possibility, getting acquainted with new characters, etc), but I do always have a fear (similar to previous comments) that I won’t be able to pull it all together, so the second draft is more reassuring in that the story is at least a whole story 🙂

    1. I experience a ton of fear while writing the first draft. I also find it hard to share portions for people to critique. Since it’s a mystery, I think I need to offer a decent draft complete so readers can judge if the mystery works. I’m considering polishing the beginning–the set-up–and see if readers find it interesting enough to want to read more.

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