Breaking the ‘It Has to be Perfect on the First Draft’ Ideology

For some reason, 90% of new and aspiring writers (myself included when I first started out!) have bought into the concept that their first draft has to be perfect.
After classing myself as a writer for some years now, thinking about this actually baffles me. Going from my own personal experience, when I first started out the idea of a ‘rough draft’ was foreign to me. I somehow had got it into my head that everything I wrote had to be publishing ready and this my fellow writers is why it took me three months to write a chapter. 
So, in this post I’m hoping to break this crazy ideology.

No one's first draft is perfect!

Do you think Pride and Prejudice was completed in one draft? Or how about the Harry Potter series? I doubt it very much. The reason these authors completed their books to a publishing standard is because they not only understood why first drafts existed but they also knew how to use them rather than having the lack of description and horrendous plot holes deflate them and put them off writing for life.

So, what is a first draft?

The words ‘first draft’ are pretty self explanatory but trust me when I say it goes so much deeper than that.
Your first draft is your chance to just go wild, to forget about all the pickiness of grammar and punctuation and to forget about the perfect wording and the cliffhangers that keep us writers up at night (This is all to an extent, don’t make your second draft harder than it needs to be!).
Your first draft is your chance to create the basics and the backbone of your story and spend 70 - 100 thousand words getting to know your characters.

Use your first draft to get the damn book written!

When I write a first draft I try not to bother with the description to much unless it comes naturally. If I have to sit thinking about it and it’s eating into my writing time I just write the basics of what I want to say and move on. You can write the most beautifully descriptive paragraph in the world but if that's all you write, what's the point?
I understand the importance of showing rather than telling but that’s what your second draft is for, changing those ‘tells’ into ‘shows’.
When I write I also try not to read over the previous chapters. I found that when I did I’d spend days even weeks just re-reading them and editing them to the point of no return and then in the end I was just left with eight chapters and six months of my life gone. Now, when I write, I write. I let my imagination take me to where it needs to go because I know once that first draft is finished I can sit back, read through and swap, change, delete and edit until my hearts content. At least at that point I’ll have a full book to do it with.
So guys, use that first draft to just write the book and worry about all the picky stuff later.
If you're struggling to get your first draft written because of other commitments, take a look at this post for some tips on how to juggle a writing career as well as a full time job. 

Let your characters run free!

Every writer knows that no matter how much you put into planning and creating a character as soon as they get on the page they take a life of their own. Most would panic at this and fall down at the first hurdle their character throws at them but honestly, calm yourself down and just go with the flow. Use your first draft to let your characters take you in the right direction.
If you put your characters in a box and never let them step outside the lines you’ll miss out on so much creativity that you never even knew you had.
It’s your characters story so let them tell it, you can reign them in where needed in your second draft.

So, why do we feel it has to be perfect?

I believe that the reason we feel our first draft has to be perfect is because us writers are a proud bunch. We are so passionate about our work that anything less than perfect is just not stood for. This is a mentality to keep but keep in mind that you are working towards perfection and that’s what your final draft should be.

To summarise…

First drafts are there for you to learn your story and your characters, not to be perfect.

Second drafts are where you put the meat on the bones. Rewrite those chapters, describe that beautiful summers day and the smouldering look on your protagonist's lover's face. Make the reader feel what you want them to feel. 

Your final draft is for perfection. You know your story, you know your characters better than you know yourself and you’ve edited those chapters to within an inch of your life so use your final draft to make it perfect. Tie up those loose ends, fill in those plot holes and get some twists and turns in there that will drive your readers wild!

Writing is a three stage process, don’t be stuck at the first hurdle because you’re heading for the finish line before you even know your way around the track

Happy writing guys! 


  1. I absolutely agree.
    I was like that too, I used to think that first draft were the thing, that they didn't need to much work. I used to think all the work was done before the first draft was written, so once it was on the page, it was ready.
    Honestly, I think this is just inexperience, that's why it's mostly new authors who think that. As we progress in our skills, especially if we are lucky enough to find a good writerly community, we learn that first drafts are just that: the first step in a long journey.
    Eh... no one can teach you experience, can they? ;-)

  2. Very true. In my case, sometimes I have various parts of my story at various draft stages. I just follow what comes to me whether it is writing new material or revising old, there is always something to work at. But this article is correct in that if I don't move forward to finish the first draft first, i may get bogged down revising the first few chapters and never finish. Or worse, when I do finish, I have to rewrite those first chapters anyway into a true second draft (instead of just polished first draft filler). In short, don't be afraid to let a first draft just be the first draft for now.


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