Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Anyone who has written something before, or even just attempted to write something, can attest to how difficult it can be to get started. The blank page with the steadily blinking cursor can be incredibly intimidating. I personally have had dozens of instances of staring down that infernal white void and losing to it, my mind blank on where to begin.
Starting a project is rough. That is why the first iteration of any piece of work is also called a rough draft.
This stalemate can be especially frustrating if you have a pretty clear vision of what you want the finished piece to look like, but where do you begin? In order to get by this roadblock, you need to understand what the block is. Once you have an idea of where it came from, you stand a better chance of getting around it. I think part of the problem for a lot of new writers out there, is simply misunderstanding what a first draft is.
What Should a First Draft Do Then?
Often times, the problem people, myself included, have with starting that first draft, is that they want it to be perfect. That isn’t what first drafts are for. They aren’t supposed to be the perfect version of whatever story is being written.
The goal of any first draft is to get the story and ideas out of the writer’s head. Once on the page, it becomes tangible and moldable. With proper editing and rewriting, it can become something great.
Of course, knowing this doesn’t always make staring down that blank page any easier. This is due to the fact that, when we are staring down that blank page, we aren’t really staring down a piece of paper. We are facing our future audience. What if they don’t like what we wrote? What if we make a mistake and they laugh at us? I’m definitely dealing with that now. This is my first post on my new website… that’s a lot to handle.
If you find that those kinds of thoughts are what are keeping you from getting started, don’t worry about them. Why do we care what our imagined audience thinks at this stage of the writing process? They aren’t going to see this mess! What you’re reading now didn’t even look this nice when I started writing it, and let me tell you, the writing process for this was not organized at all. I jumped all over the place because, at the end of the day, I just needed to get the ideas down. I can worry about structure, punctuation, grammar, and spelling later.
This brings up another good point, a first draft doesn’t have to start at the beginning. Start with whatever scene that you can start with, whether that be one scene later, an exciting fight scene, or an all-important heart to heart conversation. Whatever is exciting you about your story, start with that. Come back to the beginning later once you have a better handle on your story. Writing the rest of the story may even help you come up with a good opening.
At the end of the day, as long as a first draft gets the whole story out there, no matter how clunky and deformed it may be, or where you started it, the draft has done its job. This means that once you have completed your first draft, it’s perfect.
Don’t Let Imperfections Intimidate You
Allowing yourself to make something that isn’t perfect can be hard. That mental hurdle can be pretty tall some days, but at the end of the day, it is all in our heads. The audience we are imagining for our written work is imagined after all. They won’t be seeing our work until we’ve gone over it a couple dozen times with a fine-toothed comb. And even then, we may want to go over it a few more times before releasing it out into the world. That’s the joys of editing. Hopefully, we’ll talk about that more some other time.
The idea of allowing yourself to make mistakes on a first attempt is a mentality that can be applied to other aspects of life. Don’t strive to be perfect, just go out there and do it. If things didn’t go well, and chances are they won’t, figure out what worked and what didn’t and try again. Keep trying until you get it right.
A first draft is never perfect, no matter who wrote it. That’s something that everyone has in common with all of the great writers out there. I don’t care which author you look at, I can guarantee that the first draft of their best-selling book looked and read like garbage. That’s just how these things work. The first draft of a story does not define the story, what the author does with that first draft is what determines the success of the story.