Writing a first draft can be scary. Even though we’ve all been told that first drafts are supposed to be shitty, it’s tough to shake off the pressure of feeling like you have to get it right the first time.
But, what if you thought of your initial drafts as rehearsals?
I heard this brilliant piece of advice recently (I think it was a side comment from one of the co-hosts of the excellent Writing Excuses podcast), and it put draft writing in a whole new light for me. Thinking of each draft as a successively more polished performance not only takes the pressure off that first draft (Who would expect a drama company to be perfect at their first rehearsal?), it also helps illustrate why having multiple drafts of a story is not a bad thing.
The initial rehearsals for any kind of performance are a hot mess. The costumes and sets aren’t designed (never mind made), the actors are still learning their lines (and how to work well with each other), and all the technical details (lights, sound, etc.) are only rough ideas. In short, you’ve got a bunch of people who want to tell a great story, but they just aren’t ready yet.
But, as rehearsals continue, the pieces begin to fall into place as the cast and crew find their groove. With each rehearsal, additional elements of the story are layered onto that initial intention to tell a great story – sets and lighting, costumes and makeup, and – more importantly – the actors’ performances. The actors start to really understand and inhabit their characters, and are therefore better equipped to bring them to life. As they go over the lines and stage direction of each scene over and over again, they discover the nuances they can exploit to make the final, live performance incredible.
With writing, your initial drafts can feel a little clunky and awkward. They are like those actors reading the lines for the first time. Like rehearsals without full sets or costumes, your initial drafts may seem like they aren’t fully formed. Details are missing. That’s okay. You can fill in more of the gaps each time you revise and redraft. And – just like in a play – sometimes you might need to change the story a little or recast someone. It’s all part of the process.
A related but simpler way to think about this idea is to consider the stories you already tell over and over. You know – those family yarns that you pull out each holiday to embarrass the relatives. How many times have you told those same stories, and how have they changed (and improved) with the multiple tellings? Over time, you have learned which bits to focus on and which bits to leave out. You’ve found the perfect words, tempo, and delivery style to make the story the best it can be. You have, in essence, been rehearsing these stories over and over.
So, go ahead – fumble through your first draft like you’re an actor just trying to figure out where to stand on the stage. Don’t worry about it. Things may look a mess now, but by the time the curtain goes up on opening night, you’re going to have this story down like nobody’s business, and you’re going to earn a standing ovation from your readers.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit: william couch via Compfight cc