Thursday, January 31, 2013

Messy First Draft vs. Editing While Drafting

When I first began writing I edited as I went. I would edit the heck out of a chapter before moving on to write the next. There was this little voice in my head that told me I had to make each chapter perfect before I could think about the next chapter. I let my inner critic loose before the work was ready to be critiqued.

As a result I stopped writing the same manuscript about three separate times part way through. It was as if I lost the momentum when I stopped to edit. I would get to a point where everything was great up to that point, but I had no idea where to go from there. Even with my trusty outline. I thought outlining was the problem. So I decided that for my next manuscript I was going to fly by the seat of my pants and just write what ever came next. Of course, that didn't work. I began two new projects, both of which I set aside after only six chapters each.

It seemed outlining might not have been my problem after all. Then again, I was still going over each chapter multiple times before moving on. Then I would think what the heck is supposed to come next? I did need that outline in the end, but there was another problem with my drafting process.

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A short time later I learned of NaNoWriMo. This literally was the best thing for my writing. Why? I did not have the time to edit each chapter as I wrote that first draft. But, I kept up the momentum and was surprisingly pleased with that first draft. Regardless of how unbelievably messy it was. The story was there, the plot was tangeable, and I completed it. That was the first manuscript I ever completed. And it was also a newer version of my original manuscript.

Now, it is still sitting on the shelf hardly touched two years later, but it still has that potential that none of the previous versions had. I have learned to outline my plots better and become a better writer. Yet, my rough drafts are always messy. Yet as I sat down recently to edit my last NaNo project I found a really interesting story that does not need nearly as much work as I thought it might. The writing needs to be smoothed out and some of the details need to be worked on, but overall I have a decent draft. Even if it appears rather messy.

And since learning not to edit while I draft I have also learned that it is completely acceptable to have your beta readers / critique partners take a stab at the manuscript before doing too much editing. I now go through each manuscript to fix plot holes first, hand it over to my cps, and then do the major edits.

What are your thoughts on messy first drafts? Do you edit while you draft? Which method works better for you?


  1. I have to write my first draft really fast. I keep a notebook of things "to fix later," but since no one will EVER see my first draft, it usually looks more like a 50-60k word brainstorming session.

    1. I have that same notebook! lol :-) My last manuscript definitely was mostly brainstorming for the first few chapters, then it started to come together.