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Writing

How to Write a First Draft: 5 Tips for Writing a First Draft

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 14, 2020 • 4 min read

The first time you sit down to write a draft, it can feel intimidating. Transferring a story idea from the mind to the page is painstaking, arduous work. The greatest works of literature all began as first drafts, and there are certain tips you can follow to make your first draft process smoother and more efficient.

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What Is a First Draft?

A first draft is a preliminary version of a piece of writing. During the first draft, the author attempts to develop the main characters and flesh out the plot ideas of their work, uncovering their overarching themes in the process.

5 Tips for Writing a First Draft

Before you open up your document, you should have a plan for how you’re going to finish your first draft. Once you’ve done the necessary brainstorming, prewriting, and outlining, here are some tips to follow to ensure the process of writing your first draft is as streamlined as possible:

  1. Set aside daily writing time. Staring at a blank page can be daunting, which is why it’s essential to stay disciplined during the writing process. Whether you’re writing the first draft of a book, short story, or screenplay, it’s important to establish good writing habits as you work on your rough draft. Find a calm, distraction-free writing space for your writing sessions, such as a coffee shop, library, or home office. If you want to have a successful writing career, you need to treat your writing sessions like a job: Keep consistent hours and try to hit predetermined performance benchmarks. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, keep writing: Use your pre-allotted writing time for freewriting or writing exercises. The drafting stage takes a lot of time and hard work, which is why it’s crucial to develop a consistent routine.
  2. Make a schedule for yourself. If you’re attempting to take on a large project, such as writing your first book or first novel, the journey from the opening line to the final product can feel endless. That’s why it’s helpful to set realistic deadlines for yourself. What you do with this time likely depends on what kind of writer you are. “Plotters” prefer to have a detailed outline before jumping into the writing portion. If you’re this type of writer, start by outlining your piece of writing, jotting down a list of the main points, plot movements, and character arcs. “Pantsers,” on the other hand, prefer to jump right into the writing portion and fly by the seats of their pants. If that’s the case, try to determine to the best of your ability the number of chapters or approximate word count of what you want your finished draft to be. Finally, divide that total by the number of days you plan to work on your screenplay or novel-writing project. This should leave you with a series of incremental, easy-to-digest goals and benchmarks.
  3. Conduct basic research. If you’re writing something that takes place in a specific location or time period, you’ll likely need to conduct some basic research so that your work is accurate and credible. However, spending too much time on research can take time away from actually writing. At the beginning of the writing process, you should conduct the cursory amount of research required for you to start your draft. If you’re writing about New York in the 1930s, for example, read a time-period-specific essay to get a broad understanding of the location and era. When it comes to the specifics, you can always go back and fill in the details later.
  4. Write out of order. If you find yourself getting stuck on a certain section of your draft, put it aside and jump to a new section. If you’re stuck on a world-building section or a character introduction, move on to the next chapter. You can always come back later, and oftentimes pushing ahead will give you fresh insight that can help you push through your creative block. The same goes for non-fiction and essay writing: If you’re struggling with your introductory paragraph or topic sentences, jump to the body of your essay and chip away at some of your body paragraphs. Oftentimes, this process can help you refine and clarify your thesis statement, as you discover new pieces of information and argumentative pathways by working ahead.
  5. Allow imperfections. Perfectionism is the enemy of a first draft. If you’re constantly rewriting the same paragraph over and over again, trying to make it as perfect as possible, you’ll never finish your draft. As you write, you’ll likely notice that your draft is full of typos and poor word choice. At this stage, that’s not a bad thing—you’ll have plenty of time to clean up your work during the editing process. Focus on the big picture elements of your draft, like a strong point of view and making sure your character’s motivation makes sense. Make sure you have plenty of time to refine the small stuff in your second draft and third draft.
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