How important is the first draft of your novel?

How important is the first draft of your novel?

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

The advice of Steven King. The point here is this: You only get better by doing.

The first draft of a novel, then, isn’t necessarily about what you’re putting down on paper, but how much of the story you can get out while making sure that it all makes sense.

Hemingway said it best:

The only kind of writing is rewriting

He also said:

Write drunk, edit sober

While I don’t advocate alcohol as a source of inspiration, I do think that the entire purpose of a first draft is to just get your story out of your head, in any way you can. Whether that’s by getting drunk and writing all night, or by sticking to a strict writing schedule. In truth, it doesn’t matter so long as the words come out of you and turn into something tangible on paper.

A first draft of a novel will never be good. You must accept this as the reality of writing. It took James Dyson more than 5,000 attempts to design a good prototype of a bagless vacuum. If you think that your first draft is your final draft, you should go and find another career. The reality is, the final draft isn’t even the end of your journey, that’s just the beginning.

So what matters?

Your first draft is about nothing more than story. It’s a way of producing a coherent body of work that flows (for the most part) from one section or another. It has core themes throughout that tackle the problem you’re trying to address, and it sort of says what you want to say in the way you want to say it.

It won’t be perfect. Nothing will be perfect.

It will, however, be workable. You should have some key characters that you can begin to develop, some nice turns of phrase and a plot that peaks and troughs.

For these reasons, your first draft is essential. It’s the beginning of what you want to be proud of and although it doesn’t need to be good, it must be workable.

Scrapping a first draft isn’t an option. If you commit to writing a novel, make sure you commit to writing a workable first draft, because if after all that initial effort you have nothing to go on, you’ll be left no better off than before.

My only piece of advice: just do it.