First draft rules

I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them – without a thought about publication – and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.  Anne Tyler

 What are the rules for first drafts?

“Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilisation is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.” (Orwell 1946)

George very kindly goes on to tell us that there are six rules to adhere to:-

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I would rather start a project or help a client start a project than work through my editing schedule.  I love beginnings and successful conclusions.  Like Cinderella, I want the glass slipper to fit and marry the prince without having to go through life first with the ugly sisters.  Despite wanting the happy ending, I need, like you, a sprinkling of magic discipline fairy dust. Rules for getting from first draft to publication is a game you have to play with yourself.  A game which makes it easier to get to ‘the end’.

How to get to first draft

Forget introductions, one of the reasons we get stuck writing is that we are trying to work out what our introduction should say.  After you have planned your outline, get on with writing the content.

In planning your book, you will have, I hope, created an outline plan, which gives you a base line to work to and a structure to write to.  Get it out and jog your memory.  If you get to a section that you can’t write, put some keywords in another colour in, so that you can see where your gaps are and come back to them later.  Keep a log of things that you have to come back to.

Chapter outline plan reminder:-

  1. What are the questions your reader wants you to answer?
  2. What are your key messages? What can I tell my reader that will help to answer their questions?’
  3. What is your call to action? What do you want your reader to do as a result of reading this chapter?

Getting to first draft rules

  • Find the right environment to write.
  • Commit to getting your first draft done by a certain date.
  • Find someone to hold you accountable.
  • Get your resources and support systems in place before you start.
  • Adapt your thinking and adopt a writer’s mind-set.
  • Turn off the critical voices, what do they know about first drafts anyway?
  • Shoot your inner perfectionist in the head, constant worrying about your first draft will get you nowhere.
  • Your first draft is just that, a foundation, giving you the chance in later drafts to really turn it into something great.
  • Think big picture; forget getting bogged down in too much detail. For all you detail people come back to the question you are answering, ask yourself do I have ‘scope creep? For you big picture people remember at some point you will have to add detail.
  • Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation at all at this stage, just get your ideas out.
  • Formatting doesn’t matter, unless you need a visual structure to ‘see’ where you are going, in which case use a simple layout.  Interior design comes later.
  • Flow doesn’t always come, so write when you can or move onto an area that does flow.  Writing doesn’t have to be linear.
  • If you are stuck, change your focus and write a blog that could be used in your book.
  • Keep a journal to record your ideas and reflections.
  • Writing is hard work, when the going gets tough, remember your commitment and just get on with it.
  • First drafts suck, who cares!

When we get to the end of our first draft, elation is usually followed by embarrassment as you read through what you have written.  Get over it and congratulate yourself on coming this far.

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