The Thing About First Drafts

When I think about first drafts, I still think of the opening of the movie, “Romancing the Stone”. Joan Wilder, the heroine, types the final sentence of her romance novel and, sobbing, boxes it up to give to her agent. The impression I got when I first saw the movie was that she had dashed the thing off in one sitting.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize the scene must be showing Joan retyping the final version of her book, as one needed to do in the era of manual typewriters. She had to have slaved away at it for weeks to get it into final shape. There is no possible way she could just type up a first draft and send it off to her agent because, my friends, first drafts just aren’t that good.

Basically, I have mixed feelings about first drafts. I like the fact that the story has never been told before in exactly this way. I like that, at this stage, it can go anywhere, be anything. I like how it can completely change from what you thought it would be. You stare at the story, wonder where it came from, and realize it came from inside you somewhere. That is so totally cool.

On the other hand, I tend to flounder a bit in my first drafts. I thrash around with the characters and try to get them out of their messes with varying degrees of success.

See because this book has never been written before, you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. That can be a royal pain in the butt. Here you’ve got some good juice going, you’re flowing man, and then you get to the end of what you’ve written, look back at it, and realize it doesn’t make any sense in the story. Or it’s just, well, bad. Then you’re stuck, out in the middle of an ocean you’ve created yourself, and the boat you built to get you back to shore has just gone down. How are you going to handle that, hotshot? Huh? Go on, tell me!

Yeah. I don’t know either.

I guess that’s both the joy and the terror of the first draft, or, really, of anything you do for the first time. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you do it. You don’t know where in the world you’ll end up. You jump off a ledge using a bungee cord you haven’t fully tested and don’t exactly trust and don’t know if it will bounce or break.

But it’s okay. That’s what second drafts are for.

Unless you’re Joan.



  1. I always think I know where I’m going but never end up there LOL

    • Betsy Horvath says

      @Doris Jennings: I know what you mean! Like in this draft I just finished – I thought I knew where I was going, so I laid some pretty good groundwork to get there. Then I got to the end, and what I thought would happen, didn’t. So now what do I do with all of my good stuff from the beginning? LOL

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