Why Does the First Draft Always Suck?

First Draft

There is an ongoing debate among authors regarding the first draft of books. Some authors insist the first draft does not have to suck while others say they’re supposed to.

So what are my thoughts?

Listen, if you’re in my Readers Republic and better yet, if you’re a Readers Republic Insider and you volunteered to beta read my work, rest assured you are not getting my first draft. Heck, I wouldn’t even show my best friends who love playing “Dear Abbey” my first drafts, because they’d probably tell me to find another profession.

Yeah, they’re that bad.

Want a good example?

As I write today’s post, I just finished my first round of editing for Book III – Wind Keeper’s first chapter. I literally had two characters completely swap roles I initially intended for them. Of course, since they swapped roles, I also had to make numerous edits for the dialogue to match their voices.

So what should a first draft entail?

If you’re an aspiring author, this is a good post for you to follow. And if you’re a reader, you can gain some insight into the writing process.

Let’s talk about them.


What Should the First Draft of Books Accomplish?

It’s easy, really. For the first draft, authors should only write without putting their perfectionist caps on. Sure, it’s good to embark on a complete edit of what they had written the day before, but only to stamp out major plot holes. There’s only one goal of the first draft, and it’s to get the story down. I actually like to take things a step further and begin with a  skeleton draft, which is more of a glorified outline than anything else, then write the first draft.

Of course, with sequels, I often go back and edit what I’ve written in volumes before them, before they’re published, anyway. And that’s going to create turbulence for those sequels when I go back to edit them following a first draft. As was the case with Chapter I in Wind Keeper.

So if you’re reading this post as an author, don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or even minor plot holes when you write the first. Outliners may be our only outliers here, but only if an author has carefully constructed their outline.

Again, it’s all about getting the story from your mind and onto a laptop screen. And if you do that, you just made a huge accomplishment.


Do I Edit My First Drafts?

At this point, I’m self-editing every one of my works. However, as I’ve stated in the past, I’m open to hiring at least a developmental editor for future works because doing so will free up more time. I’ve always believed indie authors can get by without an editor, but they’ll need to conduct far more homework and edits to ensure their story is up to par.

So I’ve also said it’s imperative an author hires a developmental editor if they don’t want to spend more time editing than writing. I actually enjoy the editing process so both developmental and especially copyediting comes easier to me. Most authors won’t do this and would rather stick with writing. That’s okay, but they will spend some money in order to free up more time. Especially if they want the work to reach a certain standard.

Anyway, let’s talk about my editing process.

I like to take my first draft through three edits before I even begin the developmental stage. And once again, I’m only looking for major plot holes and inconsistencies in the work. Or in the case of Wind Master and Wind Keeper, ensuring the overarching storyline fits. So it’s common for me to go back and read Wind Wielder’s manuscript again just to double-check that everything fits. I did this before my most recent edit of Wind Master and it worked like a charm.

I also read Wind Wielder and Wind Master before I even looked at Wind Keeper again. Again, if you’re reading this as an aspiring author and you’re cringing at the amount of self-editing, you’re a good candidate to hire a professional.

But anyway, I’ll be taking Wind Keeper through three edits, then the developmental stage begins. After at least three developmental run-throughs, it’s a copyedit before I send it off to the beta readers for feedback. Then another three rounds of editing and proofreading.


It All Starts With the First Draft

Following the first draft, how much of the original content in my books make the final cut?

After between 10 and 15 read-throughs, next to nothing. Everything changes except for the story and most of the time, character names. Dialogue changes, sentences tighten, I nix entire scenes and chapters, the whole nine yards. And of course, I always follow Jerry Jenkins’ self-editing rules.

If I were to put the first draft beside the finished product, it’d be more than a night and day difference. Often, my first draft encroaches the 90k to 100k wordmark. By the time of my last proofread, I’m looking at a finished product between 70k and 80k words.

But it all starts with the first draft and all its plot holes, inconsistencies, typos, grammar errors, and so on. The first draft may be the worst novel any of us authors have ever written. But it lays the foundation. And without it, our books never would have come into fruition.

Thank you for reading today’s post,

And Go Suns!