Monday, July 15, 2013

It’s Not You—Rough Drafts Suck

Hi everyone! Some of you are seasoned writers with many books under your belt. Others of you are struggling to finish that first draft of what will (hopefully) be your debut novel. And others of you fall somewhere in between these two.

As both a writer and an editor, there is one struggle that doesn’t seem to go away: writing a rough draft.

Most of my recent editing tips have focused on what to do towards the middle and end of a novel, but now I want to address those concerns coming from writers who are just beginning their first, second, or third manuscripts.

Why Rough Drafts are So Difficult to Write
Before I continue, let me clarify which writers I am addressing. If you are dismally aware of how little of your story you are managing to capture, then this post is for you. If you think you nailed your partial or complete rough draft, then you absolutely need to read some of my other posts on editing or, better yet, buy a book on the craft. (I suggest Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes as a great place to start.) As awful as it may feel, trepidation is a good thing when you begin a new story.

If you are having difficulty writing a rough draft, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. In fact, I’d argue that this is one of the most difficult aspects of the process. But why is this?

Logic Versus Imagination
From a physiological standpoint, it is difficult to engage the area of your brain that is responsible for creativity while simultaneously using the area of your brain responsible for your logic and reasoning skills.

Now, I am not a scientist, so you won’t want to take that information as the absolute truth, but I do think that this sheds some light on why writing a rough draft can be so frustrating. If you can really only use one of these two areas of your brain, then creativity will trump logic. After all, you are creating an entire story out of thin air.

But it’s not only the lack of logic that might make a rough draft difficult to finish. There’s also the issue of coming up with the entire story, which can be draining in and of itself, and remembering to insert all of those delicious nuances that excited you when you began writing the first draft. Both can be incredibly disheartening if you’re struggling with either.

How to Fix This
Keep writing. The truth is that these issues will probably not be fixed today, or tomorrow, or even next week. Writing is a process—a long one. A rough draft is your starting point. And I promise that when you reread what you’ve written in that first draft, it won’t seem nearly as awful as it does right now.

If you are particularly stressed about this, keep a journal at hand to write down all of those fixes you want to make. Some you’ll end up never making because the original story changed, and others you’ll implement in the next round of edits.

But make sure, above all, you continue to make progress writing that rough draft of yours. Rough drafts can be frustrating, but once you’ve completed it, everything that follows will be a whole lot easier in comparison.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services


  1. It's interesting, I find the process of writing the first draft usually isn't so horrible. I'm not happy with the results (in that I look at some/much of it and think, "Oh, I wrote that?" but it's usually not a terribly painful process to get it down on paper. The pain, for me, is in the crafting.

    1. It’s great to hear a new perspective on this! (Teach me your ways!) Especially since you do not fit into the category of the newbie writer. And when I read over my first draft, I feel almost exactly opposite you. I’m expecting word vomit, so I’m always surprised when I stumble upon a decent line! :)

  2. This really helped. I was about to go on a rampage, I was so annoyed! lol Thanks