Thursday, June 13, 2013

Death of the first draft

I don't know precisely when I stopped writing first drafts, but I do know I haven't written a first draft in years.

When I started writing as a teenager in the 1970s, I drafted everything on a typewriter. First drafts were horrendous, messy stacks of paper that I wrote all over, cut apart, and taped back together. Second drafts--typed from the Frankenstein's monster that the first draft had become--were much like the first, but not quite so messy.

Each subsequent draft was retyped until I felt I had a submittable manuscript.

I worked much the same way even after acquiring my first personal computer and word processing software. After writing the first draft, I printed a hardcopy and treated it exactly as I had a typewritten first draft, only I didn't have to retype everything.

Decades have passed since I first used a personal computer and a word processing program, and I find that I no longer produce "first drafts." I produce "full drafts."

I write and revise on screen as I work through a story so that by the time I print a hardcopy no revision--or no significant revision--is usually necessary.

I read all or part of the story aloud, listening for rhythm. I look for sound-alike or sound-similar words that I may have misused ("insure" vs. "ensure," for example). I double-check that the blonde on page two isn't a brunette on page seven. By the time I've worked through a typical short story I've marked a half dozen or a dozen things for correction.

I have my final draft once I make those changes to the computer file, and the final draft is then submitted to an editor.

Do I sometimes have a story that requires a second "full draft" or even a third before I have a final draft? Occasionally, yes.

But I haven't produce a true first draft in years.


Peter DiChellis said...

Thanks for for posting. It's helpful to see different views about revising as you write vs. barreling through a first draft without editing it. FYI, I ran across a Michael Connelly interview not long ago. He said  his first task each day is editing the previous day's pages. 

Michael Bracken said...

I suspect there's more than one reason my approach has changed over the years, Peter.

One, obviously, is the ability to revise on the fly thanks to personal computers and word processing programs.

Another is the confidence that comes with experience. The more I write the more confident I become and the less likely I am to second-guess little things such as word choices and big things such as story structures.