Clean Drafting and Why Your First Drafts Don’t Have to Suck

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, dear readers: I don’t think my first drafts suck. I don’t think other writers should think their first drafts suck. I think that line of thinking (how many times can I write the word “think”) can be incredibly unproductive and we should do away with it entirely. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point in my writing career that I’ve started to think there’s something wrong with me for no thinking my first drafts suck.

But then, I realized something: I’m one of those assholes. It’s taken me many manuscripts and a mentorship through Author Mentor Match, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m one of those. You know the ones. The unicorns. That’s right, friends. I’m a clean drafter. The ability to draft cleanly doesn’t happen overnight, mind you. It takes a lot of practice and fine-tuning to get there and even then, the magic might not happen with every manuscript. My AMM manuscript, for example, had to be almost totally rewritten because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing the first time around.

With every manuscript after it, however, I’ve managed to take what I’ve learned from AMM and leveled up my craft in ways I didn’t think we’re possible. Clean drafting is one such perk. Keep in mind that this is just my process and what works for me may not work for you, etc. Clean drafting is not about natural talent–though I think there’s something to be said for what “natural” talent does for us. It is more about practice. It’s a skill that can be learned if you try hard enough.

When I draft, I draft chronologically. I write in order from the first chapter to the last. This is just my way of drafting, mind you, but I think it helps me draft a more cohesive and complete story than if I jumped around in my drafting process. I also rarely stop and go back. What I write is what I write. Go big or go home. One big thing I’ve adopted after AMM is that of the BEAT SHEET. Yes, I’m talking about Save the Cat. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Before I even start drafting, I have a “dump document” where I put brief character bios, bulleted lists of worldbuilding notes, and finally, a beat sheet. I fill out the beat sheet with things I want to happen in the novel, but in the broadest terms possible. It’s easy to trap yourself in a beat sheet. Don’t do it!

Okay, back to the actual drafting: If I’m writing along and vaguely following the beat sheet, I’m happy. It’s when I veer off of it entirely that I pause in my drafting, go back to the beat sheet, and edit it with the plot points I currently have in my draft. I also edit future beats to coincide with whatever I’ve written. This way, I’m never without a map, so to speak. There’s always something ahead acting as a guidepost.

One amazing thing I’ve come across in my drafting is the Save the Cat Calculator. Yes, it’s as lifechanging as you think it is. If you’re bad at pacing like I am (though I’m getting much better), this calculator will help you figure out what beats fall where. It’s awesome.

The above paragraphs are a bare-bones explanation of how I draft. The particulars are unique to me. Characters are my Thing, so I don’t have a hard time deciding where they need to be at the end of a book. Many, many years of roleplaying on Neopets, Proboards, and Tumblr have helped with this. I’m serious. The end results of my drafting tend to be pretty good. There’s always things to revise, but not nearly as much as my pre-AMM writing days.

Clean drafting is a hard lesson to learn and it doesn’t come easy, but once you get there? It’s awesome. Work smarter, not harder. And stop saying all your first drafts suck!

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