Writer’s Tools / How to write a first draft

At some point every writer asks the question, ‘how do I write a first draft?’ It’s an honest question and if you think about it there are plenty of answers. You can write quickly, without form or style and then clean it up later, or you can write slowly, mulling over every detail or you can do something in-between.

Writing is personal endeavor and it’s up to each writer to create their own style. Now, that being said, sometimes the best way to learn something is by learning from someone else and if you’re going to take pointers you might as well take them from the best. So the purpose of this Writer’s Tool is to take some tips from well-known authors on how to write first drafts, namely: Ray Bradbury, E. B. White, and Stephen King.

So what is a first draft and how do I write one?

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Photo Credit: Alan Light

Ray Bradbury had a firm belief in going with your gut and writing everything down as fast as you can. In other words, let your imagination run wild and try to keep up.

In Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, he wrote,  “The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfalling and tiger-trapping.”  

A lot of other writers have echoed Bradbury’s practice and for good reason. I think what’s most important in your first draft is to get the ideas down on the page without worrying too much about how they sound. That’s what second drafts are for and third drafts, and fourth, and fifth.

E. B. White had the exact opposite stance. In fact, he once joked about writing two sentences and then spending the next hour rewriting them. Whether he actually did such a thing is up for debate but it is well known that after he wrote Charlotte’s Web E.B. White let it sit on his bookshelf for a year to ‘cool down’. While that may not work for everyone, it certainly worked for him.

Stephen King wrote in his book, On Writing, that, “Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft— one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear.” Essentially, get it all down first and polish later.

However you decide to do it, whether you rush through every sentence or research every word, just make sure that by the end of the page you say what you mean.

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