The First Draft is for Freedom of Flow
Being a storyteller has just as much to do with editing as it does with writing.
Surely you’ve heard the old adage, writing is rewriting. It’s been repeated again and again in books and articles on every kind of writing—and there’s a reason for that.
Any first draft of a story is bound to highlight details that are of little interest to the reader and of little consequence to the overall understanding of the story. But does your protagonist’s breakfast really give your reader a deeper understanding of the character? Maybe not. Does the time of day you interviewed a subject change the meaning of what they said? I’d guess no.
As tempted as you may be to carve those details away as you first begin writing your story, essay, poem, or report, I caution you not to. In the second draft, you can edit to your heart’s content. But the first draft calls for you to release inhibitions and throw caution to the wind. The first draft is for freedom of flow.
As a professional writer and editor, I often get asked for tips for creating the best, most polished work possible. And one of my top tips is to resist the urge to edit before finishing your first draft.
I know it can be tempting to start finessing before your work is done. Trust me, I know. But you do yourself a disservice when you skip the blissful step of surrendering to the process and letting the story flow freely.
The way I look at it, the first draft should be too long. There should be some redundancies and unnecessary details. This allows you to work out just how to say what you want to say. Then, when it comes time to edit, you’ll have given yourself options. You can keep the best parts and cut the bits that didn’t hit the mark you were aiming for.
I cut down almost every first draft I write by 10-15% in the editing stage. This never interferes with the integrity of the story. It always makes it better. By getting lost in the flow of writing during my first draft, I provide myself with a starting point that’s rich in detail. Then when I switch into editing mode, I can use my more critical eye to hone in on the details that matter most, and the parts of my piece that are as clear, colourful, and accurate as I want them to be.
My suggestion is to take a break between writing your first draft and beginning the editing process. You can work on something else, go for a walk, or close your document for the day and resume your work the following morning with fresh eyes. Do what works for you—just be sure to put time between the writing and editing phases. If you start editing too soon, it may be more difficult to erase work you’ve just done. Fresh eyes always make for better edits.
By seeing yourself as both a writer and an editor, and approaching these distinct roles at different times, you will strengthen both skill sets. Writing demands surrender, editing demands discipline. Give each role the conditions it demands and see your second drafts shine like never before.
Need help with editing a piece? I offer copy editing and proofreading services. Get in touch. I’ll be happy to discuss your project with you.