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First Drafts by Tamara Hogan

Can you keep a secret? Vegas rules, right?

I hate writing first drafts. There. I said it.

I know, I know. I've heard all the writerly bromides: "First drafts are  supposed to be bad." "You can fix anything but a blank page." But the perfectionist who lives in my head isn't listening. She's singing, "Let it suck, let it suck, let it suck!" - to the tune of "Let It Snow" - at the top of her lungs. Being I'm five chapters into my third manuscript, with a good fifteen chapters yet to go, let's just say she's gonna be singing for awhile.

Yeah, I know. La Nora's right. Once the first draft has been written, the words can be fixed - but I've learned that I'm one of those writers who loves revising, and sometimes vapor-locks looking at a blank screen.

Some tricks I've learned to goose myself out of the blocks a little faster:

Step away from the computer. I pick up a notebook and pen, set the timer for 10 minutes, and free-write everything I think I know about the scene I'm working on. This inevitably turns into beats of dialogue, at least some of which are usable, and a good sense of the scene sequence. Who does what? What information is concealed and revealed? How do I connect the dots from the previous scene to the next? Once I go back to the glowing screen, I'm warmed up, and have a much better idea of where I'm going.  

Eye games: I sometimes change my word processor settings so it displays white text on a blue background. This looks less "blank" to me. 

Just talk it out, a/k/a "First Drafts for Dummies": sometimes I fire up my Dragon voice recognition software and simply talk about the scene instead of writing it down, with no pressure to produce anything usable. Voila! The page is no longer blank! And I can revise, revise, revise. 

Hmm. Looks like Nora's right after all. Was there any doubt? ;-)

Writers, how do you get out of your own way and just get the first draft down? Any tips and tricks you can share?   


  1. Love this post! I'm going to try that trick with the Dragon software. I agree with you about the blank page--it's intimidating. Thanks for writing this post. It makes me feel better to know I'm not the only one who feelis this way.

  2. Tamara, I think you are paddling a boat full of authors. Writing that first draft is the place where our inner and outer demons have a keg of dynamite and try to sink us. No examples necessary. We all know who and what those demons are.
    Once it's written, we feel like we've kicked Writers Enemy Number One, Two and Three in the butt and our attitude changes.
    Love your exercises. I still use a pen and paper, too when the WE called Blank Screen intimidates me.

  3. @Sara - I think part and parcel of this writing gig is that it can be such a solitary endeavor. I think we're all convinced at ome time or another that "I'm the only one who feels this way." Until you learn it's not true! ;-)

  4. @Carolyn - I swear, looking at a blank white page feels like looking into the maw of an avalanche sometimes. I'm kind of old-skool when it comes to pen and paper. Something about the tactile nature of writing cursive works for me. I don't get as freaked out about wordcount.

  5. This post strikes home! Is there secret footage somewhere of me banging my head against the computer keyboard just to get my word count up? First drafts can be wretched at times. I just got through a huge writing drought where I had nothing, and I mean NOTHING, to say. What helped for me was backing away from the keyboard and plotting on a big whiteboard, then laying it out with pen and paper. This past week (stuck home with snow and ice) has been great and I got a TON of writing done. I guess the trick is to keep trying!

  6. @Amanda, I'm just coming out of a drought, too. I put in my butt-in-chair time every day, but what I produced in each session was merde. SO frustrating!

  7. I'm one of those people who can't stand to have anything left on the to-do list at the end of the day. So I put "write 4 pages" on it, I'll do it. I may hate it, but it gets done.

  8. @Shana, I'm a BICHOK writer, just trying to get done what I can get done in the two or so hours a day I have available to write. Maybe it's time to push myself a little harder during the time I'm in the chair...

  9. I like how Stephen King puts it. The first draft is for me, I'm telling myself a Once Upon A Time and nobody gets to hear it or see it as I'm writing it down. Once that's done, and the MS has had a few months to incubate, it's time to open the office door so to speak, and allow the inner critic, editor, CP and OCD to participate in the process.

    Though even in the rough draft stage, I'm like you Tamara. I can't stare it down, I have to go change a litter box (no symbolism there) or make a pot of tea frequently in the middle of a writing session.

  10. What a great tip! I guess I do that in my own way. I write out a chapter by chapter "map" with one sentence for each scene. Just the scene's purpose, nothing else. It keeps me on track and I can add or delete ideas as I see fit.

  11. @Grace, I like how Chuck Wendig puts it: Your first draft should look like a war zone. I think I'm so conscious of the days passing by on the calendar, that I don't give myself enough story incubation time - one of the downsides of writing on deadline.


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