Why Do Initial Drafts Always Suck?

I hear it all the time. Let your first draft suck. It’s okay to suck at it the first time. It’s supposed to be sucky, just embrace it.

Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. 

This year, I want to mainly talk about drafting, and specifically about tips and tricks for getting to a finished first draft. If you already have a finished first draft, the content for this year can still be useful to you in getting a second draft written, so please stay tuned.

Hitting again upon the opening paragraph pf this blog, maybe you too, have been given this advice about writing sloppy drafts. Have you ever stopped to consider why first drafts are so terrible so much of the time? Let’s go over 6 reasons why your first draft might suck, and why that is perfectly okay.

#1 – You don’t always know what you’re doing. 

Whether it’s your first attempt at writing a book, or you have twenty novels under your belt, sometimes, you just don’t know how to do what you’re trying to do. Every story approach is different, and even seasoned writers will say that they try different means of writing their novels with each new book.

This is totally acceptable. In fact, the only way we grow is by trying to do new things. It’s completely fine that you might not know what you’re doing… yet. But that doesn’t mean you never will. 

#2 – You don’t always have your story or characters worked out.

As much as I dislike putting people into boxes, I do tend to hear three general “camps” when authors are asked how they come up with their stories. Very generally speaking, authors start with either the plot, the characters, or the worldbuilding in mind.

I’m not even saying that this is the only thing they do when they write every book, but to use myself as an example, I am usually quite clear on the plot and sometimes have a vague idea of the characters and… honestly, about nothing else. 

I almost always have talking heads in a void, because I don’t yet know my characters motivations or voice. I don’t know their tells. Sometimes I write that they have curly hair blonde and later that it’s straight and black. I just don’t know at first everything about everything when I start to write.

And that’s OKAY. The world and the characters for me get way stronger with each revision or draft because I have worked with them longer and know them better. That’s how I operate and it is perfectly valid to start where you are and keep working on it until you get better.

#3 – You can’t predict what others will think until you’ve written it and get their feedback.

On a very practical note, you really don’t know how anyone is going to react until you get someone’s feedback on it. They might have questions about something that was crystal clear to you but wasn’t shining through onto the page to your reader. They might see plot holes that could sink your book when you thought your manuscript was airtight. You might have written a character that should have been likeable that the readers don’t like.

Until you have someone’s feedback on a completed draft, you can’t be sure you are hitting all the plot and character moments you need to.

#4 – You might not be strong enough as a writer to write the story you’re trying to tell.

I am going to use another example from my own work here, because this seems the most relevant example I can think of. I have tried to write my own vampire novel. I have tried it, and I have failed. Not once, not even twice. So. Many. Times. 

I love vampire lore. I love vampire novels. I love vampire movies. I love vampire-like music. I love vampire anime. I love vampire manga. If it has vampires in it, I will be up for it. 

So imagine my utter horror at finding out, on multiple occasions, that I simply could not write my own vampire novel that wasn’t completely cliche’ and dumb and not scary. That wasn’t full of velvet dresses, and hot dudes who were no good for the main character, and bloody vampire dancing in ballrooms. 

Lovelies, just because I love it doesn’t mean I was particularly good at writing it. I’d never written horror. I’d only partially written urban fantasy. I wasn’t strong enough as a writer yet to get a completed first draft of this novel until I had been writing and finishing drafts in other novels for over ten years. 

#5 – You might not have done near enough research.

Do you ever get the feeling that you don’t even know what you don’t know?

If I were to try my hand at writing a story about the sinking of the Titanic, I would probably run into this scenario. Of course I know generally what happened, in what year, how boats float and move, how icebergs are formed. But is that really enough to write an entire historical fiction novel on it?

Could I really recreate in exacting detail the color of the rooms, how passengers were situated, the feeling of being hit by an iceberg, and of the ground tilting over in its final moments as passengers jumped or tried to grab onto anything they could to stay afloat?

Maybe I could make some of it up, but I can’t even begin to tell you what I don’t even know I don’t know about boats sinking, and about freezing temperatures, and about losing friends and loved ones beside you as you stubbornly live on through the night, all the while hoping in equal measure for rescue or for death.

That got dark real quick, and yet the point is that I’ve never been on a boat. If I wanted to write a book about one, there would be loads of things I didn’t know I needed to know about them, and about seafaring in general that I probably wouldn’t even think to ask until I’d written at least part of the draft.

#6 – You might have plots or characters are broken in ways that you didn’t see before writing them, and sometimes they are so broken you can’t see a fix.

This happened to me with Utopian Melody.

I kept coming back, trying to write scenes from one character’s POV and dreading writing them. Something was broken, I knew, but in draft after draft, I had no idea what it could be. It went through three full drafts and many editing and revision passes besides before I finally identified and found a fix for the issue I was having in writing the book.

Then I realized it was an issue with the internal motivation of one of the big players in the war between Heaven and Hell. Once I’d gotten it figured out, I didn’t even have to make sweeping changes. Finally, everything clicked into place and the story worked.

First drafts suck to write. It’s true. While some writers supposedly exist that write relatively clean first drafts that never change much, most of us write terrible first drafts, myself especially.

But you know what? That is one hundred percent okay.

So let’s chat. Have you finished a first draft? Do you find drafting to be difficult? Do you start with one type of story element, and if so, what? What problems do you have when you get into writing a first draft?

2 Replies to “Why Do Initial Drafts Always Suck?”

  1. Numbers 1 and 2 are so relatable to me, mostly because I’m a pantser, and I seldom know what I’m going to write about until I dive into it. But I’ve accepted that my first drafts will always suck. It’s me telling myself a story after all. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I don’t feel like I really know my characters at all until after I’ve drafted something. I can plot structure a novel until the end of time, but the deep connections and motivations don’t usually make it into my drafts until a lot later.

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