You Should Never Show People Your First Draft

You Should Never Show People Your First Draft


Welcome to an ongoing series of blog posts about the writing process that will hopefully prove useful to a few people. I should start by saying that I do not have any formal training in these areas, it’s just advice based on my own experiences in writing and getting my work out to the wider world. But as I say, hopefully some or all of this will prove useful to one or more of you. I’m happy to receive your feedback either in the comments section below, or via one of the very many alternative methods you can choose to contact me by.

This first post comes from my recent novel writing sessions. There are quite a few people out there who have shown interest in reading my book, but seemed puzzled when I said they couldn’t read the first draft. I have a few reasons for this.

  • The first draft is still an embryonic state

Put simply, the first draft of anything I write is, in my eyes, still a work in progress. In the case of my first draft of The Undead Space, I changed my mind on at least half a dozen plot points as I was writing it, meaning there are aspects of the first few chapters that are no longer relevant or changed considerably between the first and final chapters. Rather than edit as I went it was far easier to just finish the first draft and then go back and do a full second draft. I don’t know, maybe editing as you go works for you, but I would advise against it. There’s a risk there of spending all your time tweaking your text and never actually finishing the book.

To read the first draft is tantamount to observing the fevered mind of a creative person, potentially filled with narrative cul-de-sacs and elements that will have no relevance when it comes to a final draft. No, if you’re intent on publishing your story then the biggest favour you can do for your initial reading group is to provide them with a copy of the second draft when you’ve ironed out the kinks (but not The Kinks, unless you’ve written a book about them, of course).

  • Feedback too early could harm the final product

Feedback is necessary for your story to develop and to ensure you don’t lead your story in an inappropriate or confusing direction. But to receive feedback too early in the process could have the opposite intended effect. You need to take time to ensure you’ve developed your ideas fully, and to correct the big mistakes before someone else reads it. You want to look like a bonafide literary genius, right? Then don’t give people an inferior product. It’s difficult to provide a good second impression if somebody has been tainted by the first glimpse of your opus. Plus, you’re more likely to get genuinely constructive feedback if you’ve taken the time first to remove as many inconsistencies as you can find. Unless you’re perfect of course, in which case: carry on.

There is a counterargument to the above, however. It’s entirely possible for somebody to offer incredibly constructive feedback on an imperfect first draft that lets you make amendments, and then blow them away with the second draft. That’s not my approach, but it’s something else to consider.

I would also recommend treating your first draft like a fine wine. Once you’ve finished putting the last sentence to paper (or the digital equivalent) then let it sit for a while before going back to it. I don’t know if you’ll get the same results, but it worked wonders for me.

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