I’ve written a few first drafts now and I’m starting to see a pattern here.

First drafts are to finished books as a bag of groceries is to a finished dinner.  You have to make sure you have all the ingredients you want in the story, but no way are you shoving the cake mix in your mouth right out of the box. You have to work with it first.

In the same way, writing the first draft is about getting the elements of the story down. No way is this going to be or even supposed to be readable.

The difference is (at least for me) that I often don’t know what the elements of the story are until I write that first draft. I have some ideas, sure. A plot, an outline even sometimes. (that’s a bit like your grocery list, to continue the analogy) But how a character will react, the interactions they’ll have with a minor character, an encounter with their families … all these define a person on one hand and illuminate their personality on the other. I don’t see these coming sometimes until they get written.

I see too many people struggling to make their first drafts ‘perfect’. They won’t be. Stop trying.

Or as Tom Clancy put it, “Just finish the damn thing.”