Why You Should Treasure Your Rough Drafts

sw_Editing_N10_20130809_230442 by jppi

As I go back over my first novel (for the twentieth time, at least), I’m reminded of one writing “rule” that many authors seem to forget: your rough drafts are worth their weight in gold.

They aren’t pure gold, of course. There are spelling and grammar errors, plot inconsistencies, and lines of dialogue that no character would ever say. But there are often veins of gold in our rough drafts, and sometimes, we may need to draw on that richness as we craft the raw story into a finished product.

So here are six reasons why you should treasure your rough drafts:

  • The energy. Often, we write our rough drafts in a bust of inspiration. Dull, boring parts (like description) are skipped as we race forward to just get the story out, and there can be an immediacy and a focus to the earlier draft that we need to “bottle up” and recapture in the finished product.
  • The characters. Sometimes, our major and minor characters, even, will show their true selves in our rough drafts, and as we work and rework the stories, they start to get tarnished. Revisiting our original work can serve to remind us why we were drawn to them in the first place…and hopefully, help us get them back on track.
  • The ideas. Scenes that we throw out as impratical in the second or third version may turn out to be just what we need in the fourth. We may need them to happen in a different place, with different characters, but, by having the original on file, we can save time and gain “instant inspiration” when we need it later (And we can avoid the lamentation of “I remember writing something like this, in an earlier draft; if only I’d saved it”).
  • The details. This is especially the case if you’re writing a series. You may have initially planned to introduce a place or person in book one, but you changed the plot line to where this doesn’t happen. However, you now need that exact person or place for book two…and you can’t remember the names. They were perfect, they were delightful…and because you deleted them, they’re gone.
  • The progress. Having one of those “I am such a terrible writer” moments? Go back to your rough drafts and see how far you’ve come.  The dialogue, description, and handling of exposition will improve, year by year, but we sometimes don’t realize how far we’ve come until we stop and look back.
  • The free ebook material. Once you’re famous, you can release a special ebook (or printed book, even), filled with material from your rough drafts: deleted scenes, initial plot summaries, discussions of why you changed names, places, and plot, etc., and the fans will be delighted. Who wouldn’t want to read Jane Austen’s rough drafts of Pride and Prejudice? Or initial versions of The Lord of the Rings? It’s not for everyone, of course, but hardcore fans delight in books like this, and it can help future writer realize how the craft of writing works. Why you deleted this, or kept that; why you altered this or altered the plot so as to keep that character alive…all these decisions are part of the writing craft, but often get swept into the wastebasket, leaving new writers clueless that such decisions are ever made by anyone but them.

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by jppi, Creative Commons

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