I've been fascinated by this ever since I was in the seventh grade and my English teacher, Mrs. Markum, tried to make me write drafts. I could not figure out what she meant by "first draft." Whenever I've written anything, it comes out the way I want it to the first time. I literally cannot think of a better way to express it. I figured by "first draft" she meant that she wanted me to rearrange what I said the first time, not completely rewrite it using different words.
The whole rewriting process was, and always has been, a mystery to me. I never rewrite. I revise, yes; I'll replace a word with a stronger word or tweak the flow of a sentence, maybe add a sentence to clarify. Very rarely I'll add something descriptive, but I never significantly change what I write the first time. From talking to other writers, I'm beginning to think I'm a freak of nature in this area.
My sister, author J.P. Choquette, who does write first drafts, suspects it has something to do with my speed which is more turtle than hare. A comfortable pace for me is somewhere around 500 words an hour. I write for two hours every week day (from 6 to 8 in the morning) and average just over 1,000 words a day. But I might spend the first half hour or hour staring at the screen lost in rereading what I wrote the day before and imagining what might happen next. When I start writing, it's usually in fits and spurts. Really long fits and really fast spurts.
To show you that there can be vast differences between writers, even coming from the same gene pool, my sister averages 1,700 words--an hour. This is a first draft which she says is like Swiss cheese . . . she has to go back later and fill in the holes. Here's what she says about the process of writing:
" I say, throw all the advice out the window. Seriously, focus on what works for you. When I first started writing fiction seriously (as in, I wanted to publish a book) I tried outlining and mapping things out, making character sketches, etc., because I read author interviews and that's what real authors did. Well, it didn't work for me. As soon as everything was outlined, something strange happened. I didn't want to write anymore. It was like someone read the ending of a book to me before I'd gotten to chapter four.
"Instead, I use a process I call Just 15-Minutes. Basically I write 15-minutes, most days of the week. If I have time and mental energy, I often write longer but I don't force myself to. 15-minutes isn't long but I write quickly. Also, I do not allow myself to read what I've already written during this time (too stressful to switch between critical editor brain to creative writer brain) and I don't fix typos or daydream about what should happen next. I just sit and write. Like exercise, I try to make writing time a game or challenge (how much can I write in just 15-minutes?), not punishment. You can find a two-part series on how to successfully finish your book by clicking here."
Since there are probably as many methods as there are writers, feel free to share yours in the comments. And if you do, tell me, first draft, or not first draft? For that is the question.