F is for First draft

A lot of writers I know suffer from a disease known as First Draft Syndrome (primoliberlibriitis), a terrible infliction which results in the inability to finish a rough draft of a novel. It affects more people than you think and it can be deadly. Without the ability to finish a first draft of a novel a writer will never get to experience the wonders of editing *stifles laughter*

And all it takes to beat this terrible disease is to remember the following words:

You have my permission to suck…

I should probably rephrase the above statement so it doesn’t sound like a good line from a bad porn movie, but this is my first draft of this post – therefore it doesn’t have to be flawless faultless perfect.

You don’t have to spend hours on end searching for that ‘ideal’ word, not during a first draft anyway. Write down the first word that comes into your head that does the job and move on! Write the rest of the damn book before you even think about reaching for a thesaurus. Apart from the fact there is no perfect word for any one situation, you’re just wasting time, making yourself feel inadequate, and totally killing the flow of your work. Every time you break away from your book to consult the dictionary, or browse through an online thesaurus, you’re forcing yourself to leave the world in which you are writing about. You tear yourself from the fictional world before you and arrive back in boring old reality. You break the flow of your work.

The same goes for insisting every scene makes 100% sense before moving on to the next chapter. So you suddenly decide your main character was in the Army when they were younger not the Navy, so what? Don’t waste time and effort going back to change ‘boat’ to ‘tank’ and ‘left’ to ‘port’. You can deal with these details later and all you’re really doing is the boring admin bits that can be dealt with anytime. By breaking away from the storyline and travelling backwards you start to lose the feel you had for your plot and you may end up seeing far too many flaws that you just have to correct.

Again, this is not the time for editing. This is the time for getting a shit tonne of words on paper. Enough words that you have a beginning, middle, and an end. You need to know the whole story before you can edit. There’s no point trying to ‘correct’ a story that’s only half complete!

Get it finished THEN edit.

Remember, you have my permission to suck *bow chicka wow wow*


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  1. “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”
    Stephen King

    Although I don’t write fiction, I tend to agree with Mr. King on this bit of advice. But, I have been known to consult one on occasion.

    I totally agree with this post. Just get it all down. The real writing gets done in the editing when you kill your darlings!

    1. Can’t argue with the Kingmeister…although I also have to admit I do reach for the thesaurus because I repeat words too much.

    2. that’s what i would say.. finish first, then edit.

  2. Great advice, Steven. I completely agree. Love the name primoliberlibriitis!


    1. Thanks, Ros.

  3. I like the primoliberthingy word too! I’m usually okay gettting the first draft down, it’s the reshaping I have trouble with. Perhaps you’ll be writing about that later on? Great post.

    1. Yep, that will make an appearance at some point this month 🙂

  4. Ooooh, I have to disagree with Mr King on that one, Pamela. One because I suffer forma certain amount of brain damage that makes word retrieval tricky sometimes – it’s on the tip of my tongue but I can’t get it out, so a thesaurus reminds me… but two, because I’m a poet and sometimes you have to find an alternative that has the correct syllable count or stresses or rhyme!

    Steven, I suffer the opposite problem. I sweat over the rough draft but LOVE polishing! I wonder what my syndrome’s called?

    1. I do like a bit of editing, Liz that’s when I can let my OCD out to play. But keeping it under control during rough drafts is hell!

  5. I think this is a very good mentality to have, one of the many reasons I love NaNoWriMo, and use a NaNo like schedule when writing first drafts. I’ve seen so many people getting bogged down with all the little details, trying to make a scene perfect, that they never actually finish their first draft.

    I just write, without editing or looking back. Then I move onto editing, and polishing.

    Another excellent post, with some great advice. ^_^

    1. NaNo is half god send, half hell for me! It’s great because it forces me to blast through 50k so quickly that I can’t fall into the trap of editing and editing and editing, but it also means I have a pile of 50k drafts sitting around waiting until November hits 😛

  6. I apparently have a severe case of primoliberlibriitis. It took me a good six years to finish a beginning-to-end draft of my novel and there’s still a ton of work to be done on it. 🙁

    On the bright side, this post may be the medicine that should have been prescribed years ago! Hopefully, after some literary therapy, I’ll be rehabilitated. 🙂

    “You have my permission to suck…”: Of course, I have to first recover from the hilarity of this line.

    1. You can be the tortoise and still ‘win’ the race 🙂 As long as you get it finished. Hope that six year draft is sitting on your desk waiting to be edited to death.

  7. I can’t even think of not finishing a draft. I think it’s in my nature to finish things I started even when the task seems so daunting –like this book series about vampires which I really didn’t like, but which I read to the end. 😛
    Great A-Z post!

  8. I know this, but I keep needing to remind myself of it: the first draft is going to be rough. It’s going to need work, polish, etc. As you say, the point of the first draft is to write the story. You can turn it into a dart board after it’s finished. 🙂

    Thanks for the reminder, Steven.

  9. I’m one of those weird writers that LOVE the first draft. I enjoy pouring it out on paper with no limitations. Unfortunately, I have to go back and edit the slop.
    Ciara Knight

  10. First draft syndrome really is pretty debilitating. Sometimes I use unsafe amounts of caffeine which gives me super confident tunnel vision. But I will certainly be happy to take your advice as it won’t wreak havoc on my body. Thanks!

    • Charlie on April 6, 2012 at 23:33
    • Reply

    Oh you do make me laugh my friend 🙂 Bow chicka wow wow indeed! In all seriousness though, this is one of my biggest stumbling blocks, and even knowing that I find it very difficult to give myself permission to suck. Teehee. Outside forces that give me that permission – eg writing challenges of all shapes and sizes, whether “official” or just someone saying “word war time!” (or “betcha can’t write 1000 words by five o’clock”) – are my only hope!

    1. Betcha can’t write 3,000 words by Tuesday!

  11. Great advice especially for first time writers, am writing my story and keep going back to edit it,Thanks for this post.


  12. I don’t think I’ve suffered from this in a while – doing NaNoWriMo can be a good cure. “You can polish up junk. You can’t polish a blank page.

  13. Yeah. That’s me to an F. First Draft Syndrome all the way. I’m good at WriMo, just not EdMo.

  1. […] When you demystify the world of the published author you start to realise that even the ones on the bestsellers lists aren’t that different from you and I. Their stories can offer a glimmer of hope as you realise some authors are just as petrified of making mistakes as we are, and are still ‘winging it’ in their career. It’s nice to hear that even authors who’ve written ten or twenty books still suffer from writer’s block, writer’s arse, and even primoliberlibriitis. […]

  2. […] First Draft Syndrome (primoliberlibriitis): […]

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