Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 8] —First Draft

December 25th, 2013 by

We pick up from last week with our year-end attempt to help GITS readers set and achieve their writing goals for 2014. To revisit the process of self-reflection from last week, here are the links:

Part 1: Looking Back

Part 2: Assessing Where You Are

Part 3: Where Do You Want To Go As A Writer

Part 4: Practical Matters

Part 5: Going Public

This week we shift the focus to a more pragmatic part of the discussion, considering a variety of tips about how to manage time and projects more efficiently. Here is what we have thus far:

Part 6: Schedule

Part 7: Time Management

Today: First Draft

This is short, but sweet. When you write a first draft, there is only one thing that matters:


More script projects crash and burn because somewhere along the line after typing FADE IN, writers get frazzled and frustrated, disgusted and depressed, peeved and pessimistic, and simply stop writing and never finish the first draft.

If you start a script…

And you’re just not feeling it…

The plot is a major struggle…

The characters seem off…

The dialogue isn’t flowing…

The whole script conjures up the odor of zoo dust…

It doesn’t matter. None of that matters. The only thing that does is to finish the first draft! Just get the damn thing done!

I guarantee you no matter how awful you think it is, the actual process of getting to the end of the first draft will do the following:

* Help you understand your story better.

* Surface story problems enabling you to address them.

* Put you that much closer to finishing the script.

* Get you past a huge psychological obstacle of finishing the first draft.

Perhaps the most important thing: After you finish a first draft, you are no longer writing, you are rewriting. You are editing. There’s not a writer I know about or have interviewed who doesn’t prefer editing to writing.

So if there is one writing mantra above all others I implore you to take to heart in 2013, it’s this one. No matter how hard it is for you to drag what you think may be a wretched assemblage of stinking scenes and putrid pages across the finish line known as FADE OUT… do it!

Everything looks different once you have a first draft in hand.

Everything is different once you have a first draft in hand.

Just get the damn thing done!

What are your thoughts about first drafts? What keeps you from finishing them? How important is it to you to get done with a first draft?

Tomorrow: The only way out is through.

By the way, cracking the story before typing FADE IN is often directly connected to the writer finishing a first draft or not. If you know the story before you commence the page-writing part of the process, you exponentially increase the chances of you getting the damn thing [first draft] done. If not, you reduce the odds in your favor. Moreover by doing the hard work of figuring out the story in prep, there’s an awfully good chance you will turn a future Rewrite [R] into a rewrite [r], and speed your way into the editing process.

9 thoughts on “Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 8] —First Draft

  1. […] This week we shift the focus to a more pragmatic part of the discussion, considering a variety of tips about how to manage time and projects more efficiently. Here is what we …read more […]

  2. cgusmann says:

    I haven’t had too much of a problem getting through the first drafts of my scripts. My problem comes with that first draft hangover where I have a hard time seeing its flaws. It can take me a long time to distance myself enough to be able to do a solid edit/rewrite.

    That’s why it’s so important to have a trusted group of people for feedback. I can’t rewrite properly without feedback from outside sources because I don’t have the same perspectives they do. Even if I don’t look at something for months and months normally a reader will find story flaws I’m blind to.

  3. I’m going to try something in 2014: I’m not just going to give myself permission to write badly. I’m going to insist on it in a first and second draft. Not so much the first draft: I will try to write that well enough. But if I hit a problem, I will insist on writing on-the-nose dialogue and cliché plot moves to keep the story moving. The second draft will be even worse. After I get the various feedback (this didn’t make sense, that seems lame, etc.), I will plug all the problems with a narrator, as lasagna is my witness. I will steal from Chinatown and The Godfather and Tootsie with abandon.

    I will do anything at all to make the story completely clear in a draft.

    Once that happens, then I will go back in the third draft, knowing exactly how I see the story, knowing all the stakes, knowing why people are acting the way they do, and rewrite it all. My poor story will be there in the hospital bed with all the tubes and the splints and casts holding it together – but it will be all together at last. And rewrites from that point on will be (I think) a process of removing the tubes, lowering the medication doses, and getting the casts off.

    I’ll give it a year to work. I don’t think it’s anything that can work in a time-sensitive environment like actual work on a TV series or a movie in production. But I expect that if it does work, the process will get faster. So who knows?

    1. Scott says:

      Joseph, I commend you on this approach. It’s one thing to read about how professional screenwriters routinely do 10, 20 or more drafts of a script. It’s another thing to embrace that philosophy. If there ever was a narrative form where the adage “Writing is rewriting” fit, it’s screenplays. Allowing yourself to write ‘badly’ is a key to productivity and getting the damn thing done.

      Good luck in 2014 and beyond!

  4. […] Writing Goals: 2014 [Part 8] – First Draft (gointothestory.blcklst.com) […]

  5. Hey Joseph,

    I love your approach to writing. Allowing all the mistakes and bad dialogue only contributes to the creative process. Lots of coffee too. Since I’ve read faithfully GITS, I’ve just completed the reading 52 screenplays a year challenge. I’ve found that a huge benefit and the mornings are dedicated to either reading a screenplay or working on my own script. My goal for 2014 is to write two scripts. I love using the index cards, it’s been wonderful and opening the story so much!

    1. Scott says:

      Congratulations, Mark, re the 52 screenplays in one year. Would you email me about the possibility of writing a guest post about your experience? What were the 52 scripts? What did you learn? How did you compel yourself to read the scripts week after week? That sort of thing. You set a great example and I would love to promote you and script reading to the masses. Thanks – and again congrats. You have benefited your understanding of the craft in ways you can’t even imagine, stuff that will show up in your writing, and you’ll go, “Where did THAT come from?” It came from your reading, intuitive understanding to go along with all the conscious stuff you learned.

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