On First Drafts

They are singularly magnificent and hold within themselves an entire body of potential. Often messy, first drafts are oft times unclear and at first glance, seemingly difficult to work into something substantial. Or, they can be quite the opposite. Pat Schneider, in her book, “Writing Alone and With Others” (Oxford University Press) writes of the first draft emerging from a place where a writer’s “memory and creative imagination” combine. Whether written methodically with intent and purpose, or jotted down during moments of awkwardness while the Muses are off tending to others and their concerns, the emergence of a first draft relies on a writer maintaining a regular writing practice. This takes discipline, true. But nothing happens if nothing happens, correct?

If you are not writing with some consistency, you are not going to develop an assortment of first drafts. And without ever developing even one first draft, how will you ever cultivate a body of written work? I hate to sound negative, but you won't. All writing, no matter the form, relies on the initial commitment to the creation of that first draft. And oh, isn’t it wonderful when the words come easily? But, oh, how quickly things turn uncomfortable when the words struggle to appear.

The first draft conjures up this struggle by stirring up acute observations or helping the writer to form new connections between observations and ideas. Segments of dreams and brief descriptions of places once visited may, along with seemingly unconnected images, spring back to life when written down in first draft form. Such randomness at first glance. Yet, when called together by the emergence of a first draft Schneider's blend of "memory and creative imagination" becomes something new, a sample of writing that holds vast potential when developed  and further crafted. 

Consider that many initial drafts are never given the chance to develop into something more. Others remain hidden in closed journals or Google files for weeks or years before being reworked into something that can have real impact. This abandonment phase allows a writer to view an original piece with fresh eyes. With further crafting, a potential-laden first draft can be worked into something more. There is value in cultivating a series of assorted first drafts. For a writer, nothing else can emerge without them.  

Everything has a starting point. In writing, the first draft is it.

~Judith Lagana


Judith Lagana is the founder and co-editor of River Heron Review.
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