Why free-write the first draft?

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” ~James Thurber
“Rewriting in process is usually an excuse for not going on.” ~John Steinbeck

I’m a big fan of free-writing the first draft, which means you don’t pick up your pen until you’re done – or at least you don’t look back and start revising until you finish the draft.  Skip grammar, punctuation, and every other interruption.  Underscore a word that you know you want to change later, or leave an underline for a missing word, and keep moving. The idea is to not let your editor get a word in edgewise, and to use any and every ploy that works for you to that end. You get only one chance at the unique cascade of thoughts and associations that happen while writing a first draft and anything less is self-sabotage.

My class participants have made an amateur study of this philosophy and unanimously confirm there’s nothing like the free-write draft for making surprising associations and pulling detail from your depths that would not have surfaced otherwise.  You can always cut material from your later drafts, split the draft into multiple stories, or even start over, but you get only one shot at an uninterrupted first draft before your inner editor kicks the door in.

In the Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser says it this way:

“You take pleasure in remembering first one thing and then another and another, your memory synapses all firing, pop, pop, pop. Some of the things you remember just won’t fit into your [piece] … [but] no matter which way it seems to be going, it can’t hurt to get all the detail into the first draft, everything that comes to mind, every piece of silverware in the drawer, every crumb in the bottom of the cookie jar. Then you can go back and stroll through that room, like walking between overloaded tables at an estate sale. Carry the little basket of your [piece] and pick up only those details that you really want to use. The rest of the room is still in your notebook, and you can enjoy [picking up other details] at another time.”

More writing tips:
Make a list of keywords before you start writing
Use wingdings to blind your inner editor
Do what works best for you

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Categories: flash basics, writing tips

14 Comments on “Why free-write the first draft?”

  1. Cate Russell-Cole
    October 5, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Reblogged this on "CommuniCATE" Resources for Writers and commented:
    Great inspiration from Chris at Flash Memoirs. Thanks Chris!

    • lauraeflores
      October 7, 2013 at 3:28 am #

      I’ve recently learned the importance of not nit-picking the first draft (as painful as it is).

    • October 7, 2013 at 11:22 am #

      Amen! Free-writing saves our sanity. ;-) Thanks for your comment, Laura.

  2. Karen Soutar
    October 7, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    This is topical for me as I’ve just been doing lots of freewriting for my Creative Writing course. Can I continue my WIP this way? Oohh…

  3. October 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Good point. I’m a hunt and peck typist – quick but not error free. On my first draft I’m often going back in a line to correct typos – I’ll try to NOT do that this time.

  4. October 8, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you for this inspiring post! Do you free-write the first draft on paper or on the computer? Personally, I think it feel more “free” when doing it on paper, but I simply type much faster on a keyboard, so I tend to use the computer!

    In addition, to avoid involuntarily starting reading what I’ve read before the free-write session is over, I sometimes put a sheet of paper in front of the screen and do the free-writing blindly! A little crazy, but it works! :-)


    • October 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

      They say keyboarding versus handwriting uses different parts of your brain and will produce different results – I say do what works best for you and keeps you writing. :-)
      A friend gave me this brilliant trick for hobbling your inner editor while writing – another one to add to your arsenal: http://wp.me/p2dlWn-a2
      Thanks so much for stopping by, Kenneth!

  5. October 9, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    One benefit of doing this is it separates the art of writing (creative process) from the craft of writing (polishing, cleaning, editing). I can see real benefit there if your goal is to generate finished product.

    • October 10, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      What a great point of clarification, thank you Hola!


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