The Secret First Draft


For my class centered on first-draft writings and geared to uncertain or inexperienced writers, the cozy loft at Another Read Through books is perfect: relaxed, inviting and as warm as your living room. Surrounded with books, it’s just the place for us, who long to tell a story, to face the blank page. A blank page can be a devil.

As our guide in the class we’re using Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. King knows how hard it is to write honestly and he insists the only good writing is honest writing. But he gives us a real method to deal with it:

Close the door.

Don’t let anybody see a word of your first draft. He tells us not to succumb to fears someone will  disagree, censure, blame us for political correctness, for our mores, our manners. He tells us in the first draft to let come out whatever comes out. Anything that wants to be said whether it’s sweet, nasty, offensive. lovable, controversial, relevant, irreverent, gets said. ANYTHING.

Most of us want readers to like what we write. So we tend to write what we think will get applause. King says those thoughts kill good writing.

We need to accept that, in the end, not everybody’s going to like what we write. We can’t control every opinion. Every reader brings his/her own experience, taste and prejudice to a piece of writing. Even the most vanilla prose is offensive to some people. Our writing’s never going to make everyone happy. And knowing that can liberate us.

First drafts are often called free writes. Good reason for it. Free writes demand we write freely and that we let ourselves scribble whatever gets scribbled. Free writescoffee cup and tablet mean we don’t judge what comes out. King says these drafts are private, our secret. We show them to nobody.

But even in secret, authentic writing takes guts.

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