Day 27 – The Most Important Thing About a First Draft

The most important piece of advice I can give you about writing your first draft is to finish it. I don’t tell you this because I want you to see the end and hit your deadlines. Yes, I want that for you, but I say this because I want you to be able to move on to the next step, to continue your writing journey. Too many start out but never complete the first draft and therefore never get to that critical step of rewriting.

We can’t be afraid of our first draft. We can’t be afraid to finish. All writing starts as a first draft in its very imperfect form. But, we can’t move forward with learning to shape our stories until we have that first draft. We can’t learn to rewrite which includes reducing, rearranging, re-wording your first draft.

As we come to the close of The Family History Writing Challenge, I encourage you to continue to push on to finish that first draft. As we all strive to complete those first drafts, there are usually some common problems that tend to stand in the way of a writer and their final first draft.  Let’s address some of them.

We become sentence or paragraph perfectionists. We want everything to be perfect, and we stop our momentum of writing because we want to hone each sentence; we want each paragraph and each page to sparkle. That is not a first draft!!  Perfecting sentences, paragraphs, that takes place in the revision process. Keep moving get the story down then focus on the finer points of your story.

We become too aware of our family. Because we are family history writers, we tend to get caught up in worrying about how our family will receive the finished product.  Will our family like it? This can sometimes keep us from completing. Stop worrying about it. Write the family history you want and need to write. Let go of trying to please your relatives, write the story that pleases you.

We become too aware of our censors. Sometimes people want to censor us and our story. This applies in particular when it comes to family history. Some family members don’t want the stories told or they want them told only in a certain way. We may let our ancestors censor us and when that happens we no longer fill in control and we stop writing. Don’t let anyone come between you and the words.  Find a way to silence those critics. Writing is an intimate act, an act that you are within your rights to do. You don’t need anyone’s permission. It is your family history, and it is up to you to decide if and how you wish to put it down on paper. It’s just you and the blank page. Don’t worry about the critics. No one else exists.

We doubt our abilities. A simple comment from a family member, “who gave you permission to write the stories” or “when did you become a writer” can squash your confidence. Maybe we listened to those censors that we failed to silence; maybe we listened to those voices in our heads telling us we don’t have the skills to write these stories. Each new draft is just that a new thing. Each full of possibility. Allow those opportunities to flourish don’t let others doubt you. Don’t doubt yourself. Put those thoughts aside.

We don’t protect our writing time.  How many minutes can you spare out of your day and when can you spare them. Protect that time for your writing. As the Challenge comes to a close, it will be easy to go back to life before the Challenge. To give up, to file it away until next February.  Who would know if you stopped? What would it matter? You would know, it matters to you. I imagine your ancestor’s spirits would as well. When you think you hit the wall, a little self-talk may be in order. One more word, one more sentence, one more paragraph, one more page. It all adds up. If writing your family history matters to you then keep going. Eventually, you’ll finish. And then guess what, you’ll want to start again.

Try to incorporate a new writing routine into your life. Stick to a steady routine, and little by little, you’ll write that first draft. You may not finish quickly but by gradual daily additions. Hold faith in yourself and watch the pages pile up.