Author Mindset: The first draft is for you; the next drafts are for your readers.
If you’ve been around the blog for any length of time, you know that I champion revisions around here. I believe it’s absolutely true that the best writing is in rewriting and that first drafts rarely, if ever, come out fully formed and ready for publication without any changes.
So with that in mind, authors, I have a mindset shift for you to think about today. I hope it’ll help you make your first draft (and all the later drafts) even just a bit easier.
The first draft is for you.
The first draft is a time when you can open your mind and fully explore your creativity. It’s the best time to tap into your love of writing, your love of the story you’re about to tell, and your love of the finished product you imagine it’s going to be one day. It’s also a time to explore, to be messy, to put aside all thoughts that someone might read this one day and just be free.
But first drafts are also vulnerable. If self-doubt and impostor syndrome kick in, they can stall the first draft, sometimes to the point that you give up on it entirely. And if something interferes with your creativity, whether that’s a seemingly innocuous opinion from a well-meaning beta reader or some random writing advice you found online, it can derail your creativity and lead your story in a direction you never intended or wanted. Plus, thinking things like “OMG, my mom might read this!” will make you hold back on what you really want to write, whether that’s graphic violence or a steamy sexy scene.
Creativity requires safety—the mental safety it takes to put your ideas down on the page, even if they might be a little silly or frivolous or convoluted. Letting others into your mind and first draft while you’re writing it risks that safety being threatened.
There’s a reason Stephen King said to “Write with the door closed.” The first draft is the rawest, most vulnerable part of the process, and any interference risks taking away your creativity and stalling the draft. And if you never finish the first draft, you’ll never get to start the second.
So as you write, push the inner critic out of your mind. Resist the urge to send a chapter to someone and say, “Is this any good?” Let your creativity take you where it will, and rest in the fact that you can go back and adjust anything you want to later. Right now, it’s just you and your love for this book. That’s what writing’s all about.
The next drafts are for the reader.
While the first draft is about letting your creativity flow and getting the story onto the page, the second draft and beyond is for making the story more followable and more entertaining for the reader.
One of the first things you’ll learn when getting feedback from readers is that not everything you write reaches readers the way you intended it to or thought it would. Certain plot points (or character traits or setting details) may make perfect sense to you, the author, but totally confuse the reader. There’s nothing quite like giving your story to someone else and realizing from their feedback how many plot holes you left lying around in it.
So if you want readers to enjoy your story, buy your books, recommend you to their reader friends, and become fans, then you need to think about them as you revise. People besides you will read your book, and those readers will see your story differently than you do. You’re going to have to make some changes based on what the readers see. You might have to set up plot points differently. You might have to add in more detailed descriptions. You might have to adjust your word choices. You might even end up having to yeet your favorite side character or an entire subplot from the novel, just to make the story clearer.
Not considering your readers as you revise can lead to a reading experience that’s confusing, uncomfortable, and ultimately DNF-able. Once you confuse them, you lose them. And I’m guessing that’s not what you want, right?
So as you revise, picture the perfect reader in your mind, the one who gets all your jokes, who gasps at all the intense parts, who laughs and cries at exactly all the points you want them to. Imagine them reading your book. How could you make it even better for them? How could you make it not just fun to read but totally unputdownable? How could you make sure they’re never lost or confused in the story? That’s what revision is all about.
If you struggle to complete your first drafts or to actually make changes to your drafts after they’re finished, I hope you’ll experiment with this mindset and use it to help you create books that your readers will absolutely love.
Disclaimer: Obviously, no one piece of writing advice can possibly work for every person, and you may find that this mindset is actually detrimental for you. If that’s the case, throw it out! I won’t be offended! This is just one way of thinking about writing, a way that I think will help a lot of authors get out of the depths of either self-doubt or hyperattachment. (Or both. I’ve definitely met authors struggling with both.)
And by the way, I can step up as your reader! If you want some prompt feedback on your novel draft that’s actually helpful and lets you see the full picture of what’s working and not working in your story, my Editorial Evaluation is for you! You can find more info here.
Also! I have a FREE draft-by-draft revision guide to help make your revisions as smooth as possible. It lists a bunch of questions you can ask yourself as you go through each draft of your novel, and they’re designed to get you thinking from a reader’s perspective. You can download it here.
Happy writing, and happy revising!