First Drafts and Second Thoughts

If a teacher told me to revise, I thought that meant my writing was a broken-down car that needed to go to the repair shop. I felt insulted. I didn’t realize the teacher was saying, “Make it shine. It’s worth it.” Now I see revision as a beautiful word of hope. It’s a new vision of something. It means you don’t have to be perfect the first time. What a relief!                                             
Naomi Shihab Nye

 I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.
 James Michener

As this is our first official blog post, I thought it appropriate to discuss the topic of first drafts. I had a student in the Writing Center this week with a first draft of an English Comp. essay. He was worried about the quality of his writing, worried that it wasn’t well thought-out, worried about length – just worried about every real or imagined shortcoming in general. His draft wasn’t any better or worse than any other first draft; it was just that – a first draft.

Students who aren’t familiar with the “writing is a process” model think it possible (and maybe it was in high school) to bang out a quality paper at 2:00am the night before a due date. This effort might get a strong writer a passing grade, but most of us need several drafts to produce the quality of writing needed for more complicated college writing assignments. I have never been able to sit in front of a blank computer screen and churn out anything worth reading on the first try. In fact, it might take me 5, 6, or 10 revisions before a piece is ready to be read by my peers.

The word essay derives from the French essayer, “to try” or “to attempt.” First drafts will often be an intro that leads to nothing, a conclusion with no beginning, or a middle with no engine or caboose, or simply some scribbled notes. First drafts are just that – a first attempt. You don’t have to be perfect the first time. But I guarantee the more you revise a piece, the more close to perfect it will become.

Share your writing process with us. How many times do you revise a piece? When do you know it’s done?

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3 comments on “First Drafts and Second Thoughts

  1. Tricia Lynne says:

    I revise as much as it’s needed. Usually, more than once if I feel the characters are not being truly motivated or the scene isn’t working. Sometimes, I over write…the trick is to know when it’s done.

    Like

    • metrowc1 says:

      I agree it’s always better to over-write than underwrite, and for most writers makes the revision process easier. I don’t consider myself so much a writer as a reviser.

      Like

  2. Anna Park says:

    Writing and most importantly rewriting is an art. The more you do it, the more practice you have, the better you will be. As the saying goes “Rome was not built in one day”, this is also true for writing. You can’t expect your first draft to be your best. The more you rewrite your first draft, the more time you have to think about what you want to convey and how you want to convey it. I also agree that over-writing is better than underwriting so on your first go at it, just let it flow knowing that you will have to go back and rewrite and rewrite and then rewrite again to make it as perfect as possible.

    Like

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