What Exactly Is A First Draft?

Finally FIrst Draft Freebie class

Before We Can Revise/Edit And Publish, We Must Have A Viable First Draft

Dates to choose from (registration is now open):
– January 18th at 2 p.m.
– January 22nd at 10 a.m.
– January 24th at 11 a.m.


This is a Free Webinar on Creating a First Draft of Your Book, Then, at the End of This Free Webinar You Will Have All The Information You Need For A Class I am Offering on Revising/Editing and Publishing Your Work.

Our class motto when you study with me:

We Don’t Hang Out in the Shallows,

We Delve Deep Into the Current of Our Creativity.
C. Susan Nunn

Yes, you may feel like dancing in the wind, celebrating this milestone of having your first draft done, but not so fast. What exactly is a first draft and is it really done?

There are many teachers, and I have had my share of them who told me to put everything I could think of in that first draft, everything but the kitchen sink. But, through the years, I have decided that is not such a good idea. First, let’s decide what we are writing.

If we are writing memoir, for instance, then piling in everything we experienced throughout our life is not a good idea. A memoir consists of one event like a Spiritual Journey, or an illness or how you mastered Mt. Everest. As an example, let’s take Mt. Everest. We know one does not just fly into Tibet and start climbing, but that it is a long haul of practice and scaling smaller mountains as we work toward the big one. It is a huge commitment of physical fitness. And in the memoir, it may reach throughout one’s lifetime, but the focus is the one main event. Reaching the top. So piling in everything but the kitchen sink does nothing but clog up the works.

Now, if we are writing a novel, we have more options unless of course, if you are writing “formula” types like murder/private detective types, or romance, then you have to follow that which is set forth by those genres.

Let’s discuss for a moment the story of Michelangelo and the sculpture David that he created, and how it relates to our writing. This example has been handed down through the ages, but here is one I believe says it the best. In his book, Editing Your Fiction, Michael Seidman says:

It’s said that Michelangelo, when asked about his statue of David, replied that he began with a block of stone and chipped away everything that wasn’t the young king. The writing process is much the same: You begin with something, take away everything that isn’t what you want in the finished work, and what’s left is the novel or story or essay or poem that you want to present. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, you have to do the same thing.

To extend the metaphor, if revision is the act of removing what doesn’t matter, your first draft is quarrying the stone with which you’ll work, that for us is writing the first draft.

But keep this in mind: PEN/Faulkner Award winning novelist David Bradley reminds us that a sculptor takes the chips and flakes that have come away and sweeps them out at the end of the day; as a writer, you have the opportunity to pick those pieces up and blend them into the almost finished work later.

So, let’s think of this first draft this way. First, we need to know, which I imagine most of you already know whether you are writing a memoir or fiction. Think of the mess author James Frey got himself into when declaring A Million Little Pieces a memoir, then having Oprah jump on board at such an amazing story, only for it to be exposed as mostly fiction. What a mess it all became and pulling Oprah into it as well. Be honest.

In this Free Webinar – we will have an in-depth discussion as to what makes a good, solid first draft in Memoir, which is Creative Nonfiction, or for a novel. It will be power-packed, so bring a notebook and pen, or your tablet or laptop, for some serious note taking.

My Story

I had been working on my writing for years. After earning my BA at Vermont College, I continued writing and working on the craft of writing. Then finally I applied to an MFA program and was accepted at Antioch University Los Angeles.

When I arrived on campus, I was such a novice. I had a completed manuscript in my hands as fragile as it was. I was so proud of myself for finishing it. I can’t even tell you how long I had worked on this, or how many revisions I had done. My professor read it and sent me home to rewrite it, saying it was more like a movie script, and he wanted me to write it as a novel. Whew!

That was the best thing that ever happened to me, thank you Leonard Chang, but I didn’t know it on that day. My heart fell to my feet. I was devastated, but I didn’t quit. Instead, I set out to figure it all out.

I decided to go for a dual concentration, both in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction, and then when I graduated, I stayed another term to get certified as a Creative Writing Instructor. That is what brings me to you today. I have been writing since I was about 14 years old, starting with a teen column in a Nevada newspaper, the Tonopah Times Bonanza, and went on from there, but I had never been taught what I am about to teach you.

My book, Song of the Earth, will be rereleased this coming fall. It is about the US/Mexican border crisis. I had been living this at the time but had since moved to Missouri to care for my elderly parents and to finish my book there. When I got back to my parents’ home from LA and was trying to figure out how I was going to put this book together, I wrote something about the Border. Just two or three pages, and sent it off to a friend of mine, a Mexican diplomat, in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. I asked him for his opinion, and I certainly got it. He was livid! “Susan, my dear, this isn’t Mexico and the Border, you’ve missed the essence of it all.” And that was when I realized what this was all about. I was standing back, writing about it from a distance. And this is when I realized I had no true focus. I just kept writing without a true first draft, and my story went on way too long. I needed more structure. I was writing a story that was unending, now twenty years later, it is still ongoing.

On that day, I fell off that perch I had considered a safe place to write from, where I could see and document things, but not get involved. I knew if I got too close to it, my emotions would get the best of me. So, I moved up closer, figuratively speaking, and wrote the story from the inside, from my heart. My life and my writing changed forever.