Where to Start? How to Turn Our Rough Drafts into the Best Versions of Themselves

on writing Mar 22, 2021
Literary journals & plant: Southern Review, Tampa Review, The Pinch, Ninth Letter, Quarter After Eight

When I write a first draft, my focus is on inviting inspiration, on opening myself to the magic or spark that ignites my writing—the image; the story; the memory that wakes me in the middle of the night; the pinprick of an idea I jot down in a journal.

One of my favorite methods of capturing that first spark is by using the free write, which  you can read more about in part I and part II of this post.

Of course, when we use the free write, our writing can get messy. There might be passages that go nowhere. Others that are terrible, maybe even downright boring.

But among them are bits of writing that shine true and bright—bits that point us in the direction my writing wants to take.

These bits become our map. They are the beginning of a line of thinking—an idea, a theme, a narrative— that might give shape to an entire piece.


The Discovery Draft: How to use your free write as a map


Return to one of the pieces you’ve drafted using the free write—one  whose form is just starting to take shape. Imagine you’re a sculptor looking at your work-in-progress as you read it out loud. What is it telling you?

How does the material want to be molded? Out of all its meandering possibilities, what direction does it seem to want to take?

What do you need to add to your piece so you can push it further in that direction?

And what might you need to throw away?

Are there false starts? Red herrings that take the reader along a competing path—one that might be interesting, or beautiful, but does not serve the main theme or story line you’re starting to identify for this piece?


Revision is a process


Keep shaping the clay of your writing until you get it as close as you can to what you think it wants to become, then put it away for a few days so you can return to it with fresh eyes.

Is there more material that needs to be added? Sections that need to be pared down or deleted?

Would a scene or image you’ve buried in the middle make a better beginning or end?

Perhaps, of the two pages you’ve written, only a paragraph will be usable. Perhaps it’s not just usable. It’s brilliant. Now you have a real starting place. Delete everything else. Restart your timer and start from the brilliant bit.

Have fun. Be fearless. You can always make more clay.

What would you write if you knew the world was waiting to hear what you had to say?

And why not start writing it today?

Join my 7-Day Writing Challenge

Want to read more posts like this one?

Sign up to receive Write Every Day and never miss a post.