Don’t Knock the Rough Draft Process

I groaned whenever the English teacher told our class we had to do rough drafts before completing a writing assignment. I hated writing a rough draft which is the bare bones of a story. My English teachers told my class and I the rough draft would help us know if we had a complete story idea and if it didn’t we could scrap it and start another one. We could take as long as we needed. She or he was not going to rush us in this process and we would have a few days or a week to come up with something before we would be given more information about the assignment. Each English teacher I had pretty much explained rough drafts this way. I never liked rough drafts. Forget the process. I was always the one who wanted to dive right in and write away.

What I did not realize in those years was just how important the rough draft really is. My English teachers knew their importance. Although not fool proof, a rough draft more likely than not enabled a writer to see if a story has potential. It rarely shouts out the whole story. A writer won’t know the worth of the story until “the bare bones get their meat” in the writing process. The addition of more details can lead to either a complete written piece or scraping it. However, there is an exception to this as well, but more on that later.

My English teachers knew that a rough draft aides a writer in coming up with each part of a story – the beginning, middle, and end. Of course changes will be made as the story is polished, but a rough draft certainly lays the ground work. I did not want to see this. In my mind, it was let’s get down to writing so a full story gets written without trouble or with only minimum trouble. Or I would find out quickly that I was in a big rut I couldn’t write myself out of. Then after thinking for a time a new idea would present itself and I could get rolling, writing again. I believed in this method for quite a long time. But in my late twenties the cracks began and then my usual process had to be packed up and retired.

I found myself going back to what, one after the other, my English teachers had tried to get me and my classmates to understand – the rough draft is your friend and it can greatly aid your writing. As stated previously, the meat that gets added later to the draft can derail it. However, this does not always mean the end of writing the piece. Sometimes a writer can think his or her way out of the derailing and get back on course. Other times the derailing is permanent. Yet even when this is the case, it by no means says writing a rough draft is a waste of time. Rough drafts are definitely helpful more times than not and for sure reduce grief and aggravation.

As I had written in my “Vampires Really” piece, I did my first book in my head first. Then I wrote it at my computer. However, while writing it on my computer whenever I had too many ideas or not quite a complete thought, or only a nibbling of what I wanted to do, I got out a note pad and did a rough draft of the section that troubling me. I fleshed it out with different scenarios. Seeing these ideas on paper made it possible to choose which scenario would work best in the book. Sometimes I retooled another idea and used it later in the book. I did this to remove the roadblock and get back to writing the book. If I had not done the rough drafts as I did for certain sections of the book, I may not have been able to get as good results as I did.

I am not writing to say this process is fool proof. It isn’t. If it were I would have been able to keep writing both the sci-fi book and the mystery I had to scrap. Since the rough draft is not perfect and even if it had been for either book, there is more reason for me to make that rough draft work, if I can. Adding the meat the right way without the rough draft is not going to be feasible in getting from the beginning to the end. A rough draft has way more positives to it than negatives. It is a tool I use along with writing in my head. I find imagining things in my head and writing down what I see like the rehearsal of stage production. When I think what is in my mind is going to work, it gets polished on paper. More importantly, to me it is a fun way to write and edit an idea before all the grammatical stuff.

So when if you find an effective way to write – whether it is with rough drafts or not – try to keep using it. As the years roll on, polish it and make it better. Why? Because writing can go so much smoother and, more likely than not, it will result in a finished story. It is a lesson I hope I will always remember.