“Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.”
– Jane Smiley
Drafting is the third step of the writing process. At this stage, the prewriting should be finished. The research should be completed. The outline should be written and printed out (if you are using one). The draft you write will strongly depend on genre and length, but there are some common characteristics throughout all drafts.
Start writing your draft by reviewing your themes and main ideas. What notes stand out in your prewriting that support these concepts? Use one index card for each separate main idea. Indicate if it’s a thesis. Additionally, use a separate index card for each supportive detail that relates to that idea. The main ideas (and supportive details) should come from your prewriting stage. This is your own knowledge combined with your research.
Now, place the index cards in the order of presentation. The first index card should be your thesis, followed by your main points and then your supportive details. Follow these cards with your conclusion and additional supportive details. Sooner than later, your draft is going to flow concisely and easily because you know exactly what needs to appear on the page.
Above all else, try your best to turn off the self-critic in your mind. We all have it. The more often you write, and the better writer you become, it gets louder. But seriously. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation at this point. This is why writers revise and edit their drafts. Just focus on writing. Get your ideas down on paper. Accumulate the word count, writing non-stop from beginning to end. If you can go without editing this long, you will be a productive writer overall.
The sequence of your draft should be indicated within your outline. Are you writing in:
- Spacial Order: Words that indicate a spacial relationship.
- Chronological Order: Words that indicate a time sequence—either past, present or future.
- Numeral Order: Words that signal order of importance.
- Equally important
- In addition
- Less importantly
- Compare/contrast order: Words that indicate a similarity or show a difference:
- As though
- In spite of
- On the other hand
- Cause/effect order: Words that show causes and their effects within a relationship:
- As a result
Whichever order you use, keep it consistent. Think carefully about your topic. This is where outlines prove useful. They show us directly what we plan on writing. There isn’t any room to steer ourselves off course. If you’re not an outline person, such as myself, try a method that works best for you.
For the sake of the draft content, I’m going to focus on essay writing. There is a vast difference of draft formats throughout fiction and non-fiction. I will not be able to cover them all here.
Your first paragraph:
This is your introduction paragraph. Start by writing a hook, which is a sentence that grasps your reader. It makes them stop and take notice to what you are writing. Establish your point of view in relevance to your topic. Keep the tone of your writing consistent throughout your essay. Whichever pronouns and verb style (such as -ed or -ing) you use here, it should follow through until your conclusion.
Likewise, this is the stage where you should further develop your three main points. These points should clearly be stated within your prewriting and/or outline. Write supportive sentences, as well, that persuade the reader to see your perspective on the issue. This boosts your credibility as a writer, allowing your audience to see that you are using reliable information.
An essay’s thesis is located within the essay’s introduction. It tells your reader, overall, what they can expect to read throughout the essay. A topic sentence works the same way, but it’s strictly relevant to a specific paragraph. This sentence, above all the rest, is written more tightly and concisely than the others. It often has more information, while supporting details confirm what you have written.
Assign one main point to each body paragraph. If you’re writing a 5-paragraph essay, this will give you a total of 3 main points. Support each point with quotes, data or statistics. Also, always write in active voice. This is when you put the subject front-and-center within the sentence. You keep the language dynamic and clear for your audience. Avoid the verb “to be,” for this often to leads into writing passive voice.
Finally, it’s time to write your conclusion. This is a wrap-up of what you have already discussed. Summarize your information, referring back to the introduction and body paragraphs. Make sure that your conclusion ties into your main ideas which you have already stated. Do they reflect well throughout your write? Is the writing smooth and concise or rough and choppy? If the latter, you are setting yourself up well for the revision.
Think of your conclusion as gift wrapping a package. The gift is the introduction, and the supportive details are when you wrap the paper around the gift. But, when you unexpectedly leave the side ends open, this leaves loose ends. It confuses people. Fold in these sides of the wrapping paper and bring your audience to the end of your writing. They don’t want to be left with a cliffhanger; leave that to fiction writers. Rather, they want to read a logical ending that is relevant to the argument within your essay.
There’s no solid method to writing a perfect draft. Some writers believe a first draft is difficult; while others think writing the first draft is easy and enjoyable. You just have to get it done. Then take a day or two off. You’ve earned it. Once you’re finished with your break, you’ll be well-prepared for the revision phase. Good luck!