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writing your first draft

Writing Your First Draft: Every Memoir Starts That Way!

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Writing Your First Draft Give yourself permission to write a rough first draft. Write pages and pages in which you describe the who, the what, the where and the when of the story. Later, as you rework the piece, the why will be written in.

Give yourself permission to write a rough first draft. Write pages and pages in which you describe the who, the what, the where and the when of the story. Later, as you rework the piece, the why will be written in.

If you are one of those memoir writers who is not otherwise a writer and who will perhaps never write anything else, know that you need to be kind to yourself. In the Turning Memories Into Memoirs workshops, I am often surprised—and dismayed—at how demanding writers are on themselves at an early stage of the process. There are even times when a writer will not turn in a piece of writing because it was not “good enough”—and that in spite of my having told the group that the writing they would submit would still be in its first draft stage.

Think of the first draft of writing as “fixing” the story in the same way that in days when photographs were fixed by chemicals that stage was important if the image was not to be lost. Your first draft is the stage when you “fix” your story, keep it from being lost rather than make it into a masterpiece.

Don’t reward yourself for being a perfectionist!

Perfectionism is not a virtue at this first-draft stage. In fact, it is often not a virtue at any stage if by perfectionism you mean to fiddle with the story forever. I’ve seen writers change the word home for house and then back to home and then…

No, in the first draft, it is better to keep writing for volume, to get the story into a document, to get the whole sweep of your memoir written. Quantity at this stage has this going for it: it will encourage you to keep writing as you see your pages stack up. You will have a tangible experience of your efforts adding up to something.

In conclusion

Quality will enter in later—as it must—but not as you are writing your first draft.

Over time, you will rework your piece for various stylistic elements and eventually you will have a memoir that you are ready to launch into the world, but for now, get your first draft written—and give yourself permission to let your first draft be a rough first draft.

There are many stages in the memoir writing process. Writing your first draft is just one of them. Let it be an early stage—rough, incomplete.

Action Steps: writing your first copy

1. The next time you have a writing time, commit to writing your first draft without much revision. A few changes to spelling  and grammatical constructions are fine but not wholesale revision. Go for quantity. This is an experiment.

2. Repeat this experiment of writing your first draft for four days. Resist the urge to rewrite.

3. After four days of doing this, you can give yourself a day of revision.

4. After day five (revisions), journal how it felt to do this quantity vs. quality writing. Review the amount of production you were able to generate. Was there a difference in how much you could write over a five day period vs. how you used to write before?

5. How would you repeat this experience? What might you keep and what might you change in writing your first draft?

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One Response to Writing Your First Draft: Every Memoir Starts That Way!

  1. You are right – I’m editing my rough draft now and as I edit I found the themes. I’ve been able to fill in details and see connections that are new and exciting. I’ve also created a deleted items folder – not everything I wrote is relevant to my themes. I cut those and paste them into my deleted items folder – who knows, it may be the stuff of new memoirs. Thank you for your site. It is a blessing. — Heather

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