I am unwilling to draft without editing as I go because I worry I won't be able to translate my thoughts into cumulative sentences. For instance let's take the sentence: "He walked to the store, an empty wallet in his pocket."

I am worried that I will often miss the opportunity to produce this kind of sentence, which is a loose sentence. I also worry even more that I will miss the opportunity to write a periodic sentence.

So what I need is some reassurance and explanation that writing without revising will not lead me to write sentence which cannot be later translated into periodic and loose sentences.

How would that sentence I wrote look in a rough draft in such a case. Like this? He walked to the store. He had an empty wallet in his pocket.

I am worried that I will write actions as occurring sequentially rather than simultaneously.

What I am worried about is that I will not be able to control how complex my diction is because of the nature of my thoughts in the rough draft. I feel like I have to form what it should be in order to do what I want.

Can anyone help me to get over this? I have always edited as I write, but I need to write in a more efficient way, one that will allow me to get my thoughts out, but still let me control how sophisticated my diction is.

Please help. Thank you.

  • It's such a personal thing. I've written finished copy and draft and revise a hundred times. They work differently for different projects. I find that the longer the project, the more revisions that are needed. And it grows exponentially. I'd recommend trying different things out. Practice. See what works and what doesn't. As far as sentences go, I would recommend reading a few books about communicating clearly. "Style: Toward Clarity and Grace" changed my writing. Good luck! And have fun. – Tallima Sep 27 '17 at 22:19

Sophistication and polish and complexity are not for the first draft. Period.

Your first draft is meant to be the rough, crappy one. It's getting your ideas out. You are letting the perfect become the enemy of the good — you're so worried about making it awesome that you aren't allowing yourself to make anything at all.

Do not worry about your diction.

Do not worry about efficiency.

They are not the point in a first draft.

First drafts can be littered with TK (meaning "to come"), [TECH], "angry dialogue here," EXPLAIN PLAN, and so on. You can have actual placeholders and not write a chunk of the scene at all if that helps you get your entire draft on paper so you can work with it.

Stop fussing and write.

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    ^ This also I will usually do something like "Insert xxxxx here later" while writing if I cant think of something but know I want something in that spot. Like say "insert tribal chant around a fire here". Then I know what the idea is for that area but I don't want to think about that specific instance at this moment. – ggiaquin16 Sep 27 '17 at 15:39

Editing as you write isn't bad but it's not good either. As you are well aware it stops your creative thoughts to switch to the more logical thoughts for editing. Fixing things like a typo or rewriting a sentence that maybe wasn't written as well as you would have liked isn't bad. But sitting there and trying to formulate the best sentence and getting stuck doing that with each word on only your first draft is a bit excessive.

I like to write in chapters. Once that chapter is done, I go back and read it, edit it, fix it, add things, delete things. I fix it to a point that would be acceptable for a first draft. The key of a draft is to get the main idea out, not provide a well polished passage.

It would be like sketching out a painting with a pencil, but expecting the pencil to make the painting look finished without adding any paint/color. Need to take it one step at a time. Slow down and go stage by stage through the writing process. Everyone may have a different writing style, but the stages are still there for all.

Put your ideas out, go back re-read when you hit a chapter or stopping point. Fix any MAJOR issues and then continue writing. Worry about the minor tweaks when you have finished the draft. Yes you will find poorly written sentences, yes you will find many short sentences instead of polished prose. That is the point of a draft though, to get the thoughts out.


If you build a house by painting each board before you hammer it to the wall, it will be a very tiresome process.

If you don't know how the house is going to end up beforehand, and have to remove some of the boards again, it will also be a waste of time.

Don't get it right. Get it written.

Later revisions will make it clear where the writing is bad.


I must contradict both Lauren Impsum and ggiaquin. There are different kinds of writers, and what works for you works for you.

I have written several short stories and one novella, polishing as I wrote. Here is how I work:

  • In the morning, I walk to where I write. I need about half an hour to get there, so this gives me ample time to think about what I want to write next. I have no outline, to plan, except a starting point (usually the beginning, but sometimes an image or event) and a general idea of what my story is about. As I walk, I note down ideas and phrases in a notebook and come up with a (menatal) outline of the upcoming section I am going to write.

  • When I arrive, as a warm up I go over what I have written the day before and polish it. It is already quite finished, but from a day's distance I see problems with word choice, syntactic rhythm, and so on, and I correct those mistakes. Then I take out my notes and remember my ideas for the day and write on from where I left off yesterday.

  • I try to write as well as I can. I don't aim for speed or volume, but for writing finished copy. I write the final draft.

  • When I feel that my resources are depleted, and I no longer know what to write next or am no longer able to maintain finished-level writing, I stop for that day. This is usually after four to five hours.

  • I then do whatever else my life requires of me.

  • In the evening, I often briefly scan what I wrote or go over my notes to get my mind into my story. This will have the effect that during the night my mind unconsciously makes up new ideas which I then note down on my way to my writing place in the morning. I try not to do anything else and not see anyone between getting up and writing, so I don't get distracted. I have found that having breakfast with the family or taking care of my children puts me in family mode and I cannot write that day. So I get up and steal out of the house before they get up.

And that's it. I write very slowly, but since I don't have to outline or rewrite or revise, I save many months of work that would otherwise go into that.

I have recently attempted a novel in outline mode. I came up with an idea, developed my characters, outlined and plotted the novel, and then began to write a first draft. After three years I am halfway through and struggle with motivation (because I don't see the point in retelling something that is already completely told, albeit in unpublishable form). I will probably not work that way again. It is not for me.

Find out what works for you, and don't believe the generalizations that people write on the internet. Lauren Ipsum's unqualified generalization in her first sentence is wrong.

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    "Find out what works for you" is absolutely correct. I suggested that the OP specifically stop fussing because s/he is saying "all my polishing is stopping me from moving forward." The OP has an explicit problem (I'm so worried about it being awesome that I can't write anything) which you don't have. So for you, yes, you can write great prose on the first shot. So do I. My answer to this question doesn't help you or me as writers. But the OP is basically asking for permission to suck, which I'm "granting." – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Sep 27 '17 at 12:34
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    I will second Lauren's statement here. The user is basically stating they have an issue. They have to do what works for them naturally, but that doesn't mean you allow bad habits especially when said bad habit is being questioned as an issue by OP. He is asking for reassurance to write bad stuff on his first draft. Both lauren and I said, YES THIS IS OKAY. We aren't saying conform to a status quo style. However, there are things that no matter who you are, require everyone to take the same steps. This is one of them. – ggiaquin16 Sep 27 '17 at 15:38
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    @Amadeus again I never said it is the right way, however it is the general rule of thumb. It's taught even in middle school and high school to write this way. While there are certainly people who can do other methods, that doesn't mean the general method doesn't apply. It's a general method for a reason. Also not upset. So don't really try to imply feelings that don't belong. I believe you are getting hung up on technicalities of words while not really listening to what I am saying. But that is your choice. Again, I said everyone has their own comfort levels for what makes a good – ggiaquin16 Sep 27 '17 at 20:00
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    rough draft. I'm not going to sit here and keep repeating the same thing while you are stating I am saying opposite of what my words are. So with that I'm simply not going to reply anymore as there is no point if you aren't going to read the words I am typing. And once again just because YOU write a top quality rough draft doesn't mean that is what OP is looking for. Again... he is verifying if it is OKAY to have a messy rough draft. again.. I am saying it is. – ggiaquin16 Sep 27 '17 at 20:02
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    @Amadeus If you are constantly rewriting and polishing and editing as you go, I submit that you are writing several drafts in a continuous loop. When you finish your piece for the first time, it is not a "first draft," but a heavily edited fourth/fifth/Nth draft. You are simply editing as you go rather than getting to the end and circling back. The second bullet of your process is your second draft — you're just doing it a scene at a time. My point is that you don't need to worry about tuning the perfect phrase the first time you write your story. When in the process you edit it (cont'd) – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Sep 27 '17 at 21:00

I'll offer a middle ground that requires a lot of polishing as I go.

I write polished and readable story as I go. The only thing I would say is 'first-draft' is that I may postpone easy details that don't influence the character or plot but may add authenticity for the reader. The name of a piece of equipment that I know exists; for example do doctors use a special name for the light in the operating room, or just call it the light? What is airline pilot terminology for reversing course? Details like that can be left out of the first draft; the particular name of a fatal cancer, the types of trees native to Oregon or Texas, whatever.

For prose I focus on character speech and attitude, emotions and thinking, and I am just not happy with broad strokes. I need to see their interactions develop sentence by sentence and make sense and work smoothly in polished form.

As an author I cannot write [they fight and make up] and move on to another scene; to me the exact content of the fight, the exact way it starts and ends, changes my characters! Just as it changes us all in real life. There are things we say that cannot be taken back or forgotten or forgiven.

Saying [fight and make up] means later I must devise an interesting fight between lovers that has NO ramifications on them later in the story. That feels like leaving the hard part for later, and in my view that is NEVER a good idea.

Consider the ramifications: If I do all the easy parts of the story first, all I have left is the hard parts. Then what? Do the easiest of the hard parts? Then I am left with increasingly harder parts to finish, and the result is: the story becomes impossible to finish, there is no way to accomplish what must be done and retain the plot.

Do the hard parts as they come. They develop and add nuance to your characters. If you have a plot plan and character arcs, that is fine, but revisit it often. Did the scenes you just wrote make that plot less plausible? Is some future duty of a character now implausible? If Alice and Bentley are enemies that become lovers later, did you just make that almost impossible?

Every scene transforms something in characters, even if it is subtle. Bentley the detective suspects Alice of brutal murder (oh, she is guilty!) but while spying on her, sees Alice secretly helping prostitutes. For what nefarious purpose? None he can find, Alice is truly being an altruist, and fearless, and trying to make lives better and relieve hardship. Bentley is being changed, and in the reader's eyes, Alice is being revealed.

Write the way you write. My advice, from experience, is get used to the idea that half the prose you polished may have to be revised and re-polished, or even scrapped. Don't get emotionally attached to it, if you wrote something awesome once, you can write something awesome again. Don't try to change your way of telling good stories to be more efficient.

Also, don't put off the hard parts for later! It is better to finish a story with a lot of easy work left to do, than it is to work for ten months and have nothing but intractably difficult plot and character transitions left to do, scenes that won't exactly fit with what comes later, or create incongruities, and a lot of them pile up and make the story seem forced.


I think if you can find a way to enjoy each part of the process separately, you'll be able to get past your concerns. Whatever works for you, write in that way. Outline, stream of consciousness, polish now or later, etc.

I am now attacking the second draft of my first novel. For the first draft, it was important to get the entire draft completed, because I knew if I went back to polish the beginning, without a draft of the end in place, I would probably not finish the project. I needed a complete draft, so that now, as I go through, my goal is simply to improve what is in place.

Small parts of the first draft were in fact effortless and read well to me with distance, too. Most of the draft needs a lot of improvement. I learned my story in more depth as I wrote it, so there are plenty of mistakes up front, etcetera. I've identified eleven different things I want to focus on in my revisions - Everything from character voice to identifying any internal inconsistencies. I expect to have twelve drafts when all is done. But, these should each not take too long, I hope.

But having said ALL of that, there were times during the first draft (whose goal was to get the entire story to paper, with no concern for details like character voice) when I simply could. not. do. it. I still wanted to work, but stared at my keyboard, blank. So, on those days I would look at the previous chapters and edit them a bit to make them tight.

My final suggestion is to simply practice the thing you are scared you cannot do. Practice what you identified:

I need to write in a more efficient way, one that will allow me to get my thoughts out, but still let me control how sophisticated my diction is.

I think as you practice doing the thing you think you cannot do, you will find that you can do it and writing will be easier and easier. I hope.


I write as it flows out of me. Sometimes that is rough sentences, sometimes a beautiful construction emerges as a whole concept. Not every sentence in a draft needs to be rough. The draft as a whole is rough. Compare it to a sketch that a painter uses - most of the lines are approximations, but some of them will be exactly as they are in the final painting.

The rule of "rough" is there to free your mind, not to restrict you. Don't force yourself to make it rough. Write down whatever comes, that is what is meant by "rough". If it comes out as a perfect poem, write it out as a perfect poem. But if it doesn't, then don't. Sometimes your rough draft will not even have complete sentences, and sometimes it will have elaborate constructions. The point is to not think about style at this point and simply get on paper whatever your mind produces.

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