The Myth of the Perfect First Draft

Focus on the Short Story

For this session, you’ll be composing a complete rough draft of your story, from beginning to end.

Don’t panic. Don’t jab that pencil into your palm or bonk your head against the keyboard. A rough draft is exactly that: rough. A work in progress. Nobody expects it to be anywhere near perfect (including your instructor and the other members of your workshop).

Think of your draft as raw material. Once you’ve got it down on paper, you’ll have six weeks to revise it into a finished story. At the end of the course, your rough draft might not even be recognizable in the final story. Maybe you’ll have switched to a different point-of-view character. Maybe you’ll have moved the locale from Texas to Toronto. Maybe all of the firemen will have become bridesmaids. That’s fine. All that matters now is having a draft that will give you (and your instructor) something to work with.

In her essay "What Stories Teach Their Writers: The Purpose and Practice of Revision," Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley writes, "For real revision to begin, it is essential for the writer to push all the way to the end of the first draft, no matter how awkward the draft seems, for hidden in the rough draft, as rough as it can possibly be, are all the answers to the writer’s questions about the material. But all the questions have to be asked, and they are not asked until the whole arc of the story is complete on the page and in the writer’s mind."

So don’t worry about the awkward dialogue or that jerky transition on page three or the awful whiff of melodrama in the ending. For all you know, those sentences and scenes won’t even be around by the time you finish the story …

Make your stories spring to life with help from Focus on the Short Story! You’ll work with a published short story writer to develop and refine your story ideas, and exchange ideas and encouragement with other workshop participants. By the time you complete your workshop, you will have written and revised two complete short stories!

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