For me a first draft is like that impossibly slow climb to the top of a roller coaster... a roller coaster from hell that keeps getting higher and higher so that you spend WEEKS thinking, I'm almost there... I'm just scenes away... I'm almost there... a few more clicks and clacks...
But... it doesn't go on forever. I have finally finished a rough draft of novel #3, which has been on my heart and mind for years and has been on my desk for the past ten months. For me, that last word of the first draft is only the beginning, the moment before the drop on the roller coaster. It's exhilerating and terrifying.
is a beast, weighing in at over 170,000 words. (All those words will not, I assure you, survive into the final version.) Now the manuscript is in the hands of my most-trusted beta reader, and I pray she will wield all her numerous swords--Blade of Efficiency, Exwordilur, Scenecutter, Adverbbiter, Enemy of Infodump, Bane of Flashbacks, and Claritybringer are some of the weapons in her arsenal--to help me hack off the unnecessary limbs of my monster and uncover the leaner, meaner badass of a book within.
And that's how I see a draft: it's not the book, it's what I'm going to build the book out of. The material is rough as hell, but it'll do for a start. It'll more than·do, I hope.
In fact, as someone who once obsessed over the placement of every modifier, I see roughness as a sign of progress. I surprised myself with this project by learning to put plot first. I might have overwritten (okay, I definitely did), but I wrote faster than I ever have before, cranking out over 200,000 words in a year.
Working fast and rough means I'm learning the difference between drafting and writing. The former is when I put words on the page toward the story I want to tell. The later is when my words take on a life of their own. I'm putting my inner bitch of an editor in her place (for the record, that is in a dark closet with duct tape over her mouth). Soon she'll have her day.
Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame has said, "if you love your first draft, it probably sucks." This is precisely the kind of unhelpful remark that can be crippling and panic-inducing for a writer. Loving a first draft doesn't mean that you think you're done or that it's perfect. God, no. It means you see what it wants to become, and if you don't love that, what the hell is the point of taking the plunge for it?
I'm not afraid to say it: I love my first draft enough to fight to make it a novel.