A Writer's Confession

The first draft is never the final draft. Writer Annie Franklin talks about her experience of asking for feedback.The first draft is never the final draft. Writer Annie Franklin talks about her experience of asking for feedback...

I have been writing stories since I was at primary school and I could now take early retirement, so it has been a while. Most of my writing has, up to now, been for small competitions, which I have sometimes been successful in, or for myself. Recently, though, I decided to be a little more serious about it and revisited a story I thought was worth finishing and adapting into a radio play. Lockdown helped by isolating me and giving me plenty of time and a couple of friends agreed to read it through. Neither of them are writers themselves but they both enjoy listening to plays so I decided they would be perfect for getting some constructive feedback. And it is at this point I need to make a confession...

You see, I really believed I was an exception to everything I have been taught or read about the writing process. And I am specifically referring to the fact that first drafts are shit. Even Ernest Hemingway is reported to have said so. Deep inside I did not believe this would be the case for me. The minor successes I had had in the past reinforced that belief and so I genuinely expected my friends to tell me it was fantastic and I ought to submit to the BBC immediately.

My friends were kind but it was clear from their questions that the play was not well structured and probably needed to be reworked. Possibly a lot. I sat for a while with those facts and then reread it myself. They were right, it was all over the place and I could tell the drama was leached out of every scene from my over-explaining. It even felt like it was shit now. I had made a promise to myself earlier in the year, though, that this time I was going to see it through. I was not going to put it back in the proverbial drawer until it miraculously improved itself, so instead I sent it to a professional editor. "At last," a little voice inside of me was saying, "at last you’re doing something different."

Isn’t it amazing how often little voices are right? It was nerve-wracking waiting for the report to come back. I found I couldn’t write a word which felt odd but actually a relief too. I was terrified she was going to gently tell me not to bother writing another word for the rest of my life, but she didn’t. The report was matter of fact, gave compliments where they were due, (enough that I realised I could write) and lots of suggestions for how to improve things. Now I have a clear road map for my first rewrite and a much better appreciation of the writing process as a series of stages. It is a craft and it does need guidance from other people who have done this before. I am even happy to admit that I may not be the exception I wanted to be, but neither am I the fool who keeps on doing the same thing, expecting a different outcome.

What listening to my little voice taught me:

  • As Hemingway said, all first drafts are shit and that’s ok.
  • Writing is a craft and a process of stages.
  • Professional editors are there to help you onto the next stage.
  • Writing for publication or performance is a collaboration.
  • Writing does not improve if you leave the manuscript to mature and hope for a miracle.

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