Why Saving Poor Drafts is a Good Idea | Harriet Hodgson

Developing good writing habits is a trial and error process. Each writer needs to figure out what works for them.

I always print out what I’ve written. Early in my career, if I was displeased with the copy, I tossed the page or pages in the trash. A few days later, however, I would change my mind. What was I thinking? Why did I discard the page?

Worse, I was angry at myself, a terrible feeling. This would lead to a frantic search of the trash can by my desk. I’m a nonfiction writer and chapter topics need to be in a logical order—a sequence that flows and retains the reader’s attention. Sometimes I retrieved pages for sequence. Other times I retrieved pages for well-written paragraphs or phrases.

My goal for a first draft is to get ideas on paper as quickly as possible. Though I’m tempted to edit as I write, I resist this temptation. Editing comes later. While I’m writing I continue to research the topic and my books have lengthy biographies. To eliminate the trash can drama I changed my writing habits.

  1. I write SAVE in red ink on the top of selected pages.
  2. I circle the paragraph, phrase, or word choices that prompted me to save the page.
  3. If I’m saving a page for sequence, I often jot down additional points in the margin.
  4. Sometimes I cross-reference. “See similar point on page ____.”
  5. I add notes to myself, such as “Expand this point.”
  6. The saved pages are stored in a separate folder.

I don’t know how many discarded pages have been woven into final manuscripts but it must be hundreds. Messy as early drafts can be, I think they are genuine—the first ideas to surface from a writer’s mind. William Faulkner explained it better than I. “Get it down. Take chances,” he advised. “It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”

Falkner was right. Sometimes there’s good stuff hidden in messy first drafts.

Harriet Hodgson is the author of over 40 books, including several caregiving titles from WriteLife Publishing. You can learn more about Harriet here.

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