Edan Lepucki, who runs an advice column for writers at The Millions, was recently asked about how to approach first drafts. She turned to various novelists for their thoughts. Here’s Ramona Ausubel:
For me, the first draft is really just a big mud-rolling, dust-kicking, mess-making time in which my only job is to find the story’s heartbeat. I allow myself to invent characters without warning, drop them if they prove to be uninteresting, change the setting in the middle, experiment with point of view, etc. I figure that the body will grow up around the heart, that it’s always possible to bring all the various elements up and down, sculpt and polish, as long as I’ve got something that matters to me. The second draft (and the 3rd through 20th, Lord help me) involves getting out the tool belt and thinking like a carpenter. But the first draft is all dirt and water and seeds and, hopefully, a little magic.
Of course, this method means that my first draft is almost unreadable. Maybe someday I’ll invent a way of making a slightly cleaner mess, but until then, I try to enjoy the muck.