How to Know If You’re Ready to Write Your First Draft

How To Know If You Are Ready To Write

By Armaan Uplekar

There comes an inevitable point in every writer’s process where they are faced with a nagging, vital question – am I ready? Beginning your first draft is an important step in the process of finishing your screenplay, but it’s not always smooth sailing. Many writers struggle with the decision of when to actually commence their first draft.

You might compare the “pre-writing” process to the preparations you take before you go on a trip – after all, when you begin writing that initial draft, you’re going to want to make sure that you have all your bases are covered. With this in mind, here are some checklist items that you’ll want to make sure you have a handle on before you give yourself the green-light to put pen to paper, uh, finger to keyboard - on your next project.

You Know Your Story is Big Enough

Before you begin the first draft of your feature or pilot, you’re going to want to make sure that you have enough material to work with. It can be a jarring wake-up call to be twenty or thirty pages into a prospective feature only to realize that you might have under-plotted your story: Maybe story arcs that you thought might carry you through an entire screenplay don’t bear the kind of dramatic fruit you were hoping; maybe you realize that you don’t have enough subplots on hand to complement and fill out your main story.

That’s why it’s so very important that you have a strong handle on the size and scope of your story – make sure that your vision and understanding of the material is big enough to fill out your intended page-count. This could save you the trouble of having to undergo a critical, late re-evaluation while you’re knee deep in a prospective draft.

You Have a Clear Understanding of Who Your Main Character Is

Character translates to perspective. It’s the lens through which your reader is able to understand your story. When it comes to your main character, you want to make sure there’s no mistake as to who that person is and what they bring to the plot. Many writers tend to shortchange character in the interest of focusing on plot mechanics.

While plotting is certainly important, you can’t begin a first draft without being absolutely clear what your main character brings to the story. You should have a firm grasp on how that character might react in a scene, or what experiences they bring to the table that might cause them to act in a certain way. You should know what time they wake up, what they eat for breakfast, and how many times a day they brush teeth. By knowing the ins-and-outs of your main character, you’ll have a much smoother time with those tough first pages.

You Have A Specific Point-of-View

What does this story say? Who is going to care about this story? These are essential questions that both writers and readers must ask themselves as they go about their work. As a writer, part of your job is to express a distinct point-of-view in your work. You need to have an idea of why you’re telling this story, and why the perspective you’re telling it from is important. Before you begin writing, make sure you have an angle or take on the material. If you’re telling a World War II story, for instance, you need to have a rock-solid point-of-view that might show how your vision is different from all those World War II films that preceded yours. Your point-of-view is a guiding light of sorts – whenever you’re stuck on a difficult moment in your first draft, you can refer back to your thesis statement as a consistent ethos that might help you move forward.

You’re Familiar with the Do’s & Don’ts of Screenwriting

This might seem like a no-brainer, but a lack of awareness on this point can sink even the most talented writer. Its important that you know how screenwriting works – from the basic rules of writing visual descriptions to the red flags that might signal to a reader that the work isn’t professional (Namely, including plot points in the action description). If you’re relatively new to screenwriting, make sure you’ve educated yourself on the basic tenets of the craft – this will keep you on track and stop you from engaging in “wasteful” writing.

You Have an Outline

As mentioned before, it’s helpful to think of writing as an extended journey. After all, the time it takes to write and rewrite and rewrite a screenplay could be a few weeks to several months or even a year. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you don’t lose your way in the process – that’s where the outline comes in. If you’re taking a road-trip, imagine an outline as your GPS – it’ll remind you where your story is going, and what waypoints and story beats you need to hit along the way in order to meet your destination.

You’ve Foreseen the “What-Ifs”

Hypothetical scenario: You’re on page sixty of your first draft of your first feature film. It’s been hard, but rewarding, work. As you’re rounding the corner on page sixty-one, an idea hits you – what if this happened differently. Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a mid-story set piece that upends where you originally thought the story would go. Maybe you want to kill off a character who you had otherwise grand plans for.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it can put you in a tough spot. What path do I choose? It’s exciting, but it can also be daunting, especially if you’re in the thick of it. That’s why it’s so important to try and get a grip on these what ifs before writing starts. Consider it an important part of the outlining process – rather than get sidelined by a lightning-strike idea in the middle of writing, come up with possible what if scenarios early and often, and assess them individually before you begin your first draft.

You Are Committed to Your Story

This might seem like an easy one, but don’t be fooled. It can be easy to become enchanted with a runaway idea, only to find your commitment wavering once you wade into your first draft. Before you do the hard work of cracking that first page, make sure you’re all in on your concept – as we mentioned earlier, the writing process can be a long one.

Being a diligent, dedicated and professional writer is hard work, and when you embark on the process of writing a script, you want to make sure you’re married to an idea. Be honest with yourself if this story idea is one that really speaks to you – is it the kind of story you want to tell? Does it feature characters you love? Can you see yourself living with these characters 24-7 for the next year or two of your life, working – and re-working, and re-working – this story until its perfect?

If not, maybe you’ll want to reconsider. A lack of unwavering commitment might mean that all the work you put in on a script might be for nothing. You want to make sure you are personally “all in” on an idea before you begin your first draft, because you never know how much additional work you’ll have to do before you whip that script into fighting shape. By asking yourself the hard questions in regard to how dedicated you are to this particular story, you can avoid the issue that many writers run into – losing steam or interest in a premise.

By keeping these items in mind and asking yourself the important questions before you begin writing the first draft, you’ll be more confident, comfortable and ready to dive headfirst into the next important step of the writing process.

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