Write It Sideways

The Pros and Cons of Long and Short First Drafts

Do you tend to write short or long first drafts of short stories, novels or articles?

Short First-Drafters are those who like to get down the bare bones or key scenes before going back to fill in the holes.

Long First-Drafters are those who spill everything they can think of onto the page, and end up with more material than they need.

Is one way better than the other, or do both methods have their unique pros and cons?

Short First Drafts

Pros: Writing a short first draft means you might do it faster, you’ll get your most important ideas down first, and there’s less chance you’ll lose motivation early in the writing process.

Cons: You can write a first draft that’s too short and subsequently lose motivation during the revision stages when you realize you still have a long way to go. Also, (in fiction) if you skip the flesh and go for the bare bones initially, you’ll likely have to revise your key scenes once you fill in the details and discover more about your plot and characters.

Long First Drafts

Pros: Cutting words can sometimes be easier than adding words, especially once you learn to recognize unnecessary offenders that  dampen your prose. By the time you finish a long first draft, all of your story or ideas will be fully-fleshed out, so you’ll be able to see any problems or logic holes during your first revision.

Cons: You might spend longer writing the first draft and perhaps lose motivation along the way. Once you’ve written more than the full word count you’ll need, you might find it difficult to let go of all that hard work.

Personally, I’m a short first-drafter. I’ve written about 55,000 words of my work-in-progress, and I anticipate writing about 10,000 more before I’m finished sketching in all the key scenes. I intend to go back and add another 15,000 words or so to take the total to 80,000.

Of course, I’ll probably write more than that number and end up cutting and adding–and cutting and adding some more–before I’m truly finished.

So, does it really matter whether you write a short first draft or a long one?


In the end, they’ll both take you where you want to go, provided you don’t give up along the way.

Just to make things even more subjective, you can even be a fast long first-drafter, or a slow short first-drafter. I’m suppose I’m the latter, since I will have taken more than 7 months to complete my first draft.

I believe people have a natural tendency toward one method or the other, and I’m no sure it’s a good idea to force oneself into the opposite camp. For example, I couldn’t write a long first draft if my life depended on it, because I would lose motivation very early on.