Refining that 1 Foul First Draft


As I recently wrote, all ghostwritten work has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the first draft, that often ugly, messy, incomplete, error-ridden, Frankenstein’s monster of a draft.

Ghostwriters must impress upon clients that the first draft is just that: a beginning. Then comes the shaping, molding, building, forming, forging, and producing the work into ever-increasingly better drafts until the client finally says “That’s what I want!”

Like with anything, there is a process for revising a first draft.

It begins, as with so much with ghostwriting, with a collaboration between client and ghostwriter. The ghostwriter presents the draft and tells the client what it is and what it isn’t. As I said before, perhaps the first draft is just to ensure the facts are straight, maybe it’s to accurately depict the setting, the emotions, or the theme; or maybe it’s something else. 

Regardless, the ghostwriter instructs the client to look at the draft for factual errors, incorrect quotes, improper moods, wrong locations, etc. But the ghostwriter also instructs the client to look at what is right and good and true. 

The client takes some time with the draft, then provides the ghostwriter with all the feedback, comments, praises, and criticisms. The ghostwriter listens, does not interrupt, and carefully considers what the client says. The ghostwriter cannot, must not, and should not act defensively. It is, after all, the client’s story, and the client has the final say. The client is probably making valid points, and the ghostwriter would be wise to heed them.

Sometimes, a first draft demonstrates that the client and ghostwriter are not on the same page. This is where the two sides get back to basics and discuss the story. Was there something wrong with the outline? Did either side fail to accurately express and manage expectations? Did the client change his or her mind and want to take the story in a different direction, which hadn’t yet been communicated? All differences must be worked out to continue.

The client must remember that a first draft is not what the final product will become. No matter how disagreeable or putrid the client finds the first draft, he or she must understand that the ghostwriter is working to the same end as he or she: to tell the compelling story in the best way possible.

After all the feedback is given, the client and ghostwriter develop a plan to revise the draft, focusing on next steps. The first and obvious step is to correct all errors in the first draft. Then the two collaborators must decide what part or parts of the story need to be next tackled. 

I recommend the method Emma Darwin from Jericho Writers put forth: Start big and work small. Tackle the big structural changes first (having to do this usually means the ghostwriter missed the point of the story or the client didn’t communicate it well). Then hit the specific organizational aspects that the client pointed out, (in other words, adjust and update the outline). Then go a little bit more specific with the exact chapters or parts of the chapter that need the work (these are additions, subtractions, deletions, enhancements, and new information). Finally, make sure the voice, tone, style, and personality matches the client.

One more thing Darwin recommends: stay positive. 

“If all this sounds as if it’s more work than writing the first draft was-–you’d be right,” she wrote. “All authors know that writing is rewriting. Revising the first draft … isn’t easy.”

Keep in mind that there are no shortcuts in this process. To get to the finished manuscript, everyone has to go through revising the first draft. For more information on this, or to learn more about hiring me as your ghostwriter in Washington D.C., get in touch with me.

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