“Mom,” said Kiddo#1, “what are the rules for writing a rough draft?”
He asked this, presumably, because he needs to write the rough draft of that horrible science fair project about which he’s already wound tighter than my violin’s E string.
(For those who are wondering, he has continued to document the fact that none of the original seeds grew; but he also initiated a Phase II in which he tried to kill living plants by using the same watering methods, and he’s managed to kill most of them except for the control group. Success!)
I replied to the Kiddo, “There’s only one rule for writing a rough draft. It has to stink.”
Since he’s worried his teacher is going to get on his case about this, I told him to tell his teacher I would put it in writing, so here we have it: as a semi-professional, I’m going on record as saying your first draft is supposed to be awful.
Repeat after me: It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be written.
The purpose — the only purpose — of a first draft is to lead to a second draft. It does not need to be fit for viewing by human eyes. Your sins in the first draft are between you and God Almighty. (And in my case, my guardian angel, whom I probably owe a case of hard liquor after some of my own early terrible drafts.)
This schooling idea of turning in a rough draft is only going to create in a children an inhibition against turning out a terrible draft so they can get past that in order to create a good draft.
90% of writing is rewriting. Very few of us have the Mozartian ability to spew out a perfect draft on the first shot.
Therefore, Ms. Teacher Of My Son, as a semi-professional, I give you my word on it: the first draft is supposed to be awful. All it needs to do is exist in order to be corrected.
There’s no need to constipate the students’ writing process by installing an internal editor when they’re just getting their disorganized thoughts out into print for the first time. Let the editing happen later, on the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth etc drafts. For right now, it doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be written.