Building a Short Story from the Ground Up: Lesson 5

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Welcome to our fifth lesson from Building a Short Story from the Ground Up. We are offering two options for this class:

  1. You can simply read through the class and take it on your own. No strings attached. Challenge yourself with the homework assignments if you like or not. The entire class is on your own, assignments and all.
  2. You can do the lessons and homework and receive feedback for each lesson, along with a critique of your final short story for the price of $47, paid via Paypal. If you choose this option, you will need to send homework assignments to <> along with your name (and if your Paypal contact name differs from your name, include this as well for verification).

Lesson 5: Putting It Down on Paper

For weeks we’ve been leading up to this moment. Now is the time to put it all down on paper—fearlessly. Are you ready to write? Before you get started, here are a few pointers to keep in mind while writing the first draft.

 Rough Means Rough

  • Write freely. There is a good reason we writers call them rough drafts. Throw out the grammar guidebooks. Leave no stone unturned. Explore. Wander through the pages. Imagine. The first draft is the place for experimenting.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. The goal of writing the rough draft is to get everything down on paper. Perfection is not your goal. We can worry about that later. Don’t try too hard to organize it or make it pretty. Just let it flow. You don’t have to get it right the first time, either, so take the pressure off your back.
  • Write the easiest part first. Stalled at the starting gate? No one said you had to start from the beginning. If the scene at the office party is coming through the most clearly, write that scene. You can go back to the beginning later.
  • Make a note of it. Stalled trying to find the perfect word? Not thrilled with a line of dialogue? Make a note of it in your draft and go back later. In the meantime, let your subconscious work on the problem.
  • Move it or change it. Don’t be afraid to move a scene or make a change. Go with your gut feeling.
  • Avoid using the backspace button. If you want a real challenge, try not to use the space button while writing your first draft. Not easy to do, I admit!

Fresh Eyes

Put your first draft aside for a day or two. “Let it marinate,” as one poet I know says.

Subsequent Drafts

I’m not suggesting you need three or four or more drafts. That depends on the writer. Some writers actually like doing multiple drafts of a story. (I am not one of them.) So let’s focus on the second draft—the version you’re comfortable allowing someone to read. For me, this would be the draft that I’d bring to my Thursday night critique group. Something I’ve made as good as I can, with the knowledge that my fellow writers will offer suggestions for improving the piece even more.

First, go retrieve Strunk and White from where you banished them. You’re going to need their help. By now you’ve looked at your story with fresh eyes and marked up the copy to improve it. Allow all those wonderful grammar rules your English teacher taught you to resurface. Pay attention to the flow of the story, the structure, the characters’ voices. Highlight anything that doesn’t work. If the words you have down on paper aren’t working, rewrite the passage. Make it clean and lean. Write the best story you know how to write.


Okay, writer, get busy. Write your first draft. If you have paid for this class, I will review your first draft, offer comments, and give you a chance to revise your work for a final critique and line edit.

If you’re going it alone, thanks for taking the challenge! If you’d like another set of eyes on your short story in the form of a line edit and critique, please visit our editing services page for details.













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