When you’re faffing around, it’s done
To me, a first draft should not actually be a first draft. You don’t start at the start, type until you hit the last page and then click send. You write, in any order you like (I don’t always write from start to finish), until you have a draft. That is your rough draft, not a first draft. Then you edit. Bit by bit, not all at once – you have to keep it manageable. You amend, you fix.
On top of that, I do separate passes depending on the needs of the script. I always do character dialogue passes, character by character so that I can retain that character’s voice throughout. I’ll do a tighten pass, specifically to take out the fluff (of which there is usually a lot). I’ll do a gag pass if there is supposed to be comedy. And so on.
And I do all this before calling it the first draft. Or a second, third and beyond. Every draft goes through all these processes.
So how do you know when it’s done?
Well it is never truly done. When you call it a day on the 1st draft, you know there will be a 2nd. Even when you hit what everyone calls final draft, there will be production tweaks and last minute requests. So then how do you know when to stop? When does your draft go from being a rough work in progress to being an actual first draft? When is your second draft actually a second draft you can submit?
For me, it is when I’m just faffing around. When I’m changing lines and words simply to change them, and nothing is actually getting better or substantially altering anything, I’m just faffing around. Often I have a couple of days of faffing around before I realise that is what’s happening.
And when I realise that, it’s done. That draft is as good as it is going to be without putting some real distance between me and the keyboard. That is the time to write the draft number and date on the title page and click… wait! Not yet. Do a last pass for typos. Then check the first 10 pages again for typos – it is in the first 10 pages that those typos will truly haunt you.
Then click send. Congrats. You just finished a draft.