No matter where you start your writing process, at some point you need to have a first draft. Any writer can tell you that the initial draft of a manuscript might not look pretty. That’s okay. A first draft is often called a rough draft for a reason: it’s not meant to look pretty, it’s meant to give you material to work with.
One of the questions I’ve seen repeatedly show up in writing communities is what a rough draft should look like. There’s no easy answer for that one, and there’s a multitude of reasons for it. Rough drafts run a gauntlet of varieties. Some show up as manuscript-like documents with chapter breaks and maybe even some formatting. Others turn out to be rough snippets of scenes that don’t always look like they even belong to the same store.
The other question that shows up entirely too frequently is whether a rough draft needs to be complete. In the case of creative writing in the fiction genres: not necessarily. Part of that is the nature of a rough draft. It’s very hard to see that you have a gap between Scene A and Scene B if you don’t have them written down. The other part goes back to the number of forms a rough draft can take, in which case you might be missing entire sections of the story.
Alternately, as you’re building and crafting a story, you might realize halfway through your rough draft that you’ve completely missed the mark. In which case, you might not want to keep writing to ‘the end’ if you’re going to end up throwing out most of what you’ve already written. It’s perfectly alright if you call your half-baked draft done at that point and focus on what needs to be done to make the next draft work properly.
When you do decide your rough draft is good enough to give yourself something to start editing: congratulations! Many writers have been stumped by the first draft. There’s a particular quote I’ll leave you with when you get stuck on whatever your first draft looks like:
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” –Shannon Hale