That tricky first draft

Driftwood Metcalf Intern Artistic Director and dramaturg Caitie Graham reflects on our June playwrights retreat with some thoughts about that often elusive first draft. 

Hi! It’s Caitie here; Driftwood’s Metcalf Intern Artistic Director and Retreat Dramaturg. You’ll be hearing from me this month (how fun!) 

Last week, we hosted our second Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat of the season, with playwrights Anahita Dehbonehie, Helen Ho, and Mariya Khomutova, and it was a truly special experience. We shared good food, good conversation, and on more than one occasion we fell asleep watching a movie in the living room…

And while all of that sounds like a cozy and wonderful time, these playwrights were also hard at work generating first drafts of their new plays. And first drafts are tricky. Read on to learn more about the specific joys and challenges of being at the very beginning of a new process; something all three of our playwrights were doing last week.


The early stages of writing a new play can be complex to navigate. It’s different for everyone, but for me at least, there’s a spectrum of experience during this period that usually hinges around the idea that – before a first draft exists – the play could be anything. On good days, this can be totally freeing; ideas flow and everything clicks – all seemingly without effort. But on rougher days, the idea of ‘anything’ can become a block; doubt pervades, you can feel lost.

In my experience, writing a first draft is basically just finding a way to stay afloat while bouncing between feeling totally empowered – and totally defeated – by possibility.  It’s doing whatever you can to trick yourself into writing one complete version of the story without running away from it entirely.

During this tumultuous stage, these are some pieces of advice I’ve learned to hang on to….

  1. A first draft’s only responsibility is to exist. That’s. It. There is no need to borrow trouble from future stages of development when all a first draft needs to do is be
  2. Getting it wrong is a necessary step before getting it right. All writing is productive, even if it doesn’t end up in the play. Exploring what doesn’t work ultimately helps us envision what does.  
  3. Remember the difference between choices and decisions. In first draft land, we are only making choices (i.e. trying on clothes, seeing what fits). Only later do we begin making decisions (i.e buying the dress). 
  4. No new play follows the same process as the one that came before it. No matter how many plays you’ve written, each new project has the power to change the way you work. Let it. 

To all the playwrights who are in the early stages of developing something new, thank you for staying in your process (no matter how uncomfortable it is at times) and for committing to the act of making something from nothing. As eager audiences of your work, we are grateful for your perseverance. 

And to you, reader. Thanks for being part of Driftwood’s new chapter. We’re in something of a new draft process ourselves, and we’re grateful for your support as we find our new way to be. 

Your favourite intern, 


Pictured above: Sometimes that first draft is about as elusive as your favourite feline. Like Merlin. Photo by Caitie Graham.