A draft is an open and approximate version of the piece you want to write. It is not simply a set of notes, or an intro, or outline, or ideas toward an essay . . . Rather, it is an attempt to write the actual thing, the essay itself, even while knowing that you are not quite yet in a position to write that thing, that you still have more work to do.
An analogy might be to a sketch or study that an artist makes of a painting, or a demo that a musician makes of a song. The attempt in each case is to offer a sense of what the final version might look or sound like—even if all the details haven’t been worked out or filled in, and even if key parts of the piece are still open to change. I’m a little hesitant to use the metaphor of a rough draft, since I don’t mean to suggest something hastily or sloppily done, but in a sense that is what you want to do—to rough out your essay, put together an approximate version of it as a whole.
The next step is to get feedback from readers. In this course, I’ll ask you to share your drafts with several classmates in a writing workshop—a small group of writers who offer one another advice about their work in progress. There is an ambiguity to this moment. On the one hand, you need to bring a serious and considered draft to a workshop. Otherwise you will fall behind in your work and waste the time of your readers. On the other hand, you need to be open to making real changes to your writing. Few first drafts are A papers, or even Bs. The paradox of drafting is that you have to try to get a piece right while still being ready to change it.