5 min read

The First Draft Pro origin story

The First Draft Pro logo on a dark background.

It was October 2020. I had watched all of Netflix. Like a lot of other people without any over-ripe bananas, I decided to have the other thing that starts with a "B" and changes your life forever: A business.

It happened like this: I was listening to an episode of How Books Are Made. In it, Arthur and Sam were chatting about collaboration and writing tools. And then Sam said: "My dream writing tool, I don’t think has quite been invented yet."

At first, I thought: Same.

And then I thought: Well, what would that look like? I couldn't shake it. At the time, I was working on a draft of a writing project in Google Docs. I'd just hit 60 000 words, and the manuscript was starting to become difficult to work with. I love Google Docs. I chose it over other writing apps because I wanted to pull in my editor and early readers, and no other writing app was handling collaboration well at all. I love writing collaboratively. But, Google Docs is just not built for stories.

Stories are like puzzles. You place some pieces. Later you realise that while that cloud edge looked right, it doesn't quite fit there. More than anything, I wanted to be able to shuffle my scenes and chapters around, and see a "zoomed out" overview of my story. I wanted to see the whole puzzle, and I wanted to move stuff around.

So, I started out trying to build a Google Docs plug-in that would allow me to tack that on to Google Docs. We even built a prototype! And it worked! But it wasn't quite right (a puzzle of its own).

By this point, I was already possessed by the "I'm gonna make this" demon. I spent two weeks doing rough sketches on paper, followed by basic wireframes in Adobe XD, before scrapping all of that and starting from scratch in Figma.

Part of the magic was that I was designing the app to solve the problems that I was experiencing right at that moment. But, I was only accommodating one writer's preferences. I needed other points of view. So I started doing interviews and user surveys with every single writer I knew (and I know a lot of writers!). They gave me valuable insight into how they worked, while we concurrently spent our time designing, researching, testing assumptions, and making the types of foundational decisions you have to make when you're building a new software product.

With the magic of cinema, I'm going to fast-forward a few months. Since you're (probably) a writer, I can tell you exactly how it felt to see the first real, proper demo of First Draft Pro. It felt like seeing your words in print for the first time. Scenes could be moved around! And the underlying text moved with it! All the features of collaboration were there! It was fast. And it was so pretty! I care very deeply about all of these things.

In May 2022, after working with beta testers for a few months, we launched First Draft Pro with subscriptions. Throughout that period we launched a bunch of new features and improvements based on beta user feedback. I'm so unbelievably grateful for the generosity of every single person who tried it out and helped us make it better (and for the people who continue to do so!)

In 2022 and 2023, we sponsored Camp Nanowrimo and the official annual Nanowrimo, and had the opportunity introduced First Draft Pro to a whole new group of writers.

It's a beautiful thing to make something. More than that, it's a beautiful thing to make something with other talented, passionate, generous humans (that's you!). Collaboration is magic – for storytellers, and for product developers.