The internal editor. Every writer has one. She is the plague of our collective existence - always telling us that last sentence wasn't good enough or asking whether our hero would really use the word snazzy. Never is the IE more insistent (and annoying) than while writing a first draft. Every plot twist, every character introduction, she criticizes. However, I find that what she focuses on is different for every writer.
Which makes sense, considering she's a figment of our imaginations. We are the ones criticizing and insisting that we're just not good enough. Whatever facet of our story we deem to be most important is what we'll harp on. But what facet is most important? In the first draft especially, it can be difficult to balance all the ingredients of good writing - great characters, compelling settings, tight plotting, interesting style, etc. We can't concentrate on them all at once, or else we'd go mad. Writing conferences would look like reenactments of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the soul sucked right out of aspiring authors by the overwhelming "big picture" of their stories.
My solution is this: pick the area of writing most important to you and chuck the rest. At least for the first draft. I would never get a chapter written, if I were worrying about every little aspect. I'd just sit at the beginning, working and reworking until it was perfect...even if it took nine months. That can't happen. If I worked that way, it would take years to finish a book. Instead of hoping to be published within two years, I'd be hoping for two decades. That way Zombiefication lies.
Personally, my first draft focuses on style (or, if you prefer the term, voice). Heresy, right? I know that "real" writers probably focus on their characters or plot. Those are no doubt those same writers who write whole scenes of idle conversation in their initial drafts just to explore their characters. I do not work that way. At all. In fact, it would drive me absolutely batty to have big swaths of prose I know I'm going to cut. For me, I have to do a lot of characterization work and plotting beforehand, so that I can concentrate on the literal writing of the book. That stringing the right words together part. When writing a scene for the first time, I'm not thinking of what my characters must be feeling or how to best express their goals. Instead, I'm concentrating on the perfect first and last lines, snappy dialogue exchanges, and the most evocative way to describe the warmth of the bonfire.
It's the language of the first draft that concerns me, how it sounds and flows, what emotions it sparks. I want to be able to read the whole thing aloud and revel in how it feels on my lips. It needs to sound right to me, before I can focus on whether the characters are acting in a believable manner or the setting is properly moody. I think that's why I rely so much on outlines and collages beforehand - I need the freedom to just think about the words. After the draft is finished, I go back and add in all the other necessary ingredients. But the style always comes first. Everything else grows from it.
In some circles of writing, this technique is called layering. The art of rewriting - going back and focusing on one aspect per rewrite - to achieve the final, finished draft. I call it sanity. Writing a first draft, quite frankly, sucks. We need a strategy, however unconscious, to cope with it. I think this probably where the true difference between plotters and pantsers lies - what's most important to the individual writer is what shapes his or her process.
So, what comes first for you? Are you wrapped up in the characters, their conflicts and personalities, or do you revel in that next plot twist? How do you think your favorite aspect of writing influences your process and your final drafts?