The first draft is usually where we figure out what we think. It's rare to go into a paper knowing exactly what we want to say, with a perfectly crafted thesis statement that does not change. Usually, you need to write that first draft (and maybe a few more) before being able to say, "AHA! That's what I meant."
You could just turn that first draft in—and you'll have little choice but to do so if you start the night before a deadline. But you’ll have an easier time producing a convincing and well-crafted argument if you can take that "AHA," make it your bottom line up front (BLUF), and use the rest of your paper to support it.
For NPS-specific video and slides on drafting, please see our presentation "The Writing Process" from "Foundations of Academic Writing."
Having trouble drafting? Head over to our "Overcoming Writer's Block" page, where you'll find links to workshops and other materials that will help you unstop the thought pipes. Workshops are offered in the first four weeks of each quarter; you can sign up during workshop season through WCOnline. See the whole workshop list here.
See the following links for more drafting pointers.