Shitty First Drafts

Let’s talk about first drafts.

I’m not just talking to National Novel Writing Month Participants, I’m also talking to Joe Writer who is currently plagued by the blank page on his computer screen or in his notebook.

The first draft is the worst, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned writer or you’re starting your first creative work.

Why is it the worst?

I like to call it the Myth of the First Draft.

The Myth of the First Draft goes something like this:
The First Draft will be perfect. It shall have your story in all of its unadulterated perfection and sparkliness and it will all flow perfectly from your finger tips the moment that perfect first word arrives.  No grammar mistakes, no plot holes, no additives, preservatives or artificial flavorings.  And because your story is so perfect and wonderful, you love it, because the story is everything you imagined it to be.  There will be rainbows, kittens and unicorns.

Reality, however, tends to look more like a battle field.
Plot holes are everywhere, your villian turned out not to be the villian, a few characters got lost on their way to the first draft, and let’s not even talk about all the spelling and grammar mistakes that are probably making National Novel Writing Month authors more twitchy than an insomniac.  And let’s not even get started on how you’re ready to file for divorce from your story because nothing is going as planned, you’re not in love with the story any more, and quite frankly the draft looks like a pile of shit.

As one of my professors pointed out, to get it right the first time, you have to be either lucky or a natural.
As another one of my professor eloquently pointed out, to write means you have to dedicate yourself not just to writing, but rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting some more until at length, you have something that you feel comfortable with unleashing into the public.  After all, you can only polish a turd for so long before you just have to say, “enough.”

So why write at all if it requires a lot of rewriting?
The first draft is like the love affair you imagine having with your novel.  You thrown down every beautiful idea you have for this novel and try to get it to work together. You may outline before hand, or you may go in blind, but the first draft is beautiful because it’s an idea dump. You’re just beginning to commit all of those beautiful ideas in your head to words. Maybe, along the way you may realize that an idea you had may not work out so well, or a character may surprise you.  It’s okay, this is perfectly normal for first drafts. It’s change you should embrace, not shy away from. It may just be the change that breaths new life into your dying story.

Be Positive.  The way I survived my Creative NonFiction class was by a simple little mantra that my professor taught us: First, write like you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to the literary world, then come back and write like you’re someone whose work could use some improvement. If you don’t write with the confidence that you have something to offer, that your story matters and that your worth the exercise, you’ll never accomplish anything, except maybe wallowing in self-pity for having no original ideas.

The first draft beckons you to show the world your best literary moves, so why hold back for fear of failure? This is your moment. Write what you want to.

3 thoughts on “Shitty First Drafts

  1. The great Chris Baty said, the first step to writing a great novel is giving yourself permission to write a bad novel. The first draft always sucks. 😛 But even James Michener admits, he is a bad writer – just an excellent re-writer.

    The first draft is an amazing work of art in its own right. It exists, It would not, were you looking for perfection (or even something halfway there) your first try.

    Kudos, and keep at it. You are an inspiration!



  2. Plot holes are everywhere, your villian turned out not to be the villian, a few characters got lost on their way to the first draft,

    ^ Love this line, so true. I do not know how many times I have gotten to the point in a draft where I am sick of the idea of re-writing (which is odd, one of my favorite parts is editing, I just hate the horror that comes with re-writing something).

    A very good point that is very well made.


  3. Wi9sh I’d had this bit of advice last year! Maybe I woulda made it to 50 with Aces. X3 Definatly gonna apply this to this year’s Nano though!


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