Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act. - Steven Pressfield
I want to instill confidence in you that a bad first draft doesn't mean you're a bad writer. In fact, it's a necessary part of the writing process.
I also want to break the opposite side of that coin, which is that your first draft is the perfect version of what you’ve written.
So let me put it bluntly: your first draft sucks, I don’t care who you are.
Embrace that. Right here, right now.
Here are a few quotes to help support this hypothesis:
Susan Sontag: I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
— Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956
In fact Anne Lammot coined the term "Shitty First Drafts" in her article/ chapter “Shitty First Drafts” from the book Bird by Bird. (Which is linked right there -- read it today!)
It’s 100% fantastic to have a bad first draft. We all do it. Writers and non-writers alike.
When I get ready to write, it usually goes one of two ways:
1. I have no idea where I’m going, and I end up somewhere.
2. I have a plan, and I get somewhere, but it’s still not where I want it to be.
When I start a writing session with zero ideas, I’m thrilled when anything comes out of it that is usable.
But I also don’t delude myself into thinking it’s the best version it can be, just because it came from nothing.
Think about it this way. You come into your kitchen, stare at your pantry, and think, “These are so bare. I’ll never make dinner from this.”
Suddenly, you’re pulling a can of tuna, a can of peas, some spaghetti noodles, and cream of mushroom soup, and you make tuna noodle casserole.
You started this venture believing you couldn’t make anything, and you created something. Hizzah!
But stop right there if you think it’s the best version of tuna noodle casserole you’ll ever make, let alone the best dinner you could have made.
When you have zero ideas, and you end up with tuna noodle casserole, be happy that you made yourself dinner, but don’t believe it’s your best. Don’t settle for this. (Yes, I'm mixing metaphors. I love doing that.)
You’ll need to make that recipe quite a few more times before you figure out how to make it perfectly. It needs another can of tuna. Fresh peas taste better. Extra pepper gives it some oomph.
After multiple trials and errors, you figure out the best version you could have made.
In scenario #2, it doesn’t matter if you have an outline, if you’ve meditated on your thoughts, or how much you’ve planned. What you write down is not going to be the last writing you do for your project. Point blank.
And I know some people like to edit as they go. I have a pretty stern opinion about that as well.
Editing as you go is a hindrance.
I’ve heard too many sad stories from authors about how they have been working on their unfinished novel for too many years as they continue to edit. I’m guilty of starting a draft, editing as I go, not getting it where I want it to be, and then never finishing.
Look – I’m not saying you shouldn’t revise. Revising is different than editing (and that's a separate blog topic.)
Of course you should revise. As you write a draft, you'll cut a word here or there, maybe change a little bit of the phrasing. That's all fine. That's not what I mean.
I'm talking about fixing the grammar. Worrying too much about the language and never finishing the scene.
You need to get all of your ideas out on paper first, and give it some space.
You also need to finish that bad first draft before you make any big changes.
I always recommend giving yourself 24-48 hours before you revise a piece of writing, and only after it's really done. Let it sit. Take your eyes off of it.
Then come back tomorrow and realize you’re not as big of a fan of tuna noodle casserole as you realized you were. (Whoops... mixing my metaphors again. I love doing that.)
That’s a good practice – it’s how many, many writers work.
Don’t let it discourage you either. If you come back the next day and you don’t like any of it, then write another draft.
Every author revises, and revises again, and again. And so will you. And that’s really ok.
So my reason? Why do I write shitty first drafts?
I write shitty first drafts because my first draft is never my last and it’s never my best.
If I stop at my first, it won’t be the best writing I produce. But if I never write the first, then I’ll never write the second, and third, and all of the endlessly better drafts that follow.
I want to be a strong writer. And that means writing a terrible first draft.
Are you struggling with writing a first draft? Do you have questions about the process? Book a Discovery Session with me today and let's get to work on getting your first draft done!