Everyone Writes Crappy First Drafts

When you imagine a writer, your favorite writer even, sitting down at their writing apparatus to compose their next piece, what do you see? Do you see a fully formed, fully confident, well paid, mentally stable human being whose supernatural connection with the universe allows beautiful, perfect words to flow right out of them with little, to no, effort? Well, then your imagination is akin to that of fairy tales. Believe me, that is not what it looks like for any writer, even if the snobby ones tell you otherwise. Here’s what you need to know about writers. We are, all of us, compelled by a force greater than ourselves to put words on paper, or computer screen. We are simultaneously terrified to write any of it down lest it be terrible. We are plagued by neurosis, hypochondria, introversion, hypertension, and fear of rejectment. We are all our worst critic. And very few of us are “well paid” in the sense that we are able to make a stable living from writing.

Here’s what you need to know about first drafts. They suck. All of them. ALL of them. No matter what anyone tells you, the first draft of anything written, ever, sucked. First drafts aren’t meant to be final drafts, that’s why they have two distinctly different names. Did you know that when Stephen King began writing Carey, which would become his first novel, he decided, after four pages, that it was literal garbage? It was his wife who dug it from the waste paper basket and told him that it was a good story and that he had to finish it. And I doubt that he feels much different about his first drafts now.

The thing is, no one needs to see your first draft. It isn’t meant for anyone but you. The first draft is just where you get everything down. The first draft is where you let your mind romp and play like a child. Its only purpose is to get the juices flowing and get the story percolating. You will go back later and edit it. You will refine it. You will take out all the crappy parts. Don’t worry, no one will see the terrible thing you wrote at first. But, you have to write it, or how else are you going to get to the decent second draft and the great third draft?

And maybe you will find that what you wrote isn’t right for you now. Don’t throw your first draft away if you can’t find a place for it in the present. Come back to it in a few months, years even. Everything that you write will fit you at some point.

So, how do you make it through the terrible first draft when you just know that the whole thing is terrible? First of all, it isn’t as terrible as you think; shove that negative inner critic off of a 30 story building (metaphorically of course). Second of all, don’t self-edit as you write. Personally, I am terrible at this. I want to go back and fix punctuation and spelling while I am still writing. This is the wrong strategy. Never interrupt the flow of writing. When you are finished you will have plenty of time to edit while you are creating the second draft.

Once you have made it through your first draft, let it sit for a while. Move to something else, or lie in bed panicking about how terrible it is. Either way, don’t look at it. Once a few days have passed come back and read what you wrote. Find the good spots and give yourself a pat on the back. When you get to the bad spots remove them or re-work them so that they are better. Then let it sit for a few days and repeat until you have a decent second draft. We’ll touch on what to do with this in the upcoming weeks.

So, do you feel better about first drafts now? Probably not. And that’s OK. Just so long as you don’t allow your fear and disdain of the first draft keep you from writing it.

How do you make yourself write your crappy first drafts? Share with us in the comments section below.