Awful first drafts probably make up the bulk of the tweets I see about writing. If you’re reading this, then many of your contacts are probably writers. They’ve been through this too.
Hell, maybe you’ve been through it! Maybe you’ve written something and thought “this is abysmal, who will want to read it?”
And I want to tell you “hey, it’s okay!” You are totally allowed to fail first time.
You will write awful first drafts. Fact.
I’ve been reading Dean Wesley Smith’s Heinlein’s Rules: Five Simple Business Rules for Writing. In it, he states that you should get the story right first time. Don’t waste your time endlessly rewriting something. Word vomit it out, and submit. Rinse and repeat with each story.
Maybe he has a point. Maybe we should turn off the critical brain and just go for broke.
But chances are, you’re not Dean Wesley Smith. Neither am I. The first few times we write a short story, or a novel, it isn’t going to turn out on paper the way that it did in our heads. We’re going to produce awful first drafts.
And that’s fine.
It would be better if your book was good from the word go. That’s what you should aim for. But your book might just be full of typos and continuity errors. It still needs another draft to fix those.
Even the professionals start somewhere.
We’re so hung up on the books that we’ve read that we expect ours to look the same when we’re finished writing.
We understand the process involved. But for some reason we assume when it comes to other writers, they give birth to fully formed novels that ooze perfection from every correctly placed semi-colon.
We forget that the writer spent hours tearing out his or her hair when a scene didn’t work the way they thought it should. This very same book has, at some point, existed as a manuscript covered in red pen.
It’s a first draft for a reason!
The term “first draft” implies that the manuscript you hold in your hands is not finished. That’s why it’s a draft.
No one expects you to get it right straight out of the box. If they did, you wouldn’t be writing your first draft. You’d be writing a novel instead.
Your first draft is the product of your inner hyperactive toddler until you get the hang of this writing thing. That’s the part of you that gets distracted by all the new things and the shiny possibilities. It leaves plot lines hanging, alters character names halfway through, and totally changes the plot.
It’s supposed to look like that.
The first draft is exciting! Anything can happen and frequently does! Humanity is a species that excels at making mistakes and then learning from them.
So get stuck in, make some mistakes, and just run with the story. You can go back and fix things later. Nothing is set in stone. That’s the beauty of modern word processors.
If you write plot lines you never finish or switch allegiances between characters, no one need ever know. Why? Because you’ll smooth all these rough edges when you write your second draft.
And in your next book, you won’t do them at all. You’ll make new mistakes and you’ll learn from those.
Awful first drafts happen to all of us, honest.
Take it from someone who knows about writing awful first drafts. When I wrote The Guns of Retribution, it changed from third person past tense to first person present tense halfway through.
My protagonist waited until I was almost finished to point out that he would like a different career. The one he suggested worked better within the narrative, so I ended the book with my guy following his new career. I edited the first three-quarters of the book later.
Was I bothered? No, because this was just the first draft. I made my changes in the second draft.
Remember the cardinal rule of writing – you can’t edit a blank page.
That blank page is just a piece of paper but a first draft is raw material that can be honed.
Michelangelo didn’t go to the quarry and find David embedded in the rock. He had to coax the statue out of the marble.
Think of it this way. Your awful first drafts are that hunk of marble. It’s only once you’ve written it that you’ll get to start chipping away to find the art inside.
So go get your hunk of marble and see what you can produce!
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