What you need to know about First Drafts

There is something you must know about the writers you love.  It’s 90% likely that the words you so cherish, in their polished form, are not at all the words that first landed on the page from your beloved writer’s mind.  

That is not how this writing game works.  

Sometimes we do, in fact, write something so brilliant and beautiful and perfect on the very first go, but MUCH more often we need to work at it.  

It is a huge myth –and a huge disservice to all those with a book or story that longs to be written– to believe that the first draft has to be GOOD.  

Your first draft is not about making it GOOD, it’s about getting it OUT.  

Let that sink in: Your first draft is NOT about making it GOOD, it’s about getting it OUT.  

I know, this can be both a huge relief and a major pain in the ass.  

A huge relief because this truth lets us off the hook for perfection (or even decent) out of the gate. (By the way, there is no perfection ever anyway, so might as well get over that one too.)  

And this is a major pain in the ass, because it means work for us.  It means doing the hard work of getting it—whatever the hell it is—out on paper, however awkward or messy.  

It’s about facing all that will arise inside of us when we do—the judgments, the comparisons, the discouragement, the critical assessments of our creativity—and that is HARD.  (But also totally doable, and something I work with my clients around all the time)

And it means that we also need to work with this first draft, patiently and carefully, to shape it into the most potent expression of what is inside of us.  And that takes time, and effort.  

Don’t just take my word for it, many of the greatest authors have my back on this one. Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has a whole chapter dedicated to this very topic, which she calls Shitty First Drafts.

She writes:

Shitty First drafts[:] All good writers write them.  This is how they end up with the good second drafts and terrific third drafts.  

People tend to look at successful writers […] and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell […] but this is just fantasy of the uninitiated. 

[Of the very great writers I know] not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.  Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.  

The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.  

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.  

Just get it all down on paper.  

 

I quote her extensively (and really, you should just go buy her book because it is phenomenal) to make the point: first drafts are meant to be shitty.  Messy.  No good.  All over the place.  

Your job is to get the words down on paper.  

Your job is to excavate your insides for the truth and let it come out: wild, messy and uncensored.  

It doesn’t matter if you hate what you write or think it totally sucks.  It doesn’t matter.  

It only matters that you allow yourself to become a clear channel for what wants to come through and you don’t stop until you’re done.  

That you get out of the way for the creativity that wants to come through you.  

That you trust that you will have time and space to shape it later.  

That you trust that what you are doing is absolutely the “way” to write.  

This takes great courage and grit.  And you’ve got it.  

So let your first drafts be shitty, even if that kills you a little inside.  (It’s not actually a killing sensation you are registering, but a molding, transforming, creative, generative one)

If you need help with your drafting process, consider a book coach—someone to walk you through this process, make sure you stay unstuck, remind you of the wild process that is writing, and help you moving forward down your powerful path of creation.  

Book a free call with me to discover whether we’d be a good match and how I can help you go from shitty first draft to a solid draft that you feel great about.  

 

Jaime Fleres