First drafts are shitty and they’re supposed to be shitty. If you think your first draft is as sharp, hard and pretty as a diamond, then pls. Look again. Seriously. Look again. At least have someone else look for you. Listen to them if not me. You want a shitty first draft. You want to empty all that story that’s been festering in your head, no matter how wild or insane or flat out nonsensical it is. Once you’ve properly finished and waited a week and read through it, you can look at it and go “That must have been some acid trip” and then go “I like it" or mutter under your breath how you need to really lay off the booze while writing. But at least you had that option. The shittier the better.
In my humble opinion, first drafts are the hardest especially if you’re new to writing. Putting emotions and thoughts of fictional characters while trying to stuff your own emotions and thoughts into the same character and story is as awkward and weird as waking around naked inside Disneyland. You’re exposed and strangely feel very free, with all your bits and pieces hanging about, and hell, you’re at the happiest place on earth! So why is everyone staring at you and why the hell do you feel less happy and more…well…embarrassed? Strange? Like you’re committing some sort of crime (okay technically you are, but work with me here) by simply letting the world see you.
For people who have gotten over walking around naked, the first draft is freeing and yet restraining. You’re no longer looking for things to shorten or cut out and instead writing whatever the hell you want, arms wide open, but fulling aware of the simple pitfalls (it’s like getting pelted with rocks). The stupid grammatical errors you’re constantly reading about on writing/editing blogs. Show don’t tell (oh no. A bit wobbly here). I’ve come to a point where I try to avoid using “was” at all costs. Did I just use “I” three sentences in a row (it’s now a straight nose dive)?
The struggle is real.
So, I put together a guide to help gather your wits when facing another—or your first—first draft.
"To prep or not to prep—that is the question."
And only you have the answer. No one else does. Preparation going into the first draft is personal. Seriously, if you only have an idea of one, single, nameless, faceless character that just needs to be thrust into action—an action you have no clue what the outcome will be—then write it. You can figure out the details later—that’s what the second, third, fourth, possibly fifth draft is for. Who cares if your MC’s name changed half way? Who cares if your setting is based in Los Angeles and you have a lot of scenes in the rain? Who cares if you don’t know proper Latin? Who cares if suddenly out of nowhere a geyser sprouts hot lava that turns to gold? No one is going to see this, not unless you show them. And trust me, you don’t want to show them if you’re doing this right.
Say you do want to prep. Say you don’t feel comfortable writing aimlessly, searching for a plot or character interactions and you need a guide or direction of some sort. Outlining is a great way to sort your priorities before taking the plunge. Whether it’s chapter by chapter, only specific scenes or basic plot/character arcs, just enough structure to get you along is all you need.
D O N O T F E A R T H E W O R D S.
Write whatever you want. Write with whatever words. In whatever language. In whatever format. Just write. Forget grammar. Forget tyops. Forget the constant nagging advice that jingles at every ending of each sentence. Errors can be corrected, removed, rewritten later on. All that matters is that you write with feeling.
Even if it’s shitty writing, at least you felt something. And if you felt something, your audience should will feel it too.
D O N O T E D I T
When I say write. I mean it. Write. I don’t care if you’re stuck or cornered or a knife is held to your jugular. DO NOT EDIT. I don’t care if you finally figured out what you want to name your title character or the puuurfect setting. The first draft is collection of your mistakes along with diamonds in the rough. It’s incredibly tempting to edit, but trust me. You want to stay in mind of writing—progressing your story and characters—rather than be placed outside in the more technical process of editing.
Right. Don’t edit. But say you do have a cool element you want to add to your world. Or a way to fix that weird plot point that just doesn’t feel right. Instead of going back and rewriting everything, jot it down. Buy or use an old notebook from school and write down ideas or details that you would like to include in your second draft. Maybe you have an image of a location or ship or character in your head—draw it. Keeping a collection of notes is helpful when you finally do start the second draft along with redoing outlines.
ENDURE & SURVIVE
I have over twice as many unfinished, dropped first drafts then finished projects. Why? Because somewhere in that first draft I lose confidence in…everything. Self-doubt is your number one enemy when facing the first draft, and I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. You are not the only one who “can’t finish it.” Who’s “writing sucks.” Who can’t live up to other authors, who can’t live up to their own expectations. Who run into a huge road block whether it dealing with plot, character, world building, etc, etc, etc. Even the most famous, popular authors, the very people you admire suffer from self-doubt.
You are not alone.
Some tips that help get through the hardest moments.
- Read your own work. Key word: READ. Do not edit. Read a bit of description, dialogue—something that you haven’t looked at in awhile. Something to remind you that, yes you can write. That you are more than capable of writing something you’re proud of. Sometimes a little reminder is enough shake the dust from your eyes.
- Read a book. Or two. Or three. In a span of a week or two. From personal experience, reading a book—good or bad—lights a fire in me. As cruel as it sounds, being critical of “bad” books gets my brain ticking (why is this book bad? how can I avoid these errors? am i avoiding these errors?). Reading a good book gets my pulse jumping (I want to write something that feels like this). Both can benefit your writing. Both can get you writing.
- Finally, talk about it. Talk about what is eating away at you, whether with a friend or simply posting a text post on tumblr. Get that mass of ugly emotion out of you. Let it out in the open. It’s poison, really. As you extract if from your system, you will feel better. Or you should. Sometimes it takes more than simply talking, but just like any form of depression, expressing yourself helps.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. There are reasons to drop a project, but self-doubt isn’t one of them. It will feel like pulling teeth, but write everyday. Even if it’s a sentence or two. Just keep writing.
Shitty first drafts are shitty because there are no restraints. Good or bad, your ideas are free to form and multiply because no one is telling you otherwise. Maybe your draft is so shitty, you don’t even want to edit or rewrite it. That’s cool. At least you finished it and that’s an accomplishment in itself.