Recently, in one of the Facebook writers’ groups I’m in, I read a post by a person who was really upset at the idea that, to quote the most famous example, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” She took that literally and was upset at the idea that she should spend her time and effort on garbage.

Hemingway tended to phrase like a hammer strike, and other authors who have said similar things made some good sound-bites on the topic. But I think of these as shock tactics, short and punchy because they’re meant to be quoted or stuck on memes. I take them with a grain of salt, since after 50 years of writing, much of it before computers were invented, I can put out a first draft which is close to my final draft.

But this is what I think is meant by that philosophy. It doesn’t mean that the story is garbage, or that your writing is garbage. It means the following three things:

  1.  The function of your first draft is to get the story down, to write it before the Muse wanders off so that you don’t lose any of your genius thoughts.
  2.  Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t stop the flow in order to polish a chapter to perfection, or a paragraph, or God forbid a sentence. To paraphrase something I say a lot, “Spit it out and pretty it up later.”
  3.  Be easy on yourself. Accept that you’ll have to do edits and rewrites. That doesn’t mean the story is no good or your writing sucks. It means that there is a step in which your newly cut diamond of a tale shall be cleaned and polished to its shining best.

I recently found a lovely post on this topic, in a blog called Positive Writer. Bryan Hutchinson (the positive writer) says, “Your first draft matters the most” in this post:



2 comments on “Your first draft is NOT garbage

  • This is spot on Kathy. Any writer should write while the muse is whispering in their ear. Then I usually walk away and let it set for a while. When I get back (and the muse has quit muttering) I can read it as if someone else wrote it. That way I can see if it’s great, good, so/so or garbage. I can also, theoretically at least, figure out how to polish the good stuff and maybe compost the garbage into something better.
    My personal problem with that is of course that I’m a lazy writer, a messy writer who stores what I call my story ‘seeds’ archaeologically. In other words the newest stuff is near the top, possibly under paid (I hope!) bills and the older stuff is somewhere under that. I have been known to be cleaning out an area and find something written on old paper, that when I read it I was like : “Wow! Who wrote this? Where and who did I get it from?! This is good shit! Why isn’t it finished? Dang! I want to know what happens next!!” Then after a good deal of thinking and going over the story I realize I wrote it! Then I sat it aside, lost it and for got it. Sigh. Such is the downside of setting something aside to ‘age’ before finishing it! Though I must admit that sometimes that happens because that silly muse wanders away with out telling me how it ends or how to get the characters out of the mess the end up in!!

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