The first draft is supposed to suck

Here are two examples of unsuccessful writers I’ve met:

The first unsuccessful writer has been working on the book for years. They’ve never finished it, of course, because they have spent all of their time polishing and re-writing the first few chapters. Those first few chapters are great, and the writer shows real potential. But no editor or publisher is interested in looking at a book that isn’t finished.

The urge for perfection at every stage is standing in their way.first draft

First drafts are supposed to suck. You’re just getting words down as fast as you can so you can get through the story. Once the book is finished, you can step back and take a look to determine how you can make it perfect. Maybe a character needs to be removed; maybe scenes should be rearranged; maybe you can delete whole sections to speed the plot along.

And of course, you’ll need to clean up the writing. (Where did all those adverbs come from?)

My artist wife Heidi Hooper is working on a new piece as I write this. Did she pencil in the corner and then immediately start working on that corner until it was perfect? No, she drew the whole thing out, using the entire canvas, and then stared at it to make sure it’s exactly what she wants. She erases sections and redraws them. And only when she’s sure it’s right will she start to do the real work.

Your writing should be the same. Don’t worry if your pencil sketch is not what you ultimately want. You need to see the whole thing first.

When I’m writing, I use this as an incentive to finish the first draft. The re-writing part is the fun part for me — I like polishing up the dialog, inserting foreshadowing, fleshing out characters. So in order to get to the fun part, I torture myself: “You’re not allowed to do any of that until you finish!”

The reason the first unsuccessful writer is unsuccessful is because they have never finished. So stop worrying about your crappy first draft. No one has to see it, and in fact, no one wants to see it.  Finish the damn thing.

The second unsuccessful writer has finished the crappy first draft and has stopped. They don’t realize the first draft always sucks. “There, it’s done!” They self-publish said crappy first draft (because no publisher will take it) and then wonder why no one likes it.

Don’t be either of these people.

One Response

  1. Love the art analogy.

    Liked by 1 person

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