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Writing Wednesday: $h!tty First Drafts

Writing Wednesday: The $h!tty First Draft

I can’t say it any better than that. Really; the first draft of anything written is going to be bad.

This is a problem that EVERYONE who wants to be a writer (or artist, or musician, or whatever creative thing you can think of) will run into at least once in their lives. There will be this crushing feeling that if you don’t get your project absolutely perfect, 100% right on the first try, then there’s something wrong with you. Maybe you’re actually talentless, or a hack, or a one-hit wonder, or you haven’t been educated enough or you’re whatever fill-in-the-blank. Because anybody who’s good at what they do, anybody who has any real talent can produce a perfect piece on their very first attempt.


There isn’t a single person on this earth who can create something and have it absolutely 100% correct on the first shot. It’s not possible. If anybody tells you that they can, they’re either messing with you or are utterly deluded.

You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to forget things. You’ll write sentences that make no sense. You’ll have a confusing plot line. The story will be riddled with grammatical errors. Your character’s personality may change for no apparent reason halfway through.

There will be problems. There will be mistakes.

And that’s okay.

Take me, for example. When I wrote the very first version of Nike back in 1996, I was convinced that it was perfect and needed no changes. Flash forward about two years later, I picked it up again, read it and said, “OH.”

Oh, it was horrible. Great writing for a sixth-grader, I’m sure, but it was still a first draft and jam-packed with problems. By then I had been writing for two years, my style had improved, so I decided it was time to fix the book and make it “better.”

Now, flash forward about twenty-one years and roughly seven rewrites later (!!!!), I finally had the version of Nike that I wanted, but I had languished for a while, obsessed with the idea of getting it right the first time I started typing anything. Where the idea of first-time perfection came from I’m not totally sure, but it was pure hell for a time. Something in my brain kept screaming at me that if I couldn’t spell something like “Nebrophonus” correctly every time, or if I couldn’t stop writing in a passive voice or whatever the issue was, then it wasn’t worth writing. I started thinking that I was fooling myself into thinking that I had any kind of worthwhile writing ability at all. After all, professional authors didn’t have this problem, right? They could pound out anything they wanted and have it all awesome and perfect on the very first try.

Then I found Hemingway’s quote, and I felt like a total twit. He was so right! Nothing comes out perfectly the first time you create it—that’s what editing and rewrites are for. It dawned on me that I had read other authors making similar statements about what I sometimes call “perfection depression,” how everybody experiences it at some point and at least once and how everyone needs to overcome it.

So I printed up Papa Hemingway’s quote in big, dark green letters in bold and italics and underlines and taped it on the wall above my computer. For a few years, whenever I became frustrated or discouraged, I’d sit back and stare at that quote. I’d remind myself that it was utterly true, and then go back and try to plow through whatever problem I had that was holding me back.

So, don’t be afraid of writing a shitty first draft. Writing a shitty first draft is better than thinking that you have to get it perfect on the first attempt and then not writing anything at all.

P.S.: I had to go back and fix this blog six times before posting it.

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