Messy First Drafts

Messy First Drafts @

I’m not a fan of first drafts. My tendency towards perfectionism is the likely culprit of my angst over the whole first draft process. It’s one part of writing that I don’t always enjoy.  But then the above quote showed up in my Twitter feed last week and the proverbial light bulb went off in my head.

First drafts should be messy.

This is something I already know, but when I’m trying to get the story from my head to the page, anxiety takes over and logic goes straight down the toilet.

During my Camp NaNoWriMo experience last month, I spent much of that time on one scene. One frickin’ scene. Instead of just letting go and writing whatever ideas came to mind, I got into the bad habit of rereading every sentence that I’d written the prior day, critiquing my work, and rewriting a lot of what I’d written.

A book can have 60, 70, even hundreds of scenes. At the rate I’m going–averaging one scene a month–my first draft should be finished in…oh, I don’t know…five, ten years, maybe?

Not the most productive way to write, especially if I want to do this for a living.

That’s where writerly quotes like the one above come in handy. These little gems of wisdom always seem to show up right when I need them the most, allowing me to put things into perspective.

The first draft is a tool to figure out what your story is about. A large chunk of what goes into the first draft will never make it into the final draft. Another quote I’d come across not too long ago was this one:

The first draft is as bad as the book is ever going to be.

I don’t think there was ever a truer statement. My first drafts are gawd awful. Lots of rambling dialogue mixed with paragraphs of poorly written backstory about the character, not to mention bad grammar and gaping plot holes. Unless you’re some kind of writing phenom, your first draft should be messy and awkward and riddled with holes.

In the end, that confused pile of words is the result of you trying to figure out what you have to say. The important thing to remember is to get the ideas down on paper and not worry about how it sounds or what it looks like. You can always figure out later in the editing phase how to say it right.

Pinterest is teeming with quotes, so I creative a new board for inspiration when writing the first draft. When I find myself falling back into old habits, I can just refer to this new board and remind myself that it’s okay to write messy first drafts.

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