Friday, September 22, 2017

Why You Should Let Your First Draft Suck (And How to Do It)

I've always had a fear of writing first drafts. A paralyzing one, honestly. We're talking Ron-Weasley's-horror-of-spiders level of fear.

I love writing first drafts, but there's always a terror that accompanies this love. The thoughts that run through my head as I write go something like this:

"What if I accidentally weave in a massive plot hole? Wait, this character's arc just changed half way through and now she has an inconsistent personality. Is this subplot dumb? Darn it, the pacing is off. Oh, look! A typo!"

The amount of doubt that courses through me each time I write a first draft is huge. I start to doubt my ideas and skills. And, sometimes, it makes me freeze up. I'm so fixated on making my first draft good that I can't move forward.

You've probably experienced this. Most (possibly all?) writers have. It's a huge pain, isn't it?

Well, have no fear. I discovered something that has helped me overcome this issue.

The solution is: I need to allow my first drafts to suck.

What? You're telling me that doesn't suddenly whisk away all of your fears? You don't find that a comforting thought? Pffft. Please. Let me explain to you why this is, in fact, an extremely freeing concept:
Why You Should Let Your First Draft Suck (And How to Do It)
1. There's a reason they're call "first drafts." First drafts. FIRST. This word indicates that there will be later drafts. There is no Writing God who says: "Here, I'm giving you one shot at writing this book. You get to write it once, then you have to offer it up to me and, if it sucks, you're going to die." If this were true, our need to get our initial draft perfect would be justified. But this is not, in fact, true. We're allowed as many tries as we want. Whatever horrible mistakes we make in the first draft is absolutely fixable because we get to write a second, a third, even a twelfth draft.

2. Freedom to write horribly means freedom to experiment, play, and enjoy. You don't have to worry about making mistakes. You get to just sit down and write. You can test out that new writing style, play around with story setting, and enjoy the sheer act of creation. Rather than sweating nervously as the cursor blinks back at you, you can get to sit down and have some fun. Every action gets to be an act of creation. Hamilton would be so proud of you.

3. It allows you to get all of the bad ideas out of the way. For every good idea that I have, I experience about 394 bad ones. I'm not suggesting that I write all 394 of them down. Some of them are glaringly terrible to the point that I know not to put them on paper. But some aren't revealed to be horrendous until they're sitting next to something not-terrible. Giving our first drafts the room to suck means that we now know which directions we shouldn't take our stories in. This is very valuable because it means our next draft can focus on polishing the not-terrible ideas and burning the hideous ones.

4. It means you're more likely to actually finish. If you're constantly trying to keep your first draft from sucking, you're having to refocus valuable creative energy into putting a damper on your own mind. You are also in a state of mind that is hypercritical and questioning everything you write, which often turns into doubting your talents and thoughts. This can cripple you as a writer to the point where you won't be able to move on...or you'll move forward with your draft at a Jabba the Hut pace. These are all avoidable issues if you just give yourself the room to write what you want without getting tangled up in the "but doesn't this suck?" mindset.

Now, perhaps this is all sounding logical to you. You see why it's okay to write a sucky first draft. Great. But how do you actually execute this plan? Here's what you need to do:

1. Go in with a plan. Have some idea of where you want this story to go. If you're a pantster, check out this blog post for ideas. If you're a plotter, put together an outline. You are licensed to write a sucky first draft, yes. But going in completely blind is never a good idea. But full-length novels do require some amount of plot, character, and world planning before you jump into that first draft, otherwise editing will be a nightmare. However, do not fixate on your plan. . I can guarantee that you won't stick to it 100%. That's fine. Healthy, even. Your plan is not a rule book. It's more, well...Barbossa will explain:

2. Write the first draft for yourself, and yourself only. This draft is for your eyes only. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Don't let anyone else see it. What happens in your first draft stays in your first draft. When you are writing it, you shouldn't think about how anyone else would see this draft. It's for you: It's helping you kick start an idea, get words on a page, form a story that will be refined in a later draft. It's not for anybody else. If you find yourself writing this and thinking about what your beta reader would say, what your friend would say, what your creative writing teacher would say: Shut that thought down. They don't matter right now. Right now it's just you and the page.

2. Keep moving forward. Be as swift as a coursing river. Do not try to go back and edit what it was you just wrote. Move forward. You can go back and fix "mistakes" later. They are not your concern at the moment. Right now you're just trying to finish the first draft. If you find yourself looking back at what you wrote for any other reason than to remember where you left off, you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. And that's not progress. And no progress means no finished book, which means no book deal, which means no money, which means no caffeine, which means Unhappy Writer. Can't argue with that logic, can you? I thought not. So keep moving forward.

3. Be proud. Do you have any idea how hard it is to write a book? It's hard. Really hard. And yet, here you are, taking on this behemoth of a task of your own free will. You're completely crazy, what are you thinking? turn back now! awesome. Okay, maybe what you're writing isn't perfect right now. That doesn't make you bad or stupid. Don't let the concept of writing something sucky make you think that you are sucky. You're not. You should be proud of what you're doing because it's hard and it takes a lot of guts. Keep at it. You're going places.

4. Remember that you can fix it later. Rewriting and editing. Perhaps you've heard of these terms? Yes? Well, they are lifesavers. After you write this first draft, you get to go back and rewrite the plot to fill in holes, flesh out characters, and make the voice, themes, and pacing coherent. Then you get to edit to make everything look all shiny and pretty. So don't worry about the mess you're making right now. You can clean it later.

Nobody said your first draft had to be perfect. It just needs to be written. That's all. So go and write that first draft with a boldness and craziness and messiness that makes your heart smile.

What do you think? Do you agree with the concept of allowing your first draft to suck? Why or why not? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

Have writing or reading questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah in the comment section below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

Related articles:
Controlling Your Plot Bunnies: How to Write a Novel From Start to Finish

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23 comments:

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. First drafts are vomit drafts. Throw up all over the screen/page and clean it up later. I love the freedom of a first draft. I start with an outline, write as fast as possible to get the ideas down and not lose the spark, then go back later and clean it. Oftentimes, it's not as bad as I imagined.
    I wish more writers embraced this concept. Too many have to polish and polish (and take EVERY word of critique to heart) until it's lost life.

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    1. I was trying to explain this concept to my parents the other day, word-vomit. My Dad liked it a worrisome amount. My Mother, ironically, looked ill.

      Anyway, totally agree: First Draft= Word Vomit. And that's not a bad thing. It's actually my favorite draft to write, because I'm not worrying about it the way I do the drafts that other people are actually going to read.

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    2. YES. Word vomit is exactly the term I was looking for. =)

      Cheryl, I loved your point about first draft often not being as bad as expected. I almost always have a negative view of my writing as I'm typing, but when I revisit it I find that I was just being insane.

      Also: Shannon: I cracked up when I read about you trying to explain that writing concept to your parents. I have had similar experiences with mine. =D

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  2. Was that a Mulan reference in number 2 'Be as swift as a coursing river'?! I LOVE THAT MOVIE! lol my drafts are so confusing...

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    1. Haha! Yes, yes it was. Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies. *high five*

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  3. Thank you so much, Hannah! You have no idea how much I needed to read this.

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    1. I'm so happy to be of help, Mae! Just keep writing. You can do it!

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  4. You have hit it out of the park once again! This is exactly what I needed to hear at this stage in my writing. I've been bogged down trying to figure out where to go from here instead of just getting the words on paper (screen, whatever). It's been weeks already since I've written anything substantial. Mostly because I haven't figured out how to fit all of my characters together. NowI know: it DOESN'T MATTER. I mean, it does, but I don't have to figure it out right now. That. Is. Amazing news!!

    I give this particular blog post of yours twenty-eight thumbs up!!

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    1. 28 thumbs up, huh? That's pretty high praise! =D Thank you so much for the encouraging comment, Aaron. I'm so excited that you're going to be able to move ahead with your writing! Go you!

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  5. Oh this is so helpful! This gives me a lot more confidence, thank you. (Also, I think this is the first time that I've caught ALL your references! Yay! I think it goes: Harry Potter, Hamilton, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Tangled, POTC, LOTR*, & Mulan?)

    *I got a great mental picture of a writer clutching their manuscript to their chest like Gollum.

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    1. Yay! Glad to hear it.

      Also: You caught all of my references! Plus an extra one I didn't intend. =D Where did you find the Tangled reference? I don't remember putting one in, but maybe I subconsciously did because I like that movie. =)

      Anyway, you get a "Head Nerd" badge for catching them all! *fist bump* Welcome to the nerd club.

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    2. When Eugene is convincing Rapunzel to keep going, he says "a little teenage rebellion, that's good! Healthy even." XD I'm honored to be part of the nerd club.

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  6. I'm just glad Hamilton's proud of me ;-) Yeah, first drafts are rough! But I love seeing ideas come together, and the story start to make sense. Editing is a mess, one I'm in right now, but I'm super super excited to see it finished! On to the second draft!

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    1. Yes, making Hamilton proud is an ultimate life goal, isn't it? =P

      I agree: Editing is a huge mess. But also very satisfying and exciting. I'm sure your draft is cleaning up nicely! Cheering you and your second draft on!

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  7. Harry Potter reference? Check. Mulan reference? Check. Pirates of the Caribbean? Check. Love it.

    I am one of those people who hate first drafts. I don't think I write them exactly-I more do first drafts of each act and try to refine them before moving on because it's difficult for me to just write without having the plot fleshed out enough so that the scene I'm writing goes in the somewhat right direction.

    I'm beginning to work on the second book in my series. Most of the world building is done, but to think of all the little bits and pieces of information my characters need to discover over time that lead to plot twists is something I'm procrastinating right now. It's also kind of frustrating that as I write each book the way I go about writing changes order wise, but hey, whatever gets it done I guess.

    Your blog is always so encouraging. I'll try to let go of the "it must be perfect" mindset and just write and work through the 394 wrong turns.

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    1. Haha! Yes. Catch all the references!

      I actually think your method of writing act by act makes a lot of sense. Do you write a rough first draft of act 1, then go back and edit, then a rough draft of act 2, then go back and edit, then on and on? That's what I sounds like to me and I think that's a pretty solid plan. Some stories do require different methods of writing, so if the story is so complex that you feel the need to write your first drafts in chunks, then that's totally fine.

      You are so right when you say "whatever gets it done." Couldn't agree more! As long as you're getting words on paper, you are moving forward. So good for you!

      I'm so pleased that you like my blog, Emma. Thank you for the cool comment!

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  8. I'm commenting on your blog post itself! A shocking event, mark it on your calendar. It may not happen again... lol

    So yeah, I hate editing with a passionate passion. little details are hard. So typos, grammar, and all that other polish stuff... yuck! So I don't have some of those issues on my first draft. I still like to get it coherent though. Plot holes are always a little worrying since some holes can change the entire book but I worry more about my characters since I struggle with them.

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    1. Whaaaaa? I hardly recognize you here on Blogger. Hello to Facebook Michael! *waves* Good of you to drop by. =D

      I've struggled with characters, too. I find that the further into the draft I get, the better I understand each character and the more developed they become. This can lead to one character being totally different in the last half of the book vs the first half. I've found that a lot of editing smooths this right over, so I wouldn't be too concerned. Plot holes and character difficulties can all be cleaned up in round 2. =D

      Thanks for the comment, Michael! It made me laugh to see you brave the Blogger comment section.

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  9. I let my first draft reeeally suck by writing in white font. No temptation to edit!

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    1. This is fascinating! I would have never thought to do this, but I can see how that would help a lot. Do you find it works for one style of story, but not the other? I'm thinking back on my writing and know of some drafts that would have benefited from this technique....and others that would have completely tanked.

      Thank you so much for the cool input, Jennifer! Now I'm excited to find a story to try this on.

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  10. This concept (along with just giving myself time to write every day) has made THE difference in my writing. I feel that college writing workshop classes reinforced my already-bad habit of editing as I write. My first drafts looked better than many of my classmates, but they took forever! I was really shooting myself in the foot by expecting my first draft to look like a final draft. Lately, my writing has gone downhill in quality as I am plowing ahead on the first draft of my book, but I feel so much more like a real writer. Great advice! Thank you.

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  11. I love this advice. I used to be someone who would "edit as they go." I believe it was Veronica Roth who weaned me of this habit back when she used to blog on blogger. She explained the "word vomit" and why it's the best way to complete a first draft, otherwise you'll never finish anything at all. Great advice from her and from you on this. :)

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