This Is Why You Can Embrace the Crappiest of Crappy First Drafts (Bad Drafts Aren't Just for Beginners!)

Writing terrible first drafts is all part of the process. Whether you're a beginner, or whether you've been around a while. It's actually a GOOD sign, and here's why. |

Oh, it's going to be one of those good Mondays, you know?

I can just feel it.

How are you doing today, lionheart? Does it feel like spring?

I'm much cheerier and more sane than I was last week, because I have written thousands and thousands of words on my novel in progress. Whew. I just needed to stop planning and get scribbling, and that's made all the difference to my mood, and my mindset.

... In some ways.

In other ways—which you're familiar with too, if you've ever written anything down—I'm feeling a smidge bleak.

Because this draft is, like all other first drafts, QUITE a mess.

I'm thrilled to be moving forward on my draft. But I'm frustrated that the draft sounds weak, the voice is a little off, and some scenes are frankly a little dull. (Even though they get the story to the right place—yay, structure!)

In other words, it's a first draft, and it's behaving exactly like one.

I know that. You know that.

We all know first drafts are rough, messy, crappy drafts

... But it's easy to believe that at some point we'll emerge from the Forest of Crappy First Drafts, and break into a glorious place where our first drafts aren't bad at all. 

Where we write marvelously the first time around.

Which is why today's much-needed writing-life quote comes from Eric Maisel, in his (lovely! must read!) book, A Writer's Paris

"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. Then no particular piece of inferior work is much of a blow. You just burn it and get on with your masterpiece."


"Everything changes the instant you accept that you are bound to do lots of inferior work. ... Get on with your masterpiece." -- Eric Maisel |

It's extremely counter-productive to wait around for the day when our first drafts are pristine.

Writing improvement doesn't happen in a neat, straight, predictable line.

Have you seen this in your own work, your own first drafts: Moments of true writerly brilliance coexist right next to moments of true writerly befuddlement.

I can write a gem and, in the very next paragraph, write pure slop.

On the same day! In the same ten minutes! 

I go back and forth. Gems, slop, mediocrity, beauty, back to muddling, back to something solid, a bit more crap, and then oh, good, a lovely little twist at the end of the chapter.

And that's my drafting process.

What I love about Maisel's quote is that it helps us to think of this good draft/bad draft thing more like we're operating in a ratio, not like we're moving chronologically to a new stage of no mistakes.

Ratios! And last Thursday I mentioned percents! What, is this a math blog now?

But go with me on this.

What if there's a kind of proportion that exists: we must do x amount of really crappy work, in order to do x amount of really brilliant work.

It isn't that we graduate from doing the crappy work; it's just that the more crappy work we plow through, the more opportunities we have to write gems.

Does that make sense?

In other words, it doesn't do any good to cut ourselves off, or to stop writing, or even slow down, just because the crappy work shows up.

It has to be there. It's doing its job, holding up its side of the ratio. 

As Maisel says, we're bound to do lots of it!! 

And if we stop now, we don't get to the work in the other part of the ratio—the really brilliant stuff!

We don't magically arrive at a place where everything, from first draft to final, is impeccable. We just don't. 

With time and experience that ratio might change: we might not have to do quite so much inferior work to get the really good stuff. Maybe. 

But in the meantime, if we let our bad work stop us, we're believing the wrong thing about progress as a writer. It would mean we've bought into the idea that we can't write magnificently, even amidst the crap.

Don't believe it for a moment, my lionhearted friend!

When you see the crap show up in your work, keep right on moving! You are that much closer to writing the good stuff.

If you're feeling almost cheesily optimistic (which I am, because, hello, it's spring!!), you can almost take the crappy stuff as a good sign. 

You're on your way to the best stuff in the draft. It's like a promise.

You gotta keep going. 

Inferior work simply doesn't mean we're inferior writers. It is just what happens when we write.

Part of the process. Part of the ratio.

Right? Good.

Let's get on with our masterpieces.