“Everybody revises. Nobody farts glitter in this business.”
Maggie Steifvater, author of LAMENT, BALLAD, SHIVER, and LINGER

First drafts are really painful for me. If I’m being honest it is my least favorite part of writing. I like brainstorming and pre-writing. I love revising and polishing. To me that’s the dessert of writing, with the first draft being a course of–no even vegetables are too good–stale bread, maybe a little moldy.

One of the reasons the first draft is so painful is because I deplore mediocrity. If I’m going to do something I’d rather do it really well or not at all. We might think of this as a good trait, one that would help the quality of our work, but really it’s actually quite debilitating. Who does anything really well the first time? How many writers do you know who write an amazing first draft? Okay, maybe, but good? Great? Amazing?

James Dashner, author of several books including THE MAZE RUNNER and just released THE SCHORCH TRIALS, once said at a conference, “Dare to be bad.” And for me this meant lowering my expectations on my first draft. We have these ideas in our head and we just think if we’re good writers that they’ll come out fully formed and amazing on paper. But that’s just not how it works (for me anyway.)

So I just let the story come out. The first draft is more about giving myself characters and a structure to work with. We can do a lot in revision, so don’t hold yourself back with the idea that the first draft should be perfect. Think if it as bouncing to various stages of your work. You can bounce to one level with the first draft and then standing on that level you can bounce a little higher on the next revision and higher on the next and so forth.

I write this because I’m in the middle of writing of first draft. Moldy, moldy. I need to keep reminding myself that my writing is an artisitic process, not an Olympic sport where I have to jump the highest the first time to win the medal. I don’t even need a medal to feel successful…I wouldn’t mind it though.


4 comments

  1. Good reminder, Liesl. It wasn’t until I started writing Bob that I really allowed my manuscripts the room they needed to be awful. Before, I wouldn’t be able to relax if I didn’t think my works-in-progress were in the best possible shape every time I stepped away from the computer.

    But I found that made me less likely to really roll up my sleeves and get to work during the revision process. I mean, if you already think it’s perfect, why change anything, right? But it’s not perfect (and anybody who thinks their writing is perfect in their first drafts probably needs a wake-up call), and that’s okay.

    Except I don’t like to call it Bad – I prefer to call it Not Perfect Yet:)

  2. This is why I love your blog! 🙂 I am exactly like you are- and also happen to be mired in a first draft. It just KILLS me to be writing such mediocore stuff. I find it especially painful after finishing a shiny finished novel- to have to jump back into the crud. But you’re right- gotta lower those standards and just plow through it.

  3. I actually like the first draft the best. I think it’s because I know it won’t be perfect. The other drafts, though, I have higher expectations and those drafts never are where I want them to be.

  4. It’s definitely hard to let go of perfectionist traits and allow mediocrity, at least early on in the process. Unfortunately, I’ve found it to be a necessity if I ever expect to finish a WIP.

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