Squirrel typing shitty draft

In previous weeks I wrote about how to outline a book and how to calendar your writing to complete your first draft. The draft is such a roadblock for so many that it merits further discussion.

The process that I use and that I reference in earlier posts does not allow for editing along the way as you write your draft. That comes later.

There are plenty of writers who edit along the way and that works for them. Great. I am not one of those people. Most of the writers I know cannot work that way. We get too bogged down, then downright depressed, and make little progress. So I’ll address the process that works the best for me and many of my fellow writers.

The goal here is to get your 1st draft down on paper. Why do I always refer to first drafts as shitty? (Because I am a potty mouth.) Because when your goal is to get a certain number of words on the page, to get the basic gist of the story down in an efficient manner, it’s not going to be pretty. I sometimes refer to this as vomiting words onto the page.

One reason people struggle with this is the fear that someone will see it. What if someone discovers your horrific, mangled attempt at a narrative? The world will surely end. But actually it won’t.

If it makes you feel better, you can put a disclaimer at the top of your document explaining that it’s a shitty first draft and not to be used as a measure of your literary merit. You can also just say that I made you do it. I’m okay with it.

You must be okay with the existence of the shitty first draft. You must come to terms with it. Once you accept it, you’ll eventually learn to be proud of it. It is necessary. Start with the shitty first draft, get through it, and trust that in the editing process, you will begin to reveal the story with nuance and grace.

Here’s an example:

The geography changed from flat to hills to mountains, and we passed lots of sunflower fields.

It’s not compelling or descriptive, but it covers the basic elements I want to include. Later, in the editing stage, maybe I’ll change it to:

Level ground turned to hillsides that rippled like waves, before giving way to mountains and endless fields of sunflowers, the heads of which all faced in the same direction like dutiful floral soldiers.

And then after that the manuscript will go to a professional editor who might help me make it stronger by addressing weak words (turned, giving, like x 2), clichés (rippled like waves, endless fields), and evoking a stronger visual.

None of that writing can occur if I don’t have my shitty first line with which to start. So trust in the process and don’t worry about how shitty it is. For those who respond well to numbered directions, here you go:

  1. Write one line.
  2. Don’t judge it.
  3. Repeat

Make progress and move forward.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach


Connect with me on Facebook at AK Turner and Vagabonding with Kids and on Twitter @VagabondingKids.