WRITING: First Draft Shame

Forgive me Internet, for I have sinned. I have written… a first draft.

Depending on your method, a first draft can feel shameful, even as you’re in the midst of the writing high. Writing is rewriting, after all, and some folks have to force themselves to finish that first, perfectly imperfect draft – knowing all the while there may be little-to-nothing worth keeping for a second draft. But why bother? Why push through, rather than waiting on divine inspiration?

My perspective is, writing, even weak writing born out of a deadline, is still writing. Momentum. Power. A bad first draft can still be shaped into a strong fourth or fifth draft, even if the only thing it offered was a terrible form of the story that the writer needed to write to get it out of their system. That infernal first draft, with its on-the-nose dialogue, mannered description and lazy plotting, may need to exist in order to get to the better drafts. This doesn’t mean every script starts with a slapped-together first draft, or that you shouldn’t try to create a great script that first time out. Some writers can spend a long time on the skeleton, knowing both that it will improve things later on, and having the faith that they’ll be happy to complete the project once a comprehensive outline is complete. Some do the same with a first draft, building it slowly and intricately, and some could argue they save 2-3 drafts worth of work in the process.

What I know is, if I spend too much time on the planning, there’s a good chance I’ll lose the spark in the process. It’s a sign of my amateur level, very possibly, which may make the below useful only to those without plenty of discipline and experience under their belt. I know, though, that just like NaNoWriMo, when you’re just starting out, it’s better to get those rough drafts in and improve from there.

However, if your first draft really is dreadful, that’s typically a sign you need more practice. Each writer has a baseline that they write at on a standard day, and that standard improves the more they practice. I could edit my old scripts to look better, but the difference in my baseline is clear from my first few scripts: my voice is more assured, my dialogue less juvenile, and my visual sense is much better developed. And two or three years from now, I’ll look on the work I’m doing now and think, wow, that could be a lot better than it is.

Either way, the lesson is: don’t be disheartened by a bad first draft. Whether it’s dreadful or merely not awesome, it is what it is: the first step.

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4 responses to “WRITING: First Draft Shame

  1. Isabella Louise Anderson March 2, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Great blog post!

    As I am trying to finish my first draft, of what I hope will be my first book, I completely understand this, and I’m okay with it. In the beginning, I thought (just a little bit) that I was a fairly good writer, and still believe that, but now I’m seeing that I’m in need of a lot of help, especially when it comes to putting a story to a close.

    With the deadline I have given myself, practice is definitely a big part of it, but I see it as a learning experience, which will be even better when I’m writing draft #2…#3…and so on.

    • R. Lackie March 10, 2011 at 6:24 am

      Every writer is constantly improving, even the greats, so it’s good that you’ve got a great attitude already! One of the best things about being around right now is that an Internet connection provides access to SO much help – tips and tricks, ways to connect with fellow writers, the works! I can’t imagine what it was like before the ‘net was here to help us out!

      Thanks for commenting, Isabella! If you ever want to chat writing, pop me off an email or drop a line here. 🙂 Us writers are each other’s best resource.

  2. Pingback: WRITING: Evil Essays That Go to Waste | The Diversionist

  3. Pingback: WRITING: Second Draft Devotion | The Diversionist

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