Your First Draft Sucks

Posted August 8, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 14 Comments

first-draft-sucks

When I took my college-level English course, my professor had us read Shitty First Drafts (from Bird by Bird) by Anne Lamott. The point? Your first draft is supposed to be shitty. It was something I understood on an intellectual level, but never applied to myself.

In fact, I have a long history of snubbing the revision process. It’s the curse of having your half-hearted writing attempts exceed the expectations of your teachers. That’s not to say my writing was brilliant. It probably wasn’t. But when you don’t have to work very hard to get an A, you don’t work very hard.

And to a certain extent, using computers to write has changed the editing process. Being able to edit as you write is not only feasible with a computer, but nearly impossible to resist. (She writes as she edits her own sentence.)

Why would you need to go through the revision process when you can edit as you write?

Because your first draft sucks.

Your first draft always sucks. Your suck may be enough to score an A on your paper. But you’re probably not trying to get an A anymore.

Now it’s about landing clients and winning fans or getting five-star reviews.

Is your suck good enough to do any of that?

Mine certainly isn’t. I’d guess yours isn’t either, unless you’re a freakin’ writing genius. And guess what: you’re not a writing genius.

Have I burst your bubble? Good. Now let’s get real about writing and revising.

I used to tell my writing students that a perfect first draft is suspicious. For them, it meant they were plagiarizing, having someone else write their paper, or reusing a friend’s old paper. Yes. Students are crafty little boogers sometimes.

For you, it means that you’re overestimating your writing abilities. Or that you’re underestimating the revision process. Imagine how much more brilliant your writing could be if you spent some time polishing it. If it’s damn good after the first draft, going through a few revisions is going to make it mind blowing.

Why settle for damn good when you can have mind blowing?

When I began writing with the intent to publish, this lesson hit me hard. Smack upside the head hard. Intellectually understanding it and preaching it to my students was one thing. Putting it into practice and embracing it is quite another.

Have you ever tried to embrace the fact that you suck? It’s fucking hard.

But sucking and failing are not synonymous. You can write something that sucks, but not fail at writing. The only time you fail at writing is when you give up and stop.

It’s okay to write something that sucks. Sucky writing is why we have the revision process. You can turn terrible writing into good writing with a little revision. Or, you know, a little help from your favorite editor.

The completion of a first draft is not the end: it’s a beginning. It’s the time when you throw out your doubts and your hatred for your draft that sucks, and truly dive into your draft. You get to know it. Learn its strengths and weaknesses. Understand its needs and its desires: what it’s trying to communicate.

And is that process easy? Hell no.

The revision process makes us vulnerable. We’re required to face our insecurities that we’re not going to make it or that we’re not good enough. The revision process forces us to admit we’re not perfect.

Admitting you’re not perfect is tough. Fighting your insecurities is even harder.

How many of you are sitting on a piece of writing right now that you’re too afraid to share because what if?

The what-if game is crippling. The revision process is not. Even though, yeah, sometimes revision feels crippling. But it’s not. Being vulnerable and fighting insecurities will pay off in the end; letting the what-if game control your life and writing won’t.

You always have the chance to revise your writing into what it’s meant to be: mindblowingly awesome.

And you should take that chance. Doesn’t the world deserve to experience your greatness?

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14 responses to “Your First Draft Sucks

  1. Jen

    I struggle with this all the time. I edit as I go and labor over every sentence. I know I’d be better off if I wrote, got things on paper and then went back over. Instead, I edit and edit as I go. At least, I then go back over my writing again and edit. I think I need a better process.

    • Yes. Editing as I go is definitely what I do too, especially on shorter pieces (like comments or blog posts). But I’m working on letting it go–or at the very least, keeping the editing to a minimum. Get it out, then come back to it. Editing while writing may actually slow down and stunt the writing process because we get too focused on the editing.

  2. This is such a simple idea…and it’s brilliant! The relief I just felt and the “duh!” I just thought has freed me from years of thinking I needed perfection right from the start.

    • We’re our own biggest obstacle sometimes, I think. We see writing online or in print and want to produce the same quality right away–but forget that the same writing probably went through multiple revisions to get to its final state. So not producing perfection right away? That’s how it’s supposed to be. 🙂

  3. I will love to have you critic me on my blog. You make me so much happy by the way you pounce on grammar, verbs, and commas. I am trying so hard, But I hope to get it right so that you do not come knocking. I cannot tell if I am guilty or not right now . But I use to hit publish every time when no one was reading my blog . Now that I am getting known, It is strange to hit publish now. I am scared to publish at times because I do not know who is reading. On the other hand, I think it is a good thing. What do you think?

  4. I remember that feeling of relief when I let myself NOT try to be perfect on my first draft. It was GLORIOUS. I think letting go of that expectation gives a writer (no matter what they’re writing — blog posts, articles, a KICK ASS manuscript) the freedom to grow their writing. It might not be “perfect” the first time around, but it’s more dynamic. The perfect comes after when you go back and tweak and fiddle (and sometimes delete entire sections).

    In other words… YES! YES TO ALL THIS!

    • YES! When you get too caught up in being perfect, you stunt the whole writing process. It’s better to suck and learn from it than to aim for perfection from the start.

  5. *Stands up and applauds*

    YES. THIS.

    I think I’m going to hang some of these sentences on my wall, like:

    “Now it’s about landing clients and winning fans or getting five-star reviews.

    Is your suck good enough to do any of that?”

    And:

    “The only time you fail at writing is when you give up and stop.”

    Great reminders Amanda!

  6. Great post and it has taken a while to learn and accept this, but now I must admit revising is just maybe my favorite part. I love to reshape the story and see it come together. Is it easy? Is it quick? No, but as you stated, necessary. Thanks so much for the post & keep up the good work.

    Paul R. Hewlett

    • I *love* to hear that revising is your favorite part, Paul. I think so many of us forget about the revising part because we’re so focused on writing. And revising is easy to resist, especially at first.

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