It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the first draft of anything sucks.* This ‘truth’ is a great comfort to writers who read their first drafts and want to tear their hair out. “Oh, this sucks!” they scream, while dragging their poor monitor to the window, as if it’s the monitor’s fault. But then they take to a writer’s forum to bemoan the horrible state of their first draft, and someone points out this truth, and they feel better, and press on.
It’s liberating, being allowed to suck. It allows one to proceed with some degree of confidence. ‘If shitty first drafts were good enough for Hemingway,’ we think, ‘they’re good enough for me!’
As I read a thread over the course of the weekend, however, something started gnawing at my insides. A feeling that some are starting to take to this ‘truth’ and turn it into a Truth, or that they’re looking at it as—dare I say it?—another rule.
But remember this: Just because the first draft is allowed to suck, doesn’t mean it’s supposed to suck.
What I mean here is, if you draft at all like me, then much of your draft will, in fact, suck. I’m a brain dumper. In my head is a slippery, slimy story scampering around in the dark. It’s hard to see all of it. It’s quick and elusive. Drafting, for me, is the act of dumping that thing out into the bright light where I can pin it down and examine it. That first draft is full of typos, awkward sentences, and needless repetition. I’ll repeat, almost verbatim, the same paragraph in three different places, because I’m desperately trying to communicate a particular idea or theme. Once this thing is on the page and has stopped moving around so much, I’m looking for things that don’t suck: believable characters, a compelling plot, authentic dialogue. The prose itself can suck, but these things have to be sufficiently non-sucky to convince me to go on to the next phase, the (hopefully) Quality Wordsmithing phase.
So, I guess if there’s any advice in here, it’s allow that ‘truth’ to grant you freedom to write without too much worry, but make sure you’ve got something good in there.
Looking forward to Friday, when I’ll have Lisa L. Regan here—see you then!
*Apologies to Jane Austen. And Hemingway’s quote is, “The first draft of anything is shit.”