First Drafts or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write a Shitty First Draft

"The first draft of anything is shit." —Ernest Hemingway

I should be able to stop here, leaving you with Hemingway's sage and true statement, and go work onto something else, maybe my own shitty first draft of a blog post. But I won't because I know most of you refuse to accept this truth.

No, instead you think if you beat your head against your desk hard enough and long enough, you will craft some 24k golden prose, words so sweet and deftly written that you'll bring tears to the eyes of babes.

Well you won't. So stop it.

Still don't believe me? Are you saying, "Melissa, how do you know how well I write?" To this, I say, that doesn't matter. If you can't learn to write a shitty first draft, getting whatever it is out of your system, then you're never going to have the energy to keep writing. You're not going to learn how to take risks, because you'll never let yourself write anything less than perfect on the first go.

FREAKING STOP IT. Write some garbage. Let it spew forth, and once you've finally emptied that stinking pustule, take a step away and come back later. Put on some gloves and dig through the pile you emptied out on those pages, and you'll begin to find some gems. Use them to write a good second draft, and then repeat until you have an excellent final draft.

If you don't believe me, then see what Anne Lamott has to say about it. Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has a chapter titled Shitty First Drafts (you can read it here as a PDF). The book was required reading when I took my short fiction workshop in college, and it's a great book for all writers.

The shitty first draft isn't about encouraging bad writing ... it's about encouraging writing AT ALL. You'll never write a page if you keep stopping yourself within the first sentence or two and rewriting. Free yourself and learn to love the shitty first draft.