Put that Shitty First Draft Away

41 Comments

  1. You have no idea how much this post has helped me… I have just finished the worst first draft in the world (shitty doesn't even begin to describe it) and I've been tempted to throw it away. After reading you, I've decided I'll wait for a month; if I still think it's shitty then, I'll definitely throw it away.

    Thank you!

  2. Nadia – That's a great point. It's only when we get into the thick of revising that we realize… editing and revising isn't as easy as it sounds. That's why I suggest taking a break, both to refresh the imagination and to bring some objectivity to the plate. The more objective you are, the more you can accept constructive critism, no matter the source.

    Ruth – You're welcome! I've totally been there. But whatever you do, don't throw that draft away. Keep it for posterity's sake so you have evidence that you're improving. And I bet after waiting a month, you'll find a few gems you didn't realize were there. There's always something to salvage from a shitty first draft.

  3. Shannon – You're very welcome. I'm glad you don't feel guilty anymore about putting the SFD aside for a while.

    But just because you've put this work aside doesn't mean you have to stop writing altogether, which I think some people forget. Read some books that inspire you, and try writing in a different genre, or try writing poetry or short stories. You'll come back to your work refreshed.

    Good luck!

  4. I think its a kind of tunnel vision. When the first draft is done, I know I can't separate what I intended to be there from what is actually on the page. Now, after a year of 'simmering' and a spot on external critique, I can see the glaring problems with my SFD and am neck deep in ripping it apart and rebuilding it. Looking forward to this whole week of your editing workshops.

  5. LJ – That's wonderful that someone gave you a spot on critique. It's hard to find a beta reader who understands what you are trying to do and has the time and expertise to help you get where you want to be. Have any tips on how to find one for the rest of us? :)

  6. I think people can't put their first draft away because they're so happy they're done with writing it that they can't wait to start revising it. When you're working on the first draft, revision sounds soo… easy. (Or maybe they think that the sooner they revise, the sooner they can shop it around to agents / editors)

  7. I think people can’t put their first draft away because they’re so happy they’re done with writing it that they can’t wait to start revising it. When you’re working on the first draft, revision sounds soo… easy. (Or maybe they think that the sooner they revise, the sooner they can shop it around to agents / editors)

  8. You have no idea how much this post has helped me… I have just finished the worst first draft in the world (shitty doesn’t even begin to describe it) and I’ve been tempted to throw it away. After reading you, I’ve decided I’ll wait for a month; if I still think it’s shitty then, I’ll definitely throw it away.
    Thank you!

  9. Nadia – That’s a great point. It’s only when we get into the thick of revising that we realize… editing and revising isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s why I suggest taking a break, both to refresh the imagination and to bring some objectivity to the plate. The more objective you are, the more you can accept constructive critism, no matter the source.

    Ruth – You’re welcome! I’ve totally been there. But whatever you do, don’t throw that draft away. Keep it for posterity’s sake so you have evidence that you’re improving. And I bet after waiting a month, you’ll find a few gems you didn’t realize were there. There’s always something to salvage from a shitty first draft.

  10. Thank you for this post and the upcoming posts on editing/revising. It personally comes at the perfect time for me as i'm struggling after finishing my first SFD. Like Ruth, I wanted to howl in disappointment with myself when i'd finally finished my SFD. The next day I cleared my head and tried to revise, got more upset and thankfully stopped. Next day, same reaction. It was then I decided I needed a week away from it to clear my head because I just kept making things worse. Now I can stop feeling guilty for making that decision. I'm looking forward to going through you're other posts. Take care!

  11. Thank you for this post and the upcoming posts on editing/revising. It personally comes at the perfect time for me as i’m struggling after finishing my first SFD. Like Ruth, I wanted to howl in disappointment with myself when i’d finally finished my SFD. The next day I cleared my head and tried to revise, got more upset and thankfully stopped. Next day, same reaction. It was then I decided I needed a week away from it to clear my head because I just kept making things worse. Now I can stop feeling guilty for making that decision. I’m looking forward to going through you’re other posts. Take care!

  12. Shannon – You’re very welcome. I’m glad you don’t feel guilty anymore about putting the SFD aside for a while.

    But just because you’ve put this work aside doesn’t mean you have to stop writing altogether, which I think some people forget. Read some books that inspire you, and try writing in a different genre, or try writing poetry or short stories. You’ll come back to your work refreshed.

    Good luck!

  13. Brilliant idea locking your first draft away for month. It makes perfect sense. When you go back to edit it, you realize just how bad it really is, lol. Looking forward to the rest of your workshops.

  14. I think it's like a pet, we've slaved so hard over it and we really do put part of our soul in it (even the horror ones) and then you ask us to put it down? Anna Jacobs said to put the first draft away write a second novel on anything else then come back and reread your first draft to see how badly it sucks… (paraphrased) so I'm now back to seeing how badly the first one sucks… and it sucks big time.

  15. I think its a kind of tunnel vision. When the first draft is done, I know I can’t separate what I intended to be there from what is actually on the page. Now, after a year of ‘simmering’ and a spot on external critique, I can see the glaring problems with my SFD and am neck deep in ripping it apart and rebuilding it. Looking forward to this whole week of your editing workshops.

  16. LJ – That’s wonderful that someone gave you a spot on critique. It’s hard to find a beta reader who understands what you are trying to do and has the time and expertise to help you get where you want to be. Have any tips on how to find one for the rest of us? :)

  17. For me it's hard because I want to get the job done! But then maybe I AM just revising and not editing…

  18. Brilliant idea locking your first draft away for month. It makes perfect sense. When you go back to edit it, you realize just how bad it really is, lol. Looking forward to the rest of your workshops.

  19. I think it’s like a pet, we’ve slaved so hard over it and we really do put part of our soul in it (even the horror ones) and then you ask us to put it down? Anna Jacobs said to put the first draft away write a second novel on anything else then come back and reread your first draft to see how badly it sucks… (paraphrased) so I’m now back to seeing how badly the first one sucks… and it sucks big time.

  20. For me it’s hard because I want to get the job done! But then maybe I AM just revising and not editing…

  21. I can't bear to look at the first book I wrote. But I keep it to remind me that I can write a novel and that I can only improve – jeez, I hope so, anyway – it made 'shitty' look shiny!

  22. Jamal – You can also realize you have some great parts in the SFD! I hope you like the rest of the workshop… I have to admit that editing is my favorite part of the process.

    Natalie – I know it’s hard. It’s like sending your first child to school and then never picking them up. (Ouch. What a horrible analogy.) But here’s the good thing about putting your first draft away. When you come back to it, you’ll have a greater understanding of what you’re trying to do. You know what doesn’t work now; you’ve gotten the worst out of the way. So write what does work.

    Sandra – Part of getting the job done is letting the work to rest. It’s like baking a cake or making that perfect steak. You never ever cut into it right after you pull it out of the oven/grill. You have to let the cake cool down to frost it. You have to let the steak sit to absorb its juices. You need to let your work, and the ideas that go with it, settle into a cohesive unit in your mind. You can do it, I know you can.

  23. Jamal – You can also realize you have some great parts in the SFD! I hope you like the rest of the workshop… I have to admit that editing is my favorite part of the process.

    Natalie – I know it’s hard. It’s like sending your first child to school and then never picking them up. (Ouch. What a horrible analogy.) But here’s the good thing about putting your first draft away. When you come back to it, you’ll have a greater understanding of what you’re trying to do. You know what doesn’t work now; you’ve gotten the worst out of the way. So write what does work.

    Sandra – Part of getting the job done is letting the work to rest. It’s like baking a cake or making that perfect steak. You never ever cut into it right after you pull it out of the oven/grill. You have to let the cake cool down to frost it. You have to let the steak sit to absorb its juices. You need to let your work, and the ideas that go with it, settle into a cohesive unit in your mind. You can do it, I know you can.

  24. I can’t bear to look at the first book I wrote. But I keep it to remind me that I can write a novel and that I can only improve – jeez, I hope so, anyway – it made ‘shitty’ look shiny!

  25. My problem is that I can’t shut up my inner editor to even finish a draft. I’m constantly wanting to change things immediately. Do you have any suggestions on curbing that particular habit? :)

    And as for why people can’t put down their first draft…I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the stupid thing is finally finished. And you’re proud of it, want to show it off (so to speak) and are afraid to think about all of the fixing you’re going to have to do on it. Also, most writers I know think that because the story is still fresh in their minds, they won’t forget anything or they know what they want to fix right then and there. Obviously, that’s the bad part. :P

  26. My problem is that I can’t shut up my inner editor to even finish a draft. I’m constantly wanting to change things immediately. Do you have any suggestions on curbing that particular habit? :)

    And as for why people can’t put down their first draft…I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the stupid thing is finally finished. And you’re proud of it, want to show it off (so to speak) and are afraid to think about all of the fixing you’re going to have to do on it. Also, most writers I know think that because the story is still fresh in their minds, they won’t forget anything or they know what they want to fix right then and there. Obviously, that’s the bad part. :P

  27. Ok, I need to print out. Boy, do I need to print out. This is so simple, I can't believe I haven't done this yet….

    I'm really looking forward to the rest of the week. :)

  28. Ok, I need to print out. Boy, do I need to print out. This is so simple, I can’t believe I haven’t done this yet….

    I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week. :)

  29. I can't speak for anybody else, but why I don't follow this advice? I'm too fast. I write fast. (C. E. Murphy and Lynn Viehl are my heros! LOL) If it takes only two months for me to complete a first draft, is there ANY WAY I am going to take an ENTIRE 'NOTHER MONTH to wait before editing? Waste of my time; I would be insane.

    What I do is spend a week or two starting a new manuscript, at least 10k, then I jump into edits for, oh, another two or three months. That works well for me because the shift to a new story gives me the space that a month would otherwise do, and then when I'm done editing, I don't have the vertigo of starting over – I can just pick up with the new manuscript.

    I like to streamline, and I'm impatient as all get out. So… this method works for me, but is not recommended to anyone who does not have Lynn Viehl or Catie Murphy as an idol. :)

  30. I can’t speak for anybody else, but why I don’t follow this advice? I’m too fast. I write fast. (C. E. Murphy and Lynn Viehl are my heros! LOL) If it takes only two months for me to complete a first draft, is there ANY WAY I am going to take an ENTIRE ‘NOTHER MONTH to wait before editing? Waste of my time; I would be insane.

    What I do is spend a week or two starting a new manuscript, at least 10k, then I jump into edits for, oh, another two or three months. That works well for me because the shift to a new story gives me the space that a month would otherwise do, and then when I’m done editing, I don’t have the vertigo of starting over – I can just pick up with the new manuscript.

    I like to streamline, and I’m impatient as all get out. So… this method works for me, but is not recommended to anyone who does not have Lynn Viehl or Catie Murphy as an idol. :)

  31. Jaye – Excellent attitude!

    Kaitlin – I used to have this problem, myself. And then I participated in NaNoWriMo, a sort of marathon for writers. When you're trying to write 50k words in a month, you don't have time to listen to your inner editor. So try that. Have a word count goal and stick to it. Tell someone else about your goal so it's public knowledge and you'll feel guilty/embarrassed if you don't follow through.

    The fact is you can't edit if you don't know the entire story. What you're doing is revising. You're tweaking something that may not make it to the final product. Why is this bad? 1) It slows your progress. 2) You don't have the entire product there to make a decision about whether this particular scene adds or detracts from the whole.

    Gillian – It's amazing how printing your work will expose simple grammatical errors, plot holes, etc. Glad to have you here!

    Jess – You sound like you've figured out exactly what works for you, which often only comes from writing for a long time/professionally. You're taking a break from your work, but you're moving on to something else, which is excellent. Keep writing!

  32. Jaye – Excellent attitude!

    Kaitlin – I used to have this problem, myself. And then I participated in NaNoWriMo, a sort of marathon for writers. When you’re trying to write 50k words in a month, you don’t have time to listen to your inner editor. So try that. Have a word count goal and stick to it. Tell someone else about your goal so it’s public knowledge and you’ll feel guilty/embarrassed if you don’t follow through.

    The fact is you can’t edit if you don’t know the entire story. What you’re doing is revising. You’re tweaking something that may not make it to the final product. Why is this bad? 1) It slows your progress. 2) You don’t have the entire product there to make a decision about whether this particular scene adds or detracts from the whole.

    Gillian – It’s amazing how printing your work will expose simple grammatical errors, plot holes, etc. Glad to have you here!

    Jess – You sound like you’ve figured out exactly what works for you, which often only comes from writing for a long time/professionally. You’re taking a break from your work, but you’re moving on to something else, which is excellent. Keep writing!

  33. Is there anyone among us who likes the editing process? this looks like a good start for us to put it into perspective. And who can go wrong with a catchy title like that

  34. Is there anyone among us who likes the editing process? this looks like a good start for us to put it into perspective. And who can go wrong with a catchy title like that

  35. I kind of… love the editing process? It's my favorite part to writing, because now I get to focus and hone what I've written.

  36. I kind of… love the editing process? It’s my favorite part to writing, because now I get to focus and hone what I’ve written.

  37. My first draft is where I encounter most of the major changes the characters have in mind, and as the story grows richer I don't go back to what I've written. Instead I finish the whole thing, and then my energy and enthusiasm is so high, I have to force myself to wait a few days before I pick it up and start on the major changes. It's easier to wait with a short story; I have one of 7300 words that I've allowed to sit for almost a whole week!

  38. My first draft is where I encounter most of the major changes the characters have in mind, and as the story grows richer I don’t go back to what I’ve written. Instead I finish the whole thing, and then my energy and enthusiasm is so high, I have to force myself to wait a few days before I pick it up and start on the major changes. It’s easier to wait with a short story; I have one of 7300 words that I’ve allowed to sit for almost a whole week!

  39. Marti – A lot of my major changes happen in the first draft, too. And since I'm experimenting in the first draft, I'm usually exhausted by the time I finish it. The first draft is this huge mental exercise, so I almost have to take a break to recouperate for the editing phase.

  40. Marti – A lot of my major changes happen in the first draft, too. And since I’m experimenting in the first draft, I’m usually exhausted by the time I finish it. The first draft is this huge mental exercise, so I almost have to take a break to recouperate for the editing phase.


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