Put that Shitty First Draft Away

I once read somewhere that there are three phases a writer will go through before a work is ready for consumption:

  1. You write the first draft for yourself.
  2. You write the second draft for your audience.
  3. You write the third and last draft for publication.

So take heart, dear one, though you’ve only finished draft numero uno. It may seem like a gargantuan task now, but you’ll be at the third draft in no time at all.

First thing’s first: put that shitty first draft away, you’re gonna hurt somebody

No, I don’t care if you suddenly figured out what you need to do in order to fix that one chapter/scene/sentence. Print out the shitty first draft (SFD) in a font that’s different from the one you typed it in (I’ll explain tomorrow), put it in a special binder, kiss it, hug it, do whatever you need to do in order to say goodbye. Then hide it from view for a week at the very least. A month is better.

This time away from the SFD is imperative because it brings objectivity. The less you remember about writing it, the more you will read it like someone who has no idea what to expect from you and won’t have any reason to say “Oh, it’ll get better by chapter four.”

If you must write, start the next book. I bet you have a sequel all planned out, so this is the perfect time to start.

Once you come back to the SFD, don’t edit at the computer

Why? Because we read superficially at the computer. It comes with surfing the internet. Superficial editing, I like to say, is the same thing as revising. You’re moving main points around, and that’s not what we wamt.

Why? Because editing is not revising.

To revise is to alter what is there, to shuffle things around and perhaps make a bigger mess than you already have. To edit is to have the guts to slash or add a sentence/page/subplot if it will enhance the whole.

So find your printed copy and your favorite pen (I know you have one, we all do), crawl into your favorite chair, and get ready for the long haul. Because this is going to get messy. Comment with your theory on why it is so hard to put the first draft away to enter the free Worderella critique contest.

Books to Buy: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Links to reference: Editing: Do You Dare?, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (an excerpt), and Self-Editing and Revising Your Fiction

This five part series is my participation in Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind & Loving It (LB&LI) convention. I’ll tackle a different facet of editing each day:

  1. Monday: Put that shitty first draft away
  2. Tuesday: Be brutally honest
  3. Wednesday: Show me, don’t tell me
  4. Thursday: Tell me, don’t show me
  5. Friday: Focus on those nitty gritty details

Read mre for details about winning a free Worderella critique at the end of this week!

41 thoughts on “Put that Shitty First Draft Away

  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!

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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!

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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? πŸ™‚

    Like

  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)

    Like

  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)

    Like

  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!

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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!

    Like

  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!

    Like

  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!

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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? πŸ™‚

    Like

  17. 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.

    Like

  18. 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.

    Like

  19. 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!

    Like

  20. 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.

    Like

  21. 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.

    Like

  22. 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!

    Like

  23. 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? πŸ™‚

    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. πŸ˜›

    Like

  24. 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? πŸ™‚

    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. πŸ˜›

    Like

  25. 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. πŸ™‚

    Like

  26. 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. πŸ™‚

    Like

  27. 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. πŸ™‚

    Like

  28. 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. πŸ™‚

    Like

  29. 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!

    Like

  30. 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!

    Like

  31. 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

    Like

  32. 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

    Like

  33. 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.

    Like

  34. 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.

    Like

  35. 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!

    Like

  36. 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!

    Like

  37. 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.

    Like

  38. 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.

    Like

Comments are closed.