Give Yourself the Gift of a First Draft
As writers, we talk a good game with our quotes on creativity.
We bandy the coolest-sounding advice phrases from successful authors and pretend we totally agree with them.
Unfortunately, this is almost always lip service. We agree with these successful authors…when it comes to anyone else’s manuscript. When it comes to our own manuscript, though…well, we’re just special, aren’t we?
One of my favorites is from Terry Pratchett, and it’s about the first draft.
“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I’m sure if you were having coffee with a writer friend right now, you’d thoroughly enjoy telling them this and nodding sagely.
It’s true, too. I hold it out like a safety blanket to many of my authors who are in the revision phase and hating every word they’ve already written. It’s OK. That first time through was for you. Now you get to go through and clean it up for everyone else.
Of course my writer’s id hated the idea on the first draft of this blog post. But it’s the truth. That first draft is for you, and it’s a gift.
Think about how hard it was to write the first few pages
I want you to do the following thought exercise: Remember the day you first got stuck writing your book.
For some writers, this comes a few pages in, after the first burst of euphoria and productivity. For others, the stuckness comes right on the heels of the idea: implementation in ANY form intimidates you. The stuckness happens for all of us.The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. - Terry Pratchett Click To Tweet
Sink into that feeling. Wallow in your frustration and despair. Remember how hard it was to write one stinking sentence? How you obliterated whole paragraphs after spending all day miserably pulling them forth from the maws of your uncooperative mind? Really FEEL this. SEE it. Sense it.
Now stop. Take a look at where you are today. You’ve got a first draft already written, and your only task is to make it better.
How do you feel now?
You’re not sitting in front of a blank page anymore
I’ve given a lot of writing advice about how to move past being stuck. Stopping at the jagged edge, for example. Aren’t you frustrated with that dangling thought, waiting for you to finish it? That’s why you’re leaving it hanging. Because it’s so annoying and tickling your brain so much, the next time you come back to your draft you easily pick up right where you left off.
The whole purpose of tactics like this is to keep you moving—keep you writing, keep your pen or your cursor going down the page, doing the hard work of creating your book.
And now here you are, with a full draft in front of you: you’ve given yourself the gift of a not-blank page.Your first draft might be an ugly duckling. But we all know how that ugly duckling turns out.… Click To Tweet
Yes, first drafts can be seriously ugly ducklings. As you read through your manuscript from start to finish, probably for the first time, you’ll catch yourself wincing more than once. You’ll notice unhelpful sentence constructions, repetitions, and logical gaps so wide they rival the Grand Canyon. You’ll wonder if a monkey stole your manuscript some week and ran off with a typewriter and brought it back to you. I guarantee you’ll spot at least a few verbal tics and wonder what in the heck you were thinking in at least one chapter.
You do remember what happens to the ugly duckling, though, right? He grows up to become a beautiful swan.
The Bottom Line: Be Thankful for your Ugly Duckling
We’re coming into the season of thankfulness and gift-giving for many people at this time of year. If you’ve completed a first draft this year, add it to your list of thanks. Remember the days when you had three paragraphs and a sketchy handful of notes, and realize what you’ve done now is handed yourself a wonderful, fancy-wrapped gift. You’ve assembled the tools and the puzzle pieces, and now you can actually build something.
If you haven’t completed a first draft this year, and you really want to, add it to your wish list for next year. You may be stuck now, but in a few months, you could have your own shiny box to open. No matter how ugly it starts, it always transforms. Because YOU transform it.
That’s your gift.
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