Keep Writing: The Worst Draft

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The first draft of everything is shit.

Ernest Hemingway

I keep coming back to this issue, this subject, the first draft, probably because my own are such trainwrecks. I am always looking for advice from other authors about how to deal with first drafts, how to think and feel about first drafts. I am always relieved to learn that they struggle with their own, that they doubt, that their drafts are absolute trash, too, that they are shapeless voids into which tie and energy have been poured, and not returned. But, I always return to worrying, to anxiety, stress, anger, frustration and fear. What if I never make it as a writer? What if I can’t turn this thing into something?

And, why?

Have I been miseducated? Did no one pound into my head that I should expect nothing from a first draft other than a roug, misshapen manuscript and the psychological benefit of having written it?

Yes, they did. Kind of. 

No one explicitly told me that my first drafts were going to suck, that they simply weren’t going to be fit for public consumption. No, they told me the first drafts were for the writer and the subsequent drafts were for the reader. In my mind I saw the first draft, the one for the writer, clean, and orderly, overwritten by nature, ready to be trimmed into something incredible and commercial. I saw a novel, rough but recognizable as such, credible, readable, and respectable. But, what I’ve been getting, in reality, are “works” that most writers wouldn’t let anyone read, and I’m getting the impression that is how most first drafts come out, like raw clay – mushy, cold, and wet.

Ready for a potter who isn’t completely let down, frightened by the sight of it, and almost clueless about how to make it appealing.

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft…The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.

Joshua Wolf Shenk

It isn’t courage if you aren’t afraid. Afraid of what, I keep asking myself, and the image of my first draft fills my mind’s eye. 

So, I have to return to the mat, once more, to the eternal mental and creative struggle, to my incomplete draft, and ultimately my first draft, to face down and fight off whatever is keeping me from dealing with it, facing it, finishing it: my issues, my worries, my hesitation, my lack of confidence, lack of faith in the manuscript…in myself – and keep writing.

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