I took the title of this blog post from an essay by Anne Lamott, where she discusses the process that each writer must take. While all our processes are different, they all start with a “shitty” first draft. Of all the stories I’ve started and revised, maybe two have come out almost whole on a first try. Those experiences felt like miraculously being able to run a marathon when every other day you barely make a mile. It’s a miracle. Notice I didn’t make a simile there. It is not like a miracle. It is one.
Therefore, the “shitty” first draft is part of the process, so get used to it. Stephen King, Lee Smith, and even Alice Munro, all have written embarrassing first drafts. I don’t know about Cormac McCarthy. I think he probably writes his first drafts in blood or something.
Here are some ways to help you embrace the first draft:
1. Write without stopping. Don’t even stop for spell check or any little red lines under words. Just get it down.
2. Do not even begin to try and decide what your characters will do or not do in this stage. First drafts are the time to say YES! For some reason your character wants to drive to the gast station. Go! Now, all of a sudden, they want to call some guy named Ralph. Call him up! This is the time to let go.
3. Make the demons be quiet. Demons are the voices in your head that tell you “that’s no good” or “you don’t know how to spell that!” These are the mean editor/critic voices, and a first draft needs to be all creativity. Shut the door on those voices. Slam it even.
4. Save your first drafts, so you can compare how far you traveled from first to fiftieth draft, or however many it takes you. Sometimes it is easy to forget how or not realize the something you created from not much at all.
The weather is going to be beautiful today. Go outside and write two paragraphs on anything. It’s a first draft. There’s no such thing as a bad one.