Better Writing: Your first draft will be awful. Get over it.

Mar 12, 2019 | Better Writing

“All first drafts are crap.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was one of the great writers of all time. He won the 1954 Nobel Prize, “for his mastery of the art of the narrative.” The Nobel Committee mentioned The Old Man and The Sea, but they could have chosen many other Hemingway works. But even Hemingway didn’t expect to do a good first draft.

You Only Think You Can Because You Haven’t Tried It

I don’t know a single person who’s written a book or a few months’ worth of blog posts who thinks they can write a great first draft. In fact, the only people who think they can do it are people who’ve never tried before.

The Problem with Thinking You Can Write A Great First Draft

I’ve worked with many people who were writing their first book. Most of them thought they could produce a good first draft. They were all wrong. When I started writing, I thought I could write a great first draft. I was wrong, too.

If you think you can write a good first draft, and you struggle to produce something decent, the natural human reaction is to dig in and try harder. Sometimes that works, but in this case, it’s counterproductive.

Trying to Write a Great First Draft is Like Trying to Spitshine a Sneaker

Trying to write a great first draft is counterproductive for two reasons. All that trying harder sucks up time when you could be moving the book project forward. And all that trying harder is frustrating. It’s so frustrating that it’s enough to make some potential authors quit writing altogether.

What the First Draft Is Really For

The goal of a first draft is not to produce a piece of great writing. It’s to get as much stuff out of your head and into a file or onto a page as possible. When you do that, you can get down to the real work of writing.

The real work of writing is rewriting. You can’t start the real work until you get those thoughts out of your head, so the goal of a first draft is to do that very thing.

When you’ve got everything out of your head, you can see different ways to organize your material. You discover gaps in your knowledge. You surprise yourself with thoughts and phrases that popped out of your head.

Now you can do what all great writers do. Rewrite and revise and repeat.

Bottom Line

Don’t waste your time trying to write a great first draft. Get everything out of your head and into a file or onto a page. Then you can get down to the real work of writing, which is rewriting and revising.

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