At some point along every writer’s journey they are exposed to the method by why which most writers begin crafting their masterpieces. That’s right…I’m talking about the shitty first draft.
The SFD isn’t a new concept and it’s not just something new writers grapple with. Even Ernest Hemmingway once said:
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemmingway
And Anne Lamott, who honestly and boldly unpacks her writing life for the rest of us to learn from had this to say about SFDs:
“All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” – Anne Lamott
So if shitty first drafts are such a common strategy for writers, why do so many of us struggle with writing something that doesn’t immediately read like Pulitzer Prize-winning prose?
I see this time and time again with writers I work with—they expect their first drafts to come out nearly perfect, in need of only the tiniest of tweaks, and lose confidence in themselves when what they first write doesn’t reflect the level of quality they expect.
To those writers, and to you, I say: EMBRACE THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT. Let it come out, mixed metaphors, passive voice, flowery language and all.
Because the goal of the shitty first draft isn’t to craft a masterpiece…it’s to get the raw material out of your head and into editable form.
I like the analogy of a sculptor gathering clay. An artist has to begin with a pile of clay before they can scrape and chip away at the shapeless form to create their art. The same goes for writers. Once the words are out, in whatever form they originally come forth, you can edit, revise, and refine until you’re left with the best possible version of your content.
If you’re ready to begin writing your book or story, I encourage you to befriend the shitty first draft. Why? Because doing so will help you:
- Keep moving forward on your writing without your inner critic getting involved
- Write without judgment as you’ll know you can always go back and make the product better
- Actually complete a draft of your project (and isn’t that what we’re going for?)
And in case you’re having hard time getting on board, here are tips to nudge you forward:
Consider your SFD a brain dump—transferring the jumble of ideas and thoughts about your project that currently reside in your brain into a tangible form. Nothing more, nothing less.
Resist urge to go back and rework / edit what you wrote the day before. Many writers employ this strategy of rereading and tweaking previous brain dumps for a majority of their writing time and then barely inching forward on spitting out new content. As a result, they’re left with really solid beginnings of manuscripts and no finished work. Recapping where you left off before beginning to write is helpful, but spending time refining at this stage is not.
Let it flow, let it flow. Don’t focus on making it perfect now…allow the words to come out however they choose to. Remember, you’re not molding the clay yet. (Or if you prefer a Project Runway analogy, you’re at Mood shopping for supplies with an unlimited budget. You want to get back to the workroom with as much fabric, zippers, buttons, even glitter, as possible so anything you choose to make is possible.)
Don’t judge yourself or your writing. Better yet, adopt a hearty sense of humor, perhaps even awarding a worst sentence of the day.
Remember this: It’s SO much easier to rework a shitty draft first than it is to stare at a blank page. Beyond that, having a completed manuscript is a great motivator for putting in the hard work to revise and edit.
In my next post, I’ll write about how to handle writer’s block. (You know, just in case it happens to you.)