A while back, I wrote about the legendary writing myth, “your first novel will suck.” As I explain in the article, I strongly disagree with this claim. However, when it comes to first drafts, I must admit, I do believe that most of them suck.
Okay, perhaps “suck” is a rather strong word. Let’s say, your first draft will probably not be good or will probably need serious improvement.
Don’t worry! You and your novel will both be fine. In fact, if you are concerned that the first draft of your novel will be abysmal, relax! The bad news is: yes, it probably will be bad. But, there is plenty of good news to outweigh the bad. For instance:
Of course, as artists, we hate to think that any of our art is terrible. And maybe none of it is. However, if you’re going to do some bad writing, wouldn’t you rather get it all out of the way with the first draft so the horror doesn’t seep into your finished manuscript?
No One Has to See It
You don’t have to show anyone your first draft. Ever. You can thoroughly revise and rewrite every piece of it before it ever sees the light of day (assuming you want it to). No one ever has to know that you changed a character’s name three times on accident and you misused the various forms of “there,” “their,” and “they’re” at every available opportunity.
You Can Edit, Revise, and Rewrite
You can change your first draft in any way you want. And you know what? You can change it as many times as you want! There are no limits to re-drafting, so just get your story out on the page and worry about polishing it later.
You Can Hire/Acquire Professional Help
If you are a terrible editor or proofreader, that’s okay. There are plenty of resources out there where you can find professional copy editors, developmental editors, and proofreaders to help you polish your manuscript. Similarly, if you are picked up by a traditional publisher, they will provide you with professionals to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So, just do your personal best and then get the pros to do the rest!
Don’t take it personally. If you ask 100 career writers about their first drafts, I guarantee 99 of them would not have overwhelmingly positive things to say about them. Like Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, most writers create “shitty first drafts.” Remember: your favorite novel started off as a shitty first draft; it’s okay if your great novel does, too.
At Least You Wrote a Novel
Sure, your first draft may not be the best version of your novel. However, when you type that final punctuation mark, you can officially say that you have, in fact, written a novel. This is a lifetime goal for millions of people, and the sheer fact that you achieved this feat should not be taken lightly. Take some time to enjoy the moment and be proud of yourself!
The Worst Part is Over
Once you have that first draft written, the brunt of your work is done. Your novel is planned and written. Now, all you have to do is polish it up (possibly with the help of others) and jump on whichever publishing highway you choose. And yes, while independent publishing takes a lot of work and waiting for a traditional publishing deal can be excruciating — you should already know those steps. So, take your novel draft and get to them (or bury it in a drawer/hard drive, your choice)!
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. For whatever reason, there is a culture of artistic suffering in the writing community (which is worth a whole other post). Therefore, when a writer can say that she bled, sweated, and cried over her craft, and finally emerged on the other side of the word processor/journal with a completed first draft, there’s pride in that. Writing a terrible first draft (and especially turning it into something great) is a weird rite of passage in this community. Own your progress and wear your first draft like a badge of honor. Again, you’ve done more than many people already!
Seriously, writer friends, just keep calm and keep writing. If you wind up with a miraculously brilliant first draft, good for you! Revise it anyway and make it even better! If you end up with a first draft that leaves something to be desired, don’t sweat it! Just remember, your first draft is the first step toward a great novel and a great writing career. And, as always with writer problems, you’re never alone!
What silver linings do you find in your first drafts? Are your first drafts masterpieces or messes? Share your experiences below!