What If Your First Draft DOESN’T Suck?

Hear me out on this one. There’s a lot of advice out there (I’ve given it myself) about being okay with writing a shitty first draft, and I basically agree with the premise. Too many new writers get paralyzed with the expectation that they should be able to sit down and barf out a flawless masterpiece, when in actuality good stuff usually requires a TON of editing in the post-first-draft stages.

However. As someone who has been writing and editing my shit for 20 years now, I must say that, more and more, when I get lost in the weeds in a writing project, when I get so far down a theoretical rabbit hole I can’t remember what the fuck my story is even supposed to be about, when I get to that point where I feel like the more I write the worse it gets… it’s the first draft I return to for clues about the real essence of what it is I’m trying to write. And it never, ever lets me down.

Your first draft has magic in it.

That initial spark, that thread of a story, that excitement you had that made you want to start this project… it’s living somewhere inside your first draft, and it’s precious as fuck. And it’s a sad truth that, sometimes, the more you edit, the more that spark gets lost. So you may need to return to your first draft to find it again.

I’m not saying don’t edit. I’m not saying that your first draft is a genius work of art that’s ready to publish. I’m saying there’s SOMETHING in there which is true and magical and important, and in the long run it may do you a disservice to think of it as “shitty,” crappy, useless, garbage, etc. You may miss out on what it has to offer you.

Things you might discover in your first draft that can get your project back on track (and/or get you excited again about a piece that’s started to make you cranky):

  • A particular character you love who you decided “wasn’t important” and cut from your story
  • An important emotion that’s being conveyed
  • A unique rhythm or style that got lost after too much editing
  • A fun story thread
  • An atmosphere, place, or description that excites you
  • A general feeling in the writing or the story
  • A sense of why you wanted to write this in the first place

What do you all think? Has this happened to you? Do you ever go back to your first draft and realize it’s NOT garbage? That it has something special you want to keep and develop throughout your editing process?