My Shitty First Draft

Anne Lamott would be proud. She sang the benefits of writing a shitty first draft in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Well, I did it, Anne. Oh, yes, I did!

I’m going through my first draft now and it ain’t pretty.

I consolidated some characters part way through, so I have extras at the beginning. I’m worried my main character isn’t personable enough. There are dropped subplots and others I need to add, now that I know how the story ends. Inconsistencies. Lots of overwriting to purge. So on, and so forth, ad nauseum.

By the end of each day I want to throw it all in a pile and set fire to it.

Yet, I keep coming back.

Sometimes because my miserly self can’t let go of all the time, energy, dreams, and money it represents. Sometimes because I get better ideas as I sort through the muck. Also because, dammit, I’m going to finish this thing.

I keep hoping it shows I’m tenacious – tenacity is cool, ya know – but I sometimes wonder if it just proves I’m a masochist. (If it is, there’s a whole lot of others in it with me!)

Anyway, in case you’re interested, in Holly Lisle’s revision course we look at what we have to begin with, going through the elements one by one – theme, plot, character, setting, etc. What works and doesn’t work. What lives up to the promises we made in the story.

But we don’t change anything yet.

Crazy, right? I know! I feel like one of those slathering scary-fast movie zombies whose just caught the scent of fresh meat.

But others who’ve gone through the course say once you learn the process it goes quicker for subsequent projects. Some even find themselves remembering principles of the course as they write their next first drafts.

Lordy, I can’t wait to get to that point.

The thing is, with making decisions at this end, the chances are good I’ll only have to do one final type-in at the end. That sounds better than some writers I’ve heard of who go through draft after draft, each one revising a little more and a little more. After cogitating on that for a while, I decided if I did that it would probably discourage me to the point of giving up and torchin’ the thing.

So, I’ll stick with Holly. I trust her.

If you don’t mind, please tell me just how terrible your first draft was so I don’t feel so alone! 


11 comments on “My Shitty First Draft

  1. I tore up the first book I wrote. The last one I did 3 versions of and still don’t know which one worked. Well, no that’s not right, but they all had the same bits in them and the one I published has barely sold. So, what do I know?


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      Barb, you know more than you give yourself credit for. I’m in awe of your prolific blog writing – I can’t keep up! It’s just my opinion, but all those wonderful short bits should somehow translate for a small newspaper or regional or online magazine. I don’t know what that sort of thing is like in the UK, but it may be something to consider.


  2. My first draft was shitty too. But, I was proud of it because it was something I’d finished. Don’t beat yourself up because 90% of writers don’t finish the first draft.

    In fact, I think I’ve read somewhere that first drafts are supposed to be shitty. You muck the shit out of that and end up with something brilliant. I believe my first draft took me 3 months to write and was 230 pages. When I started rewriting, I basically started my story over. I only kept a few things here and there. After months of revisions (it took me a year to rewrite), I now have something I love. It is 518 pages and completely different from what I started with. I took out some characters, added some in, and completely changed the ending. Now I’m cleaning it up and working on my pitch.


  3. curiocat says:

    You can be proud because you’ve come this far. Hang in there, sweetie!


  4. Kana Tyler says:

    tenacity vs. masochism… That could be a whole post right there! 😉


  5. I could always finish a story, whatever length, but it never ended up as good as the story in my head, so my disappointment at my “success at completing a story” was never a success as such because I was not happy with the result.

    That all changed when I put my stories through Holly’s HTRYN course. My concept of “success” of a first draft changed. I finally understood that the first draft is getting the idea down on paper, however rough it turned out.

    The second step, HTRYN, is polishing the first draft so it is successful in telling a story that others read and like.

    Believe me, finishing Holly’s process of editing, for plot, char arcs, conflicts, sub-conflicts, and the type-in, is realy liberating, because I finally got the story I had in my head and I felt “successful” having completed my project.

    Keep going, and don’t skip any steps! 🙂 It will be so worth it when you finish your type-in and it is ready for beta readers.


  6. […] My Shitty First Draft ( Share the love:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags: Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, writing Permalink […]


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