This blog was featured on 08/31/2019
All Stories & Books Start with a Really Bad First Draft
Written by
Alissa Johnson
August 2019
Written by
Alissa Johnson
August 2019

* This post was originally published in December 2017. 


Do you ever get so frustrated with writing that you're tempted to quit whatever it is that you're working on?

I've been working with writers as a coach and leading writing challenges for a few years now, and I'm always reminded that there is a predictable flow to any writing experience. 

The first few days, week or start of a project writers are on Cloud 9. They're fresh, have a lot of enthusiasm, and they have fun testing out new writing tools because they're not working on the actual piece yet. The stakes are low. 

Enter Phase Two. Writers start to use those new tools to develop the first draft of a story or essay. The process is the same as before, but the stakes feel higher and writers get antsy. The more they write, the more they question their topic. Or get frustrated with the quality of their writing. Or wonder what the heck they're even writing about and how it will come together.

This stage is so predictable that I even see it in seasoned writers. Writing doesn't feel good, and it's so tempting to quit  because you can imagine the type of writing you want to create, and the first draft doesn't measure up. Not by a long shot.
But early drafts are never like final drafts. Even in my newspaper and feature writing, which takes a lot less work than short stories or essays, the first draft never looks like the last.

And if I didn't write the shitty first draft, I'd never arrive at the meaningful, award-winning stories and essays.

The trick (and challenge) of writing is that in order to get to the final draft, you have to write the crappy first draft. It's where you work through the unknowns. It's how you figure out what works and what doesn't work. It is the raw material you shape into something better.
The problem is that writers mistake their emotion as a true indicator of whether the process is working. BUT...

Doubt is not the voice of reason. The way you feel about your writing (frustrated, worried, uncertain) isn't an indication of whether the process is working. It's simply a reflection of your desire to do well. 


The way to write well is to keeping going. To remember that the first draft is called a shitty first draft for a reason--so you can write badly enough to write at all. If you really want to write, write through the frustration by giving yourself the assignment to write as badly as you can. Write as badly as you need to in order to write at all. 

Do you let yourself write badly? Let me know in the comments or on the WritingStrides Facebook page.

P.S. Ready for a writing breakthrough? Break free from writing rules that don't work and find your way with my FREE three-part series: Inside the Writers Mind. The first insight (and writing prompt) could be yours today.

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