The First Draft Blues

As of today I’m declaring myself about half way done with writing the first draft of Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas: Regency Magic Book Two. I’ve made this declaration based on word count rather than plot because I have only a vague idea of the story at this point. A few things have started coming into focus: I sort of know how it will end, I know who the good guy is and who the bad, and I’ve got some cool spells worked out. Plus there’s the enchanted atlas, which is slowly revealing its secrets. Otherwise, every day when I sit down to write, I’m winging it, coaxing the story out from wherever it’s hidden in my mind, figuring out what the hell I’m writing.

But for a few weeks now, I have had the sinking feeling that my story is a great steaming pile of poo. Probably because it is. How could it be anything else? It’s a first draft! Yet as often as I have started new projects, I cannot seem to get beyond my desire for everything to come out perfectly formed from the moment I sit down at the computer until the moment I type “The end.” You know, like that scene in Shakespeare in Love when Shakespeare sat writing Romeo and Juliet in a fury of productive genius, inspired by his love for Viola de Lesseps. If only it were that easy, right?

It’s funny that I should torture myself with such ludicrous expectations. Before I left my fabulous acting career for my glamorous life of Pilates instruction and writing, I taught writing (and a few literature courses) at  UC Davis. With unbridled enthusiasm I used to encourage my students to write really crappy first drafts so that they could get the damn things done and then begin to revise them. Met with their blank, sometimes fearful, stares–I don’t think they had ever been given permission to do really crappy work and they didn’t know how to react–I would repeat myself. “Seriously, guys, just get it written. You can fix it later. That’s what the revision workshops are for,” I would say, doing my best to reassure them. “Tell your editor brain to take a few days off and just write!”

And yet, like a hypocrite, every day when I sit down to write, I find myself sinking into that self-judgy pit of despair that comes with allowing my editor mind to weasel her way into the drafting process. So I’ve decided to bring in a little help. Since I know that I am not alone in suffering these first draft blues, I’ve turned to other writers, compiling a list of quotations about first drafts that I find reassuring. I hope you do, too.

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” Anne Lamott

This is one of many helpful and reassuring nuggets from Bird by Bird. I read it a few weeks ago because of this Margaret Dashwood anxiety.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles.” Shannon Hale

I found this one on Twitter in another writer’s pictures. And I like it a lot.

“There is no great writing. Only great rewriting.” Justice Brandeis

My husband reminded me of this one the other day, which I thought was nice of him. He’s very comforting.

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” Jane Smiley

What more reassurance could I need?

Except maybe this one:

“The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway

Right to the point.

If anyone else has a favorite quotation about shitty first drafts, I’d love to hear it!

5 Comments

  1. Barb Klein

    Beth,
    I particularly liked the quote by Hemingway. I’m not sure any other quote could compare with its directness and simplicity. What a guy!

    Hang in there,
    Barb

    Reply
    1. beth (Post author)

      Hi Barb,

      I do, too! It sums the whole thing up!

      B

      Reply
  2. Roman Zyla

    Writing is a result of the function of applying trousers to chair.

    Reply
    1. beth (Post author)

      I love it!

      Reply
  3. Barb Klein

    That is a BIG part of gettin’ ‘er done!

    Reply

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