The Process

Allowing Myself the First Draft O’Crap

Picture from rmay4 on photobucket

First of all, I am going to take this moment to say to my non-writerly followers: Today’s post is about writing. My writing. Which might bore you to death (the post, not my writing–I hope). If you’re here today for humorous parenting non-advice, or a silly Top 5 list. I’m sorry. This won’t be that. So I won’t be at all offended if you took the next ten minutes (or however long you spend on my page) to go shop online. Christmas is coming, you know. Or maybe you want to grab a candy bar from the vending machine at work instead. Or knit a sweater. Or pop in that Zumba DVD. Whatever. I’ll see ya Friday, m’kay? Have fun storming the castle!

Now that you’ve been warned.

I’m writing a book. A young adult novel. About teenagers. Who fall in love (or really serious like). But not in a stereotypical way. OK, so yes, probably in a stereotypical way. There aren’t that many ways to fall in love, peeps! But it’s me. My style. Full of great one-liners and humorous situations involving everyday scenarios.

If Anna and the French Kiss had an incestuous love child with Lola and the Boy Next Door (incestuous because both are by Stephanie Perkins…who is awesome) and that love child took place in a grocery store in a small town/suburb, you might have my book. Or–it’s Juno without the whole teen pregnancy situation (OK, so it’s probably nothing like Juno, which wouldn’t be Juno without the teen pregnancy thing).

At least, that’s how I envision it. My scenes and ideas all dance together in my head. Whirling and twirling, all sparkly and fun. Like a prom where the punch is spiked. But when I try to translate those scenes and ideas from my head onto my document, they go from whirly-twirly-sparkly-spiked prom to awkward homecoming with a bad velvet dress (shut up, you had one too).

I get this paralyzing fear that I will never write anything worth selling. That I’m a total crap writer. That there are thousands of others out there who sit down at their computers and tap out pure gold. On the very first try. And as I sit there paralyzed like that, my damn cursor just blinks. Mocking me. Write something. Write something. Write something.

But I can’t.

What really happens is: Delete. Delete. Delete. Which most of you other writers know is counterproductive on the first draft. I have to let this fear go. Remind myself that first drafts ARE crap. They just are. For a good majority of writers. And, really. You don’t spike the punch until after you’ve gotten your hair, nails and make-up done. After the dress. And the shoes. And you’ve danced to all the cheesy songs first, thus the reason why the spiking is necessary. The whirly-twirly-ness comes after all of that. The sparkle comes after all the hard work. The finishing touch.

To end it with someone much wiser than me, I’ll turn to Anne Lamott:

“…The idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.”

(passage from Bird by Bird)


So. Here’s to drafts o’crap. And bad velvet dresses. And moving beyond this fear so I can finish my effing book already.

Happy Wednesday!


18 thoughts on “Allowing Myself the First Draft O’Crap

  1. Maybe I’m not qualified to comment on this subject, because I’m not a published author yet. But I intend for that to change in 2012. This is the year that I DO get published, because for the first time in my life, I’m going to take all the necessary steps to get published. Writing here on WP is part of my preparation to become a good enough writer to get published. Getting an editor and an agent is next, followed by identifying a market for my writing and aggressively going after it.

    But in reply to what you’ve written here, stop worrying about whether you’re good enough and go write your book! Yes, first drafts are awful for almost all writers, amateur as well as professional. But go ahead and write that awful first draft and then work on making it better for the second and third draft. You’ll never write a book; not even an unpublished manuscript – unless you can get past the fear that you’re not good enough, and fear of that ugly first draft.

    Excuse the long reply, but reading your post struck a nerve in me, because fear that I’m not good enough to be a published author has kept me from trying to become one for my entire life. No more! If I fail to get published, it won’t be for lack of trying.

    • Thanks, Chris! And of course you’re qualified to comment on this subject!! It’s exactly what I needed to hear. Because you’re right–I can’t make it better if I never write it in the first place.

      Here’s to 2012 being your year (and my year too 🙂 ).

      • YEAH!!! You ‘n me both! That’s the spirit!

        Hey, thanks for liking and commenting on my post, and for following my blog. I’ll try my best to keep you entertained and amused. 🙂 I’m here on WP to become a better writer, but I’m also here to have fun. Your blog is part of what makes WP fun for me.

  2. First off, how fantastic is Bird by Bird? Seriously, I had to read it for a class in college and I still love it.

    Secondly, I’m completely unqualified to comment on this since I’m not published or anything either. In the last 7 months, I’ve written 2 first drafts of YA novels. I’ve been thinking about both for a few years actually and this year I finally got the nerve to actually write them down. The first one I wrote over the summer and that came out at 60,000 words. The second one I started for NaNoWriMo and finally finished my first draft a few days ago at 65,000 words. And let me tell you, they both kind of SUCK. The first one not quite as much since I took more time, but the second one is almost unreadable in some places. But that’s okay!

    One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard was from Maureen Johnson – she says as writers, we need to give ourselves permission to suck. I’ve learned to embrace this. Would I love to be published someday? Heck yes, that’d be awesome, and I’m starting down that journey. But agent hunting and selling a story and all that fun stuff is step 857, and even though it’s hard, I don’t let myself even consider those parts until I get past step 1 – the sucky first draft. So chin up! Embrace the sucktitude! Keep blogging and tweeting and reading and most importantly WRITING! And watch Maureen’s video – you’ll see what I mean =)

    Good luck to you and happy writing! Maybe 2012 will be “the year” for all of us =)

    • Hey, lady!!

      Go you and your finished drafts!! Seriously, that’s awesome. This year I wrote 62K in one novel (was aiming to finish at 70K) when my hard drive died. In the end that one WAS bad. So bad I decided to trunk it rather than try to recover what I lost. And now I’m 40K into a new novel (out of an estimated 60K) and have learned my lesson in document back-up :). So…I’m getting there. But something about where I am right now just isn’t feeling right and I’m having a hard time mentally moving past what I think I need to fix, instead of just pushing forward.

      So, yes! I shall embrace the suckitude and move forward. Step 1.

      Bird by Bird is awesome. I had to read it in college as well. Of course, I had no idea back then what it would mean to me today :).

      Cheers to 2012!

  3. The writing on your blog is great.
    As you go on your draft, can you just save it (not delete) then go back to it and review for the salvageable and the trash later on?

    And how about just “stream of consciousness” ing to get you in your groove?

    • Aw, thank so much! I’m glad you enjoy it. Your suggestions are great, especially keeping the different versions. Who knows, something might work even if I initially thought it wouldn’t.

  4. I have been preparing my words for a coronation ball. Each word must be an acceptable jewel for the crown of the king. Which is why I have been known to only write 20 words in an hour. Sigh. I realize my perfectionism is causing a traffic jam of swirling glitter in my brain that just wants to dance it’s way out on paper, but can’t because one word is holding up a whole host of ideas. It’s gotta stop! I’m going to try to embrace prom with all the cheese and velvet, but it’s so hard!

    • That’s my problem too, Katie. I get stuck on this one little thing I can’t get just perfect the first time. If I could just let it go and move on, I can make it perfect later. It’s definitely what I need to work on for myself too.

  5. I do sometimes wonder if others are writing pure gold, but the thing about gold is that it gets refined…through fire. I’ve resigned myself to the many drafts plan. Thus, the first one won’t be publishing quality. I don’t think anyone’s is. I love this video about the stages of Writing a Novel by the way: I think you’re in the Reality stage. Meanwhile, I’m at the Euphoria moment of starting a book (which I’m sure will be a draft o’crap).

    • That video is awesome. And SO accurate. I’m totally in reality stage. LOL! Enjoy euphoria :).

      And I LOVE the gold analogy–it gets refined through fire. Perfect! Even diamonds start out as lumps of coal or something, don’t they?

  6. :shakes pom poms: You can do it Erin.

    Send that inner editor/critic on a trip! Start each new day in a new doc that prevents you from going back and editing if you need to. Or make it a challenge to only add words, not deleting, as you re-read your work from the previous day. These have worked for me 🙂

    Julie’s gold analogy is brilliant! I think I’m going to print that out and stick it to the ol’ monitor.

  7. I didn’t know you were a writer too! Well..I guess it could be because I just came across your blog…but that’s great.

    Don’t worry Erin because doubt is part of the whole process ..or something. One is to “just write” like how Nike proclaims that one needs to “just do it”. Whatever it is that you are going through, rationally we know every writer, everyone goes through it…but I understand that fear too. Its not just for writing..I even feel the fear / doubts with my blog post! hehe!

    I’m sure you’ll do great! 🙂

  8. Pingback: D-O-N-E. Done. (Ish) « Erin Writes

  9. 🙂 I am glad to have found this blog through happyhippierose. I can relate to your fear of writing crap. I am currently writing a children’s book about a very particular issue, in hopes that it will help kids and the adults around them understand and cope. I need all the advice on the book making process I can get. If you know of any publishers that specialize in such a thing please do share! Also, have you heard good or bad about self-publishing services online? Anywho, I had the baaaaaad velvet dress. My parents were tight with the money and my mom was too busy to alter it, so I used….gasp….a stapler…to cinch up the sides…thought I was so clever (desperate)…but one eagle-eyed girl spotted my shiny lies in the ladies room. I fricking hated high school.

    • I once used duct tape to “hem” pants. Sometimes you have to be resourceful, right? 🙂

      As for publishing advice, I’m afraid I’m not that far in the process yet to be of much use to you. I would suggest checking out the website, it’s a writer’s forum with TONS of advice. There is a whole board dedicated to information on publishers, agents, self-publishing, etc. There’s also a great section with warnings on scams and things to be wary of. I’d definitely check it out! Writer’s Digest is another great resource.

      Good luck on your journey to publication!

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