Your First Draft Does Not Require Your Faith In It


A nice Twittery person asked me about low confidence during a writing day, and if I had any words of encouragement, and I answered there, but I feel like it deserves a special call-out here, too:

Your first draft does not require your faith in it.

A lack of confidence is a bummer, but a lack of confidence in yourself or the work is so accursedly common that I’m not sure I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t grapple with it from time to time. And if I did, I think that person is probably a sociopath. Or Pierce Brown. Handsome devil, that Pierce Brown. Maybe the actual devil? I present to you the evidence:

More research may be required.

Regardless, my point stands:

The work doesn’t need your confidence.

The work just needs the work.

What I mean is, if you can manage, push through. Recognize that we all have those days where we don’t believe in the thing we’re writing, but all it takes is to persevere and continue the effort. Your faith in it is invisible and illusory — words on a page are not ensorcelled by how much you believe in it. It’s not a fragile little sprite, it doesn’t require your clapping to come to life. Now, the caveat here is sometimes you still have to take a break and walk away — and that’s okay, too. Don’t walk away too long, but a short, non-permanent vacation from the work is super-cool, and sometimes essential. But then come back to it. Come back to the narrative and renew your effort.

Listen, some days where I’ve had the highest level of faith in what I was writing? The work wasn’t worth the keystrokes required. Sometimes the best days of writing actually result in the crappiest yield of quality words. Sometimes the worst, hardest, hardiest, most miserablest days make the best. Sometimes a bad day means bad words, and a good day means good words. You never know. All you can do, sometimes, is divorce the reality of words made from the unreality of author feels.

We are often the worst judges of our own work. Especially as we’re eyeballs deep in it. It’s like trying to figure out if you’re going to die while lost in the woods. You are or you aren’t; worrying about it isn’t gonna fix your problem. What will fix your problem is picking a direction and moving in it.

Just like writing.

Your first draft can be shit. That’s okay.

You always, always have a second draft if you need it.

And a third, a seventh, a seventh-seventh.

Your faith is not the keystone.

Your work, your thinking, your typey-typey writey-writey fingers?

That is what forms the backbone of the work.

Now go write, willya?

* * *

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

Indiebound / Amazon / B&N


34 responses to “Your First Draft Does Not Require Your Faith In It”

  1. I do want to add here, as a comment, that sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of confidence but rather, depression — in which case, WRITING THROUGH THE PAIN isn’t gonna help anybody, and you have to deal with the depression as depression. Just a note.

  2. Great post! Could not agree more. I’m not depressed, though. Just have days when writing flows like butter and others where it’s a painful slog. Sometimes, though, those days I slog through produce the best results.

  3. There has been a lot of twittering and blogery that has really hit the sweetspot as of late. Thank you for your timely blog post here. I know I’m one of millions, but if I even get a nasty email in response to a query about a book I’ve actually completed, it’ll be because authors like you care about the art, not just themselves, and encourage the rest of us to strive. Shoot for the moon, if you miss, at least you die somewhere between here and mars… or venus, suppose it depends where the moon is.

  4. Thank you Mr. C, I feel, you have a think box in your vocal chord, and that too comes out after lots of chewing.

  5. I really appreciate it when you write about writing. Your words in this post apply to anything in life, not just creative work. Some days runners have band runs. That doesn’t mean they’re bad runners or will not finish the marathon they’re training for. Some days painters can’t get one decent brush stroke on the canvas. Some days they are in ecstasy and the next they scrape all the paint away. I think most of us have days when we feel like we should just give up the whole writing shtick and get a real life, but I betcha that most of us just turn around and write about it anyway.

  6. I agree that sometimes you just have to slog through when you don’t feel like it. But I don’t know… If I’m blocked, there’s a reason for it. There has to be a coherent plan to what I’m doing, otherwise I end up with a useless mess I end up discarding anyway, and it’s just a big waste of time. For me, it’s somewhat like a chess game: the farther I can see ahead, the better off I am. Sometimes that requires more thinking than writing, although to much thinking can result in diminishing returns as well. Right now, I’m glad I put the extra effort into my first draft. Maybe it will pay off, maybe not (Disclaimer: I’m 90% through my first draft of my first book, so obviously I’m not speaking from as much experience as you.)

  7. I wrote a first draft of my novel and thought it was pretty good – not perfect of course, but not sludge.

    I posted it to Wattpad and nobody wanted to read it. I got maybe 20 people who read the whole thing, and no comments. Lots of people read the first chapter and didn’t read any further.

    Ever since then I’ve had absolutely no faith in my writing. I wanted to publish the work but now I’m wondering if that would be a waste of time because nobody wants to read it, even for free.

    So now what? I hate to discard the whole thing (I’ve got several stories written in that universe), but it’s hard to not be discouraged when you put your writing out there and can’t get a reaction.

    Oh well! Thanks for the article anyway, maybe it’ll kick-start me into taking another look.

    • fwiw I published what amounted to first drafts via the kindle platform. As far as I can tell, nobody but my sister has read most of them. I have a day job, so I don’t have to care if anyone buys the things. I just wanted to WRITE them. Since then I’ve been re-writing and re-writing, and new-writing and new-writing, and I’m getting better.

      if I have a point, it’s that – based on my experience – there is no guaranteed outcome from publishing, which could mean no good outcome but also no bad outcome. Publish it, who cares? The worst that can happen is nobody reads it. That’s not a bad outcome, really, as it is certainly no worse than the guaranteed outcome from NOT publishing.

      Go for it 🙂

  8. When I scrolled down to the picture of Pierce Brown, I said “Oh, Jesus.” Out loud. Because that guy is too handsome. I mean, not to handsome-shame, but oof. Very handsome.

    As always, your blog hits the meat of my matter. I will write the next draft after dinner (well, after several dinners, because this is a novel in progress, and is messy and large). Thank you.

  9. I slogged on through tiredness to halfway through the book – and then, all unsuspecting, I fell through not one, not two, but pretty well three plot holes. (Flails, plummets, screams, keeps plummeting, stops screaming and starts wondering what to do.)
    The Caped Gooseberry suggested I try to make them cancel each other out. I am not sure if this is possible, or if I will end up with some kind of Klein bottle novel. Still, there’s only one way to find out: typey-typey writey-writey fingers, as you say.

  10. I’m glad you’ve broached this subject – as so many people have asked me about first drafts and that they have ‘tried to write a book/s, but I just can’t because the first draft is so shitty! So, I quit and don’t want to try again!’ (yes, you can hear a whine in there somewhere). I often tell them to try again and this time don’t judge themselves so harshly – and that it’s only words… they’re not being graded on it.

    I used to be hard on myself for what I wrote, then I started doing the Flash Fiction Fridays… and well, I started having some serious fun. 😛

    Um… are you going to start them up again? They’re fun. 🙂

  11. “It’s like trying to figure out if you’re going to die while lost in the woods. You are or you aren’t; worrying about it isn’t gonna fix your problem. What will fix your problem is picking a direction and moving in it.” Best summary of the writing process ever! Thank you. 🙂

  12. Yep. I was taught that the first draft is the time to write like hell. In this case, it means to write quickly, furiously, and don’t lose momentum. (Though the writing sometimes does turn out to be as if from hell, in terms of quality.) Overwrite in that first draft, get every idea — even the ones you’re unsure about — out and on the page. (Screen, I mean.)

    Even if the draft is too long, loaded with garbage, or not what you originally imagined it would be, the thing is this: now you have something to work with. So, now you’re REwriting, rather than writing, or worse, pretending to write, say, staring at a blank screen.

    The other valuable part of this approach is that, with all of your ideas on the page, Even if you’re pretty unsure if a scene or chapter will make it to the final, at least you’ve taken it from a thought to something articulated and existing in writing. It’s much easier to edit or cut something than it is to try to remember that one idea that you came up with two months ago but now can’t remember.

  13. Ensorcelled? What? *runs to thesaurus* *damn. Not in this edition* *turns to Google* *ah, there it is* ensorcelled: from ensorcel: to enchant or fascinate. WOTD!.

  14. The phrase I use (quite a lot, actually) is “The purpose of the first draft is to suck.” One should never worry if the first draft it bad. That is what it is there for. It frames the story. It defines the story. And it sucks. That is why we have revision. The job of revision is to remove the suck and leave only story behind.

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