Musing Upon Shitty First Drafts

Day Twenty One: 37,279 of 50,000 words

I write fast. And messy. It’s how I’ve learned to do things.

It’s because at heart I’m a classic overthinker; if I don’t get words on the page before I have a chance to analyze what I’m doing, it doesn’t happen. Perfectionism is the middle name of my little editor gremlins. We talked about perfection earlier in this blog, so I won’t backtrack until I have something new to say on that matter…

But my message is this – get it down on the page fast and dirty. Fix it later.

This is what is commonly called a Shitty First Draft.

I know we talk about this a lot as writers. It’s such easy advice to dispense. We tell each other that Earnest Hemingway himself said it: “First drafts are always shit.”

But really, don’t we all think we don’t really need that advice? I mean, surely each individual, if they’re diligent enough and go slowly enough, and are gifted enough, it will all be genius from the start. Right?

We’ve all had that feeling of sitting down and writing a perfect or near-perfect short story. The Muse was in a good mood that day, and gave you a gift. Shouldn’t all writing be like that?

Well, I’m not published. Yet. But if you even wonder how I do this – keep up the word count, write sometimes 10,000 words in a day – if you want to do something similar, you’ve got to let go of your standards and write.

It took me seven NaNoWriMos to figure it out. Last year in the middle of skipping around and following the tangled ball of yarn that my plot was becoming like a kitten on crack-laced catnip, I realized:

Wait… This is how things get written. You fucking write them.

That’s the moment I decided to try the theory out for realz, and this 12 novels project was born.

(As a side note, muses are fickle bitches. One day they help you spin gold from dust motes. The next day they’re cheating on you with the no-talent hack down the hall.)

So you can be assured, each month as I post my word count, it’s all one big Shitty First Draft. Sometimes, I get a few lines of prose I treasure, or a bit of dialogue that makes me squirm in glee. Other times I skip scenes I don’t feel like writing all together, leaving a note like

***Something bad happens. Damon wakes up in a warehouse.***

Because I don’t have time or words to slog through a scene I’m not ready for. Hell, it may not be a pivotal scene anyway. What is necessary is the next chapter, the one that tells what he does after things fall apart, when he has to fight off the vampires and find his way, barefoot and bleeding, back home.

It’s all one big Shitty First Draft.

Stories meander, they give me characters I have to chase around because they change constantly, I write scenes I won’t ever use at all – but every time I write, shitty or not, something valuable, priceless is happening.

Because as if by magic, my sucking is sucking less.

And I’m getting a confidence that when I sit to write – muse or not – I will get more story down on the page. Even if it’s a pained 500 words and I walk away feeling like a zombie and things like that last post happen.

(And I’ll always post my zombie posts, just so you guys know I’m not doing this like it’s pie. It’s not. It’s work.)

So now, my friends. Get your word processors up, put your inner editors to bed, drink a few shots of liquor…

And write shit. Absolute total garbage. You have my blessing.

And if you happen to write something beautiful, creative, imaginative and instantly publishable?

I suppose we can forgive you.


No matter what, it’ll get you where you’re aching to go. I promise.

12 thoughts on “Musing Upon Shitty First Drafts

  1. Ain’t it the truth … I couldn’t begin to say how much time I’ve wasted not writing anything … because I was working on something perfect. It seems self-evident, I guess, but it is a hard thing to actually accept. It’s the same as not wanting to mess up a story – you start out perfect. And I leave a trail of story corpses in my wake ….

    1. Story corpses…

      Does that mean resurrected and edited stories are zombies?

      And if they are, are the stories we never write (because we want them to be perfect) vampires because they suck away our life blood?

      1. “The Stories We Never Write” – sounds like a good title. But I can’t make up my mind whether they’re vampires or leeches. They would like to be vampires – it’s a better image – and they’re the ones that demand to be perfect …. But calling them leeches minimizes the role of my cowardice in not writing them.

    2. Amen. I vacillate in terms of otaivmtion when it comes to sitting down everyday and writing and one day skipped makes it much easier to skip the next day and the next until you’re left with two months of blank pages behind you.I think the headspace of creative and commercial writers is shared, though, in that both write because they HAVE to (whether it’s because the rent needs to be paid or because the demons need to be exorcised), which makes it a compulsion. What’s different is the weight that hangs from each to feed yourself or hit a hard deadline provides different otaivmtion than working towards ironing out personal issues or delighting others as fiction has delighted you. Writing through pain and disinterest is easier when there are wolves on your heels.And I agree the best way to do both is to do it every day and treat both like they’re jobs so that you write like your life depends on it

  2. This. Exactly this.

    I have never, ever, gotten to the end of anything I was trying to write without remembering this.

    It’s okay to screw it up. That’s what revisions are for. Revisions are not evil conformists carving their expectations into your Sacred Untouchable Vision. They’re you, remembering the beautiful, awe-inspiring, terrifying, wonderful thing you had envisioned at the start. They’re you, making the technical aspects of showing that beauty to other people actually work. They’re you, putting the art in artisan, and making your work shine.

    But you’ll never get there, if you don’t have something to start with.

    Thank you for reminding me.

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