A common thread when it comes to writing is that your first draft of a novel, story, whatever it is, is not going to be very good. It just isn’t. This is double the case when you are a first-time writer. It’s going to be a massive idea dump that you’ll sort out later.
I know this. I have heard it plenty of times. But it wasn’t until I started NaNoWriMo this year that I really understood and appreciated it.
I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I “won” in that I reached the 50,000-word goal and finished my novel. You’d never know it though. I have nothing that said I completed it. I have nothing that says that I was even involved. I also don’t have that first draft.
I hated everything about that experience.
When my draft was finished, I couldn’t stand to look at it. It was garbage. The story I had written, the one I had been so passionate about, died at the end of that November. I submitted the word count, reached my goal, and deleted the entire thing.
It was like it had never happened.
This year was starting out the same way.
It hadn’t even been a full week before I started having doubts. Where was the confidence? Where were the ideas I had jotted down? Why did they seem like garbage now that I was putting digital pen to digital paper?
During a writing sprint break, I went over to Reddit to clear my head. I saw this post, and for whatever reason it really, finally, made sense.
Your first draft is you dumping the puzzle pieces on the table. Occasionally you’ll spot a piece of a butterfly, the corner of a flower, a glimpse of the sun. More often than not, though, you’re staring at patches of blue or swathes of green. Once the puzzle is assembled it’ll be a beautiful scene, but what you’re looking at now is a hot mess.
In the second draft, you start to pull out the corners, assemble the borders. You begin to fill in the void with some of the blues and the greens, and the scene starts to take shape. You find some pieces your sister mixed in from another puzzle set and you toss those aside. You note a few others missing and search the floor and between the couch cushions, adding those to the mix. With time and effort, the puzzle takes shape. But not in your first draft.
Your first draft is simply getting those pieces onto the table. Don’t expect it to be beautiful or even cohesive, and don’t be discouraged when it isn’t fridge-worthy. You’re giving yourself the tools to craft something spectacular, not writing the Odyssey in one go.
So just write.
It was true. It was no different than having an idea and writing it down to flesh out later. Only in NaNoWriMo, those ideas were fifty thousand words long. Get the thing done, then clean it up and put lipstick on that pig later. I embraced the fact that it wasn’t going to be pretty in the first draft. Maybe not even the second draft. But there was no way to improve if there was no draft at all.
So just write.