Writers’ Secrets 5: The Biggest Secret

Is that all first drafts are shit.

OK, that’s a bit of a sweeping generalisation (just a bit) but I know a lot of writers who’d say it’s true. It’s always true for me. Always. There might be some ‘lucky’ writers who can produce something good the first time round but it probably takes them a long time. One painstaking sentence after another. Like Flaubert. Personally, I’d rather rattle off something shit and get it done than spend days on one sentence.

In fact, that’s the only trick for writing a draft. Expect it to be shit and just write the thing. Everything can be fixed later.

A lot of writers say this is their favourite stage. I think it’s because there’s no pressure for it to be good. Editing can be tedious. All that endless fiddling to try to turn your shit into gold.

But you must know by now that I like to be different. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I enjoy writing the first draft – turning all those thoughts and ideas into an actual story with which you can work is fun. But sometimes it feels too much like hard work. There’s still some pressure – to write a story. To begin and end. Both can be tough. And then there’s the middle. Don’t even get me started on the middle.

So what is my favourite stage? That’s not important right now. I might come back to it later. I might not. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

I think I’ve strayed from the point of this post, though. So let’s get back on that.

The biggest secret is that what you read – the polished product – is very different from the first draft. Sometimes unrecognisable. Because, generally speaking, the first draft is shit. Most stories don’t get good until the nth draft. Nth being anything from 3rd to 33rd. Really. It can take that many.

Just think about that next time you read something by Dan Brown. It used to be much much worse. I know. It’s hard to believe. But it’s true.

Next week: the hard work begins – editing.


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