The First Draft of Anything is Shit

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Some of the best advice I ever got about writing was to give myself permission to write a terrible first draft. So this is my attempt to pass along that sound wisdom: Go ahead and make it really bad. Write as if no one will ever read it, no one will ever critique it, as if there is no such thing as good or bad writing, as if words on a page are the only thing that matter. Get out of your way and just write, write as if your life depended on it. Get something on that paper. Sit down at your desk or on your couch or at Dunkin Donuts – wherever you like to create your masterpieces and write something rotten. Actually say those words to yourself: “this is allowed, encouraged even, to be a ghastly mess.” Don’t judge yourself, don’t polish the prose, don’t edit your ideas, don’t hem and haw, don’t think about making any of it pretty!

I can assure you that all good literature was at one time an abysmal first draft. It probably only bore a slight resemblance to the finished product. My point is, write now – be brilliant later.

You will hopefully write twenty drafts, maybe more – the important thing is to get the first one under your belt. Once that initial draft is complete, you will gain momentum, insight, and clarity. The magic will happen when you’re three, four, nine drafts in. I wish I could tell my younger writer self all of this, because it would have saved a lot of heartache, and a whole heck of a lot of time fretting over that “first draft” – which I hereby rename – the “shit draft.”


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