on first drafts

Almost every famous author has something to say about the importance and the muckiness of first drafts.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”1

“Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.”2

“… you have to give yourself permission to suck, especially in the first draft. That’s what first drafts are for.”3

All of them are unequivocally right. A first draft exists solely for the author. It doesn’t matter if it’s full of plot holes, weak sentences, inconsistent pacing, or even atrocious misspellings. It just needs to exist.  

Five years ago, I was toying very, very superficially with the idea of writing a novel. I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case was), and I found myself stopping in frustration at every 200 words because, surprise surprise, it read like shit. I was scared to write that first draft to completion because I was just not able to get everything right from the start. I wondered how everybody else did it seemingly so easily, and that is when these quotes found their way into my Google searches. 

I promptly turned them into pretty wallpapers for my laptop and typed away with renewed vigour. This is a normal feeling. First drafts are terrible. Just finish it. Tell yourself the story. I spoke these words over and over and over, but I wasn’t ready then. The ‘normalcy’ of a 9 to 5 job called to me, and I told myself that I was just not cut out for writing. That it was more of a hobby.

I still wrote down hundreds of ideas in random notebooks over the years. I wrote every absurd detail I could remember from my dreams since dream-me was and is so much more creative than awake-me. It was a way for me to cling to a dream I longed for without putting in the effort or experience the disappointment of that first draft.

I know now that I really was not cut out for writing back then. I assumed my first draft would be perfect, only because I desperately needed it to be. It’s taken me a lot of time to unlearn that perfectionism. The kind that makes you give up before you even do anything because it’s better to not do something if you’re not going to be immediately excellent and successful at it. I’ve had to relearn how to do things and be okay with the result being, well, okay. 

Now, five years later, my first draft finally exists. 

P.S: Different first draft, by the way. Not the same one from back then. That was a serious mess, and it actually might be time to bin it.

1 Pratchett, Terry as quoted by @terryandrob. Twitter, 30 Jan. 2018, https://www.twitter.com/terryandrob/status/958463195211075584.
2 Smiley, Jane. “Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Facebook, 06 Apr. 2013, https://www.facebook.com/janesmileyauthor/photos/a.469613623124/10151613928258125/.
3 Green, John as quoted by Kuehnert, Stephanie. “First Drafts: John Green.” Rookie, 17 Oct. 2018, http://www.rookiemag.com/2015/09/first-drafts-john-green.

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