The Curse of the First-Time Author: Ugly Drafts

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re a first-time author with an idea for a story, a book, an article, a blog post, and in your head it sounds perfect. All your ideas come to you with lightning speed. You’ve really hit on something!

Not wanting to let the idea get cold, you rush to type the brilliant sentences filling your brain. You write and write, only to discover that what came out on the page is awful — truly horrible — something a third grader would be ashamed of.

So what happened between the brilliant idea in your head and the clunky prose laying like road kill on your page?

Two words: FIRST DRAFT.

It’s the curse of the first-time author.

When you read a published book or article — especially one that’s beautifully written — it can be hard to believe the writing wasn’t always so well put together. But if you keep in mind that the author probably went through multiple drafts before having something he felt was good enough to turn in to the publisher…

…and then the editorgot her hands on it and told him all sorts of ways his manuscript didn’t work and what he needed to do to get it up to speed…

…and then the revised manuscript was line-edited to take out all the clunky-ness and make it sing…

…and then it was turned over to a copy editor whose superior knowledge of where to put commas and other sorts of grammatical, syntactical, spelling and punctuation stuff made everything read correctly…

…what you end up with is something that at the very least is readable and at the very best is brilliant.

The important thing to keep in mind is this:

All first drafts are ugly.

The point is: you’ve got to give yourself permission to write an ugly draft. And not just to write it, but to roll around in it, warts and all — and then use it to write something better. The most experienced writers know that it is a process. They know that the ugly first draft that makes them cringe is really just a prince disguised as a frog. All it needs is belief by the writer in its potential, and some loving attention to help it blossom into its true loveliness.

So, the next time you feel like hitting the delete key on your draft, instead, be kind to it and yourself, knowing that what you really wanted to say is just a revision — or two or three — away.

3 comments on “The Curse of the First-Time Author: Ugly Drafts

  • Hi Diane! Awesome points you make here. Love the idea of coming to grips with giving yourself “permission” to write garbage. I have a questions – are we supposed to outline, or write what comes to mind for the first draft?

  • Thank you so much for this great advice! I was writing a story last november and I read over the whole thing and I detested it entirely, but this has inspired and encouraged me to go back and give the thing another try.

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