The First Draft: Bane of the Perfectionist Writer

If you're like me, you like to do things right the first time. Even if you're the only one who will read the first draft of your book, you can't help #editing as you go along.

You see the flaws and weaknesses in what you've just written, you hear them in your head, and you just have to fix them before you allow yourself to move on.

I feel you. Many of my clients are the same way, and I keep reminding them that there are reasons why the #firstdraft is also called "the shitty first draft" and "the vomit draft."

The first draft isn't for refining, it's for purging your ideas, getting them down on the paper or screen, to be sorted, cleaned, and polished later. If you were a potter, the first draft would be making the clammy glop of wet clay that you throw down on your wheel before shaping it into something even vaguely recognizable as a bowl or vase.

For perfectionists, the wet glop-making phase can take some time to slog through. There might be several false starts, but you have to start with something, however unformed and aesthetically unpleasant. I know; I've been there. In fact, I'm there right now. And not for the first time.

As an editor for more than 20 years now, it's extremely difficult for me to simply download and let #imperfections lie there, mocking me–yes, mocking!–with their... their...impertinent imperfectness.

Unfortunately, letting them lie there is the only way to make any progress. It's easy to stagnate, tweaking the same passage until you feel it's worthy of the finished book that so far only exists in your imagination. Even more unfortunately, if you allow yourself to get bogged down in trying to perfect pieces of a first draft, that finished #book will take longer and longer to appear, if it ever does.

You have to make the glop in order to have something to shape into art. Oh, there are helpful guidelines, of course. The glop has a recipe of sorts that you can follow to make sure that you're starting with quality material, but you have to accept that it will be glop before it can become something else. Finishing a first draft takes #discipline. It won't always be fun, but it can be freeing, and when we're free can we move forward.

As Anne Lamott said, "A shitty first draft, while not a thing of beauty, is a miracle of victory over nothingness, inertia, bad self-esteem. Secret? Butt in chair."