Embrace your Early Drafts, and your Suckosity

February 24, 2012

Last Sunday was the last day of the San Diego version of the Southern California Writers Conference. I got up bright and early, did the shower thang and got dressed…and noticed that I’d forgotten to rinse the conditioner out of my hair. Good grief. Never done that before. So, I reversed the dressing process and rinsed the *&&% conditioner out of my hair, cursing like a truck driver at my stupidity. I only had two glasses of wine at the banquet the previous night…

I tossed my soaking locks in a towel and got dressed. Again. It wasn’t until I started drying my hair that I noticed that my tank top was on backwards. Good LORD. I took off the sweater and turned the damn tank top around, then put the sweater back on. The locks were finally dried and I now looked like I hadn’t been dressed by a myopic pygmy loaded on sour mash. A quick brush of the pearly whites, and I was off to breakfast. Except I noticed that the toothpaste I’d dumped onto my toothbrush smelled like my face cream. *facepalm*

One could say that I was having a “first draft” morning.

And that’s what first drafts are – it’s the safe place where you make all your mistakes and “Oh hell, what was I thinking?” Obviously I wasn’t thinking at all Sunday morning, and neither should you when you’re writing the first draft of your manuscript.

Your first draft is YOU telling YOURSELF the story.

I see many writers who have an idea brewing in their melons but are scared witless to actually put fingers to keyboard because, as Michael Steven Gregory would put it, they are afraid to suck. You need to lean into your suckosity because our words don’t come directly from the hands of The Great Cosmic Muffin.

I praise any author who has the guts to write their first draft without worrying about their suck factor because they are doing something many talk about, which is, “Oh, you’re writing a book? I’d like to do that.” To that, I’d reply, “Yeah? Well get off your rusty dusty and do it.”

First drafts are the only way you can get from your head to cyber paper and work out the plot kinks and character development. When I’m doing a first draft, I don’t worry about pacing and flow because I know I’ll hit that up once I have a solid foundation in which to build upon. For now, I simply need to barf it out there. It may not make sense, but you’re basically purging your brain of all the teensy details that have been building dust bunnies in the crevices of your brain.

When to Collect Crits

Many writers would rather have their eyelashes plucked with a rusty pair of pliers than allow anyone to see first drafts because they feel it’s too early, too raw. Backing up that notion are some conferences that suggest authors only sign up for advanced readings if they have a finished draft. Fartbaggery, I say. Conference goers pay a pretty penny to attend, and I see no reason why editors and agents can’t offer advice that will help writers gain some perspective from a knowledgeable source.

Many writers are curious as to whether they actually have a solid plot and good characters. As raw as these early drafts are, we are able (or darn well should be) to see the diamond in the rough and advise accordingly. And this is one of the things I adore about the SCWConference. Their goal is to see writers “don’t suck as much as they did when you got here.” That’s a direct quote.

Molten Lava

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to spend time with my favorite peeps and see their faces glow and eyes light up over an observation I made regarding their writing. Early drafts are molten lava – they are easily changed and reshaped. Once the lava begins to cool, it really does feel like you’re killing your babies when you have to remove brilliant writing or scenes you loved, but have zilch to do with plot movement.

The trick is to treat your early drafts with great respect because they are the launching pad for something brilliant downstream. The problem I see is the writer who fails to recognize early drafts for what they are and, instead, decides to begin the query process or, after crushing rejections, take them to DIY.


Writers who appreciate the validity and importance of early drafts are peeps who will hopefully create a better end-product. As with anything, there are no guarantees. I’ve seen revision 20 on some works, and I knew they’d never see the light of day. The important thing is to have fun and be grateful that you had the guts to take the first step and write a book.

If your sole goal is to be published, you’ll probably spend some time being frustrated. If your goal is to write a story because it’s burning a hole in your lower intestines, then you’re acting instinctively and will be more apt to enjoy the journey. With each story we write, many probably belong under the bed, BUT the learning process is immeasurable.

Always remember that you learn something vital every time you write a new book. Nothing is ever wasted as long as you don’t keep yourself on Writer’s Island and attend a writer’s conference or are a part of a good critique group.

Never forget that your first drafts are your safe place where sucking is encouraged because as you refine and revise, you have nowhere to go but up.

Early drafts – don’t fear the necessary

September 29, 2010

“Argh! First draft? You think this is a first draft?”

The woman sitting across the table from me was distressed. It wasn’t her first draft. I knew that, but my point was that her advance submission of the first 20 pages READ like a very early draft.

And that’s ok. In fact, it’s great. Yah, you heard me – IT’S GREAT. Without those first drafts, where would we be? Remember, our first drafts are us telling us the story. And what is it about being all suicidal because our work doesn’t flow like buttuh and read like Hemingway? Ya think Hemmie got it right the first time he blew it out?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a scene or an idea rambling around the caverns of what masquerades as my brain only to get it down on cyber paper and discover that it doesn’t work. But I soldier on and barf it out. Why? Because I’m obviously still telling myself the story.

Our early drafts were never meant to be perfect, and we need to lean into our crapitude because we’re creating the launching pad for improvement. First drafts are building the foundation which consists of banging down the rebar and pouring the cement. As you refine each draft, let them cure – just like cement – so you can go back a couple weeks later and see the warts with fresh eyes. And you keep doing it until there’s nothing left to refine.

I told this to my bereft writer at the conference, and she still didn’t look convinced. This was her fourth passthrough and she expected perfection. Why? Is there some rule that says we have to be perfect after X number of drafts? Eh, that’s garbage thinking.

The truth is we rewrite until it’s finished. We listen to those who offer critique. We take our time, and we don’t rush the process. Yep, this takes a certain amount of maturity – something I see lacking in many writers – and experience. Few want to take that kind of time.

Writing is a process. We aren’t born with the ability to crank out a surefire winner. We need to learn writing fundamentals and then write a lot in order to develop our technique. Everyone is in such a hurry nowadays and they want their first books to hit store shelves while the cyber ink is still wet.

What happened to the idea of taking one’s time to learn the process and nurture one’s talents? Everyone wants immortality NOW without having to work for it – hello vanity publishing. Ugh, this drives me wonky because writers are missing the best part of the journey. The process is far more illuminating than the actual arrival. And that’s what our early drafts are – our process toward excellence (or so I hope!). Writers should embrace this experience, not be repelled by it.

We can’t rush the process, or we shouldn’t. Yet many do. And I see this with the queries I receive. Many, many writers have bought into the we want it now and we want it fast idiom, forgetting that you can’t force talent and marketability to meet your personal time clock.

I’ll say it again. Lean into your crapitude. Be willing to admit that your first drafts suck stale Twinkie cream. That doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t improve. It simply means you’re still on the road to excellence. Unless you’ve been given two weeks to live, what’s the rush?

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