Letting Out the Shi*ty First Draft

JordanA Writer's Guide to Persistence, Writing. Practice.

There’s just nothing like fiction to really turn me on. Woah, I’m not talking sexy-like! I mean, as a creative type, fiction is where my synapses fire fastest, the foreign land I set sail for like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, lost in my own unique country.

It just so happens I’ve been writing almost exclusively non-fiction for about a year straight. Two books (Both forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books next year), essays, and blog posts. This logical writing requires a different part of my brain, one that knows how to tie a tie, and can pull off a suit—a sober and clear-headed part of my brain that strangely takes twice as much of my brain power to muster. Fiction writing, on the other hand, is like rolling down hills, laughing gleefully. Like happy bright colors and glitter confetti.

So now, at last, with the biggest deadlines behind me, the voices whispering a new novel in my ear are getting louder and louder, ready for translation. I’ve been taking notes. Lots of notes. Jotting down any and all ideas, building excitement, flexing these stiff muscles of creativity. Guess what’s happening?

I’m pretty sure I suck.

Now wait. This is not your opportunity to pump up my ego. This is simply my way of admitting: it happens to me, too. Ideas are grandest on the perfect, untarnished canvas of our minds. There, everything still fresh and glimmering, the story exists in its baby state, and how can you feel anything but love and adoration for something so small and beautiful?

You start writing it down, that’s how.

And in the moment between perfect idea generation and shitty first drafting, all your big hopes and dreams crash and burn.

And your ego lies anyway; it’s like a tough love coach that goads to you to produce more and work a little harder because, if left to your own devices, you might just stay there on the floor, picking cat hair off the old Hershey’s kiss you found while you were down there.

So this is my reminder to you, coming from one who is going through it herself, who has been here more times than I can count: You just have to pull yourself up off the floor, dust yourself off, and write that crap anyway.

Because only words written, even shitty ones, can become stories. And only finished stories can become books.

Here are some tips for getting past the Sphinx of Despair and Discouragement in your writing life:

1. Talk Nicely. Make yourself a deal–until you finish an entire draft, you’re not allowed to talk negatively about it, or yourself or your writing skills. Nothing more than “I am doing my duty as a writer.”

2.  Team up. Arrange writing dates with a fellow writer. Misery loves company, as the saying goes–so band up, take your laptops to the library or the coffee shop, where you can alternate between fingers flying and groans of agony to one another. It’s always good to have a witness.

3.  Quote it. Take one of these awesome quotes about failure and tack it up where you’ll see it regularly:

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. ” ― Coco Chanel

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.

The Second Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat wth Martha Alderson is open for Registration at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015. Early bird rates go up in January!

Photo, “Overwhelmed in Light” by Dee Ashley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

JordanLetting Out the Shi*ty First Draft