I don’t believe in crappy first drafts

Photo © MKiryakova | Dreamstime.com

I heard that advice again, the one intended to reassure writers who feel blocked: “Just write. Don’t worry if it’s any good. It’s only a first draft.”

It’s true that a person can get hung up on perfection to the point where the words won’t come, and they need to find a place where they don’t care as much about the exact words as much as getting the story out.

But you also need to get it right. I don’t believe in a “crappy first draft.”

It’s probably a side effect of working in a profession that is sometimes called “the first draft of history.” If the first draft is wrong, future historians will either be forever wrong or forever debating what really happened.

This probably sounds weird coming from someone who has written volumes on the theme “Write anything until you write something,” that is to say, keep your fingers moving, even if only nonsense comes out, to prime the pump until sensible words come out. That is an exercise to overcome inertia; here, I’m talking about once the prime is pumped and getting the story right the first time.

It doesn’t have to be award-winning prose, but it does have to be accurate, fair and true. “Just the facts, ma’am,” the fictional detective might say, or, “Just tell me what happened in your own words as best you can.”

The first draft should never be “crappy.” It should be “as best you can.” Some days a writer’s best may not be brilliant, but it always needs to be true.

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