Your First Draft Is a Terrible Giant Mess. Love It Anyway.

Embrace the mess.

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At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to not only return to my unfinished NaNoWriMo draft, but also to finish writing it.

But then I made the mistake of rereading everything I had written over a very rushed month and a half. And to be honest, I’ve barely looked at it since.

Not because I don’t love the story or even because I don’t intend to go back and finish it someday. But because what I saw on those pages was enough of a mess to turn me off to the project for a long time.

I realized as I read that in order to tell a better story, I would eventually need to rewrite most of what I’d worked so hard to write the first time. I even wanted to change the main character/narrator’s name and switch from a single-perspective, first-person point of view to a multi-perspective narrative. Which really would mean basically redoing everything.

Excuse, excuse, excuse. I felt overwhelmed, and I let the excuses get to me, and yes. I walked away. Temporarily.

The problem was that I let myself forget how normal it is to be imperfect, especially in this context. If only we could see more famous writers’ first drafts! They’re all absolutely terrible because that’s literally the purpose of first drafts. They are garbage. They give you a pile of trash to turn into something better.

We cannot let ourselves forget that the things we create are always going to turn out flawed on the first try. If you look down at what you’ve made and it’s a mess and you’re not sure you can salvage any of it, good. That means you’re going to have to think deeper about whether or not your story is everything you want it to be yet — and decide whether or not you’re going to do something about it.

Love what you have made despite everything that might be “wrong” with it. If you really take a second to think about it, you might step back and realize that what you are holding is something YOU MADE. You did that. You wrote a thing. You started with an empty page and turned it into a story.

You must really care about this thing you created. Otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered creating it … or finishing it. You probably wouldn’t even still be thinking about it now.

And if you care that much, you probably care enough to try working with it some more. Extracting the parts that are good and making them really good. Improving the parts that are okay. Removing some parts that are great but don’t belong, and many parts that never should have been there at all.

It’s a reconstruction. A mess turned into slightly less of a mess.

This is why writers who only love having written never make it far. You also have to love the process. Every part of it, not just the fun parts. You have to be willing to write something, not feel great about it, do it all over again, and feel just a little better about your work.

This is what you signed up for. Can you learn to make the most of even the least pleasant moments?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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10 thoughts on “Your First Draft Is a Terrible Giant Mess. Love It Anyway.

  1. Thanks for your honesty. Yes, sometimes my first draft looks even worse than garbage. Fortunately, I never throw them away in the trash. I think I had a case of writer’s insomnia. I slept poorly because the ending to my short story kept creeping into my thoughts.

  2. This sounds like the Nano story (my first!) that I wrote this year. My is it uuuuugly! But I appreciate your encouragements, and I’m trying to focus on the bones of the story- there’s good in there…somewhere lol!

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