Why a Bad First Draft Is Not a Failure | The Blank Page

Have you ever finished writing something, set it aside, returned to it the next day … and realized it’s NOT GOOD??

The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.


Have you ever finished writing something, set it aside, returned to it the next day … and realized it’s NOT GOOD??

We all have. Sometimes when we write things, in the moment we’re convinced they’re near perfect. But they very rarely are.

Here’s why a not-so-great first draft isn’t a lost cause, waste of time, or a total failure.

All first drafts are awful. There are no exceptions. Why are first drafts never as good as the final product you see in bookstores? Because the literal definition of a draft is something incomplete. Unfinished. Unfinished things can very rarely be called “good.”

Just because the first round of something you’ve written isn’t great does not mean you’re a terrible writer, or that you have no future as a storyteller. It simply means you are a normal human being who isn’t going to do something anywhere near perfect on the first try.

This is why they call it a “first” draft. It’s not meant to be the final product. It’s going to need improvements. Rewrites. Edits upon edits upon edits. That’s how this process is supposed to work. A rough draft is intended to be exactly that. Rough. But as you tweak it, you gradually learn lessons that you’ll carry with you well into your next writing project and beyond.

The only way to learn to write better is to write badly. Writers are lifelong learners. But in the beginning stages of your journey, it’s more important than ever to learn through experience. Everything you write will have something to teach you. Yes — even the pieces of writing you aren’t particularly proud of.

“Bad” writing is how pretty much all of us start out. You don’t get better by looking at your writing and immediately shoving it into a drawer out of shame, though. You have to be willing to grow beyond it, to figure out through new words how to avoid repeating the things that made your previous writing less than stellar.

Calling something a ‘failure’ implies you did not try. And if you wrote an entire first draft of a story, you DID try. So you absolutely did not fail. Not even a little bit.

I suppose many of us are conditioned to treat any attempt at something that doesn’t yield the desired results as failures. But that’s really not how we should look at making any kind of art. If you try writing something or drawing something or recording something and it doesn’t turn out great, you don’t call it pointless. You decide what it is about that blog post or sketch or melody that isn’t working and try again. You do it a little better. Still not exactly what you want it to be? You do it again.

In writing, the only true way to fail is to never make the attempt in the first place.

As long as you’re putting in the effort and making it a point to improve, it counts. It will always count.

Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.


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4 thoughts on “Why a Bad First Draft Is Not a Failure | The Blank Page

  1. It took me a long time to realise why the reason the death in my story didn’t work. Redrafted it so many times. Redrafting is a great process all writers go through regardless of experience. Great post.

  2. I don’t think anyone should call anything they do a failure, because it is literally all part of a learning process. It is a shame that often people don’t realise this, and put themselves down when they shouldn’t.

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