From Shitty to Shiny: Master the Three F*cks of Writing Your First Draft

My first motorbike was a Honda VFR. Not the ideal bike for a beginner — It was big and clunky in traffic. But it was fast. The first time I took it onto a highway… oh boy! Going faster than 200 km/h was scary. The faster I rode, the slower reality seemed to move. In some miraculous way, the fear of speed disappeared and I could fully, sort of divinely, focus on the ride.

Buddy, your first draft will suck.

You are not God, I am not God, no writer is. Your first draft will likely be immature and incomplete, inconsistent. Probably shitty. It will take countless revisions, word-by-word corrections, self-editing, polishing, and proofreading.

Brace yourself. The suckingness of that first draft will shock you.

The good news is: The first shitty draft is not the final novel. The first draft is the account of your exploration of the plot, characters’ lives, of an idea. The first draft is like the journal of an explorer who is transferring her experience to paper.

Despite its crappiness, your first draft is a gold mine.

Write It Fast, That Shitty First Draft

I have been doing this, writing fast, since I wrote my first unfinished manuscript. I was 14. I didn’t plan. I didn’t decide it: Let me write fast… because of this and that. No. I had to write fast in a desperate attempt to escape from the unpleasant feelings that assailed me every time I would put the pen on the blank page.

Feelings like discomfort. Self-doubt. Fear.

I didn’t know it at the time, but word after word, I discovered that the fear of the blank page is actually normal — natural.

What I learned is that by writing my first draft fast, I could defeat those demons: discomfort, self-doubt, and fear.

So, write it fast, dear flash author! Finish it asap. Because, by writing fast, you will…

Become the Master of the Three “F*ck!”

Yes, I am a fan of Mark Manson

1 — F*ck fear!

The fear of failure, of not being good enough, of not being a real writer. Challenge these fears! In fact, let those fears be your guide. You know, Mikhail Bulgakov was not born Bulgakov — Writers are not born writers. Writers become writers by rewriting that first draft again and again and again. Your aim is not to try to write the masterpiece of the century on your first attempt. Your aim is just to keep writing, no matter what.

2 — F*ck perfection!

I’m a perfectionist and I do believe that you should aim at perfection. But the first draft is not the time for this. When you’re writing your first draft, forget style, rhythm, and accuracy. Forget perfection — F*ck perfection! Remember? The first draft represents your personal exploration of the unknown. The account of that experience. Therefore, turn off your inner critic! Put the editor inside you to sleep. Your initial draft is beyond good/bad, beyond any aesthetic judgment. Breathe in, breathe out and let the words come and go freely.

3 — F*ck time!

The point of fast-drafting is to get that exciting story-mess out of your head and down onto paper. Do it fast, before those demons, your inner editor, your inner judge, catch up with you. F*ck time! Write fast to never be out of the story.

Fast! — Word After Word

How do you do this?

Well, it is not rocket science.

Just write — One word at a time. Fast. Do not stop. Do not judge. Keep writing. It sounds simple because… guess what? It really is:

  • Write on paper
  • Remember: Your first draft is just a shitty summary of the novel
  • Write fast
  • Keep writing — No reading back
  • While you do this, build a flexible structure of your story
  • If your writing sucks, and it likely will, accept it
  • Keep writing until the end — No matter what

Your First Draft is ready

Done? That was fast! So, do we have a first draft? I bet it sucks, doesn’t it? But don’t despair, because…

Now it is the time to gently switch that inner editor on, to cherry pick every single word. Now it is the time for the rewriting phase — that painful quasi-infinite process during which you rewrite that first shitty draft from beginning to end, again and again, until… well, you throw up.

Now is the time to aim at perfection. 

The cover photo was taken during my road trip to Croatia.
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