Monday, August 22, 2011

Shitty First Drafts

This post first published in 2008, but I thought it was worth a repeat for our new readers to enjoy.

Writing is a talent, a dream, an obsession, a release, a thrill, but it is also a craft. The words don't just magically appear on paper - all arranged at their finest. The words we love to read were painstakingly crafted by the author, paragraph by paragraph, line by line.

Anne Lamott, a wonderful writer describes the process in her book, Bird by Bird, this way: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts."

And further:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.”

What wonderful advice. No wonder her books are so good.

A book can go through as many drafts as necessary, and every author has his or her own method of getting to the finished manuscript. The following suggestions are not RULES. Do what works best for you.

The first draft - get the story down from beginning to end. Some people like to edit as they go, and if that works for you, great. Others, like Ms. Lamott, prefer to get the story down, then go back to edit, and I am in that camp, too. I may do a little editing of two or three pages, just to jump-start the writing the next day, but I don’t go to far back. Fine-tuning can sometimes be just an excuse to avoid going forward.

A hint I picked up a long time ago is to stop writing in the middle of a scene. That gives you something to work on right away the next time you sit down to write, and often the next scene will flow naturally out of the one you are working on.

More about the second draft when I post again. In the meantime, have fun playing with your characters.

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her web site.

Bookmark and Share


  1. I love Anne Lamott and I love Bird by Bird! That is where I first read about the way first drafts should be: shitty! Great re-post!

  2. Goes right along with Nora Roberts who said "I can't fix a blank page." One of my early crit group partners said, "Barf it up first, clean it up later."

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. I don't consider this quote from Lamott as advice so much as permission. What glorious freedom it allows! Writing itself is the journey that allows us those rare finds: the bits of coal that can be polished to brilliance. Thanks for the reminder, Marianne!

  4. beautiul an jus great!!!!!!!1 thanks for sharing!!

  5. I think this was one of the most important and hardest lessons for me to learn. It's okay to write a crappy first draft, the important thing is to write it and worry about the level of crap later.

  6. Great advice, Maryann! I'm going to send some of my writer clients here to read this and be inspired.

  7. Glad everyone has found the post helpful. I have read Bird by Bird so many times the pages are wearing out.

    And I love the Nora Robert's quote. Not too sure about the barf, though, Terry. I would like to think that while our first drafts are not stellar, they are a stop above vomit. LOL

  8. Right on, Maryann! We can get so bogged down with using the right word, right phrase, is there a comma or isn't there, that we might never get our first draft finished!

  9. I Really enjoyed your blog. I just bookmarked it. I am a regular visitor of your website I will share It with my friends .Thanks.

  10. Glad you stopped by SEO. Hope you find the blog helpful.

  11. I like sprint writing my first draft, type and type for 20 minutes and then stop for 5 minutes and then do it again.

    It's fun to edit the draft.

    Every Savage Can Reproduce

  12. Thanks for the timely reminder to embrace my writing process. I write a "shitty, but clean" first draft. Then I crack into it and revise revise revise.

    Painful. But every time I go through the book, it does get better!

  13. This is good advice. It's something I've done already, but it's worth repeating.

  14. Terry
    "Barf it up, clean it up later" may be one of the best writing quotes I've ever heard.

    Loved this post. It's nice to know an excellent author like Lamont says there are no rules and it's okay to find what works for you.

  15. That's a great tip, especially for newbies like me. Thanks for posting it again! It seems there's a second part, will you post it too? I tried to find it searching in your archive, but I wasn't successful. Congratulations for your work on the blog!

  16. Ceridwen, thanks for your kind words about the blog. So glad you and so many others have found it helpful. If I can find the second part of this in the archives I will post it, perhaps next month in the second half of the month.

  17. Any post that has 'shitty' in the title is okay by me. That said, the content was pretty good, too.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...