Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Impolite First Drafts

Photo by Tambako The Jaguar, via Flickr
Here’s a writing suggestion that you may find difficult, or you may find fun: don’t be polite. In fact, you don’t even need to be kind. Write what is not politically correct. Write what you really think, but never had the courage to say. You don’t have to read it aloud if you don’t want to. You don’t have to keep it. And you can always edit later. Courtesy and tact are important virtues, but if you invite them to have free reign while you are writing, they can paralyze you.

So in your first draft, swear, tell a dirty story, write down the words to the first racist chant you heard. Write what you really thought about your brother’s first girlfriend, or the time your mother forgot to wear her underpants, or where you were when you got your first period. Write a story about your Uncle Henry’s alcoholism, or the year your cousin Jennifer spent in prison, or about how your father cheated on his income taxes. Write about how you are secretly jealous of rich people, or how you really feel about your neighbors, or what you said to your sister’s boyfriend to make him break up with her.

Let it all hang out. And then read it to yourself. Edit out what you don’t want, and what might be hurtful to others, and throw that part away. Keep the rest. I promise you it will read fresher and truer than if you had edited as you wrote.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. This is an interesting take on writing, Kim. While never letting "it all hang out" quite to this extent, I have on occasion modified real experiences (mine an others) to bring reality to a storyline — with names changed "to protect the innocent" and the usual disclaimer stating that "any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental," of course.

  2. This is absolutely the best way to write. I'm tempted to call it the only way to write. A writer's job is to tell the truth, and this is the best way to get at it.

    (If my mother forgot to wear her underpants, how would I know?)

    1. When I was about 10, my friend's mother picked her up from school. The wind was blowing, and her skirt flew up above her head. No underpants! My friend shrieked "MOM!" in a horrified voice. She swears she was traumatized for years. I think she should have written this episode down somewhere so she could forget about it.

  3. That is good advice for life: journal the emotion, then let it go by hitting delete.

  4. The most important message I took from this is to just write, write, write, and worry about editing later. I have been doing that since I first read about "shitty first drafts" in Anne Lamott's wonderful book, Bird by Bird. Thanks for the reminder, Kim.

  5. I've been getting all PC in my books lately. Maybe I should go back to being the nasty woman I was when I started. Good advice to heed, Kim.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.