First Drafts Are Always Rough

I talk to and hear from aspiring writers who have ideas and dreams but are afraid – afraid they can’t do it, that their idea won’t be good enough. So they don’t start. These folks are usually perfectionists who feel that if they can’t produce a perfect product, they might as well not even try.

Here’s where being a teacher before I became a writer really comes in handy: all first drafts are rough! I have brilliant students. Really. But even the best and brightest turn in first drafts that need work. And I can spot the areas where they need work – that’s my job. If they take time to listen to me, to make the corrections I suggest, their papers are inevitably better. Second (and third and fourth…) drafts are ALWAYS better than the first.

The first time I got editorial notes from my publisher, I was overwhelmed: 14 pages of notes. 14!! I am NOT a perfectionist, so my first instinct was to delete the email and forget it. That’s too much work!! And it’s all detail stuff. I hate details!

But I thought of my students. I thought of all the notes I leave on their papers, suggestions to make them better. Just like it’s my job to help them improve as writers, it is my editors’ job to help me improve as a writer. And my editors are phenomenal at their job. They are experts at what makes a story good, what is beneficial and what is not. So I printed the notes, took out my highlighter and dug into them. As I read, I saw how right they were. Parts of my story had holes. Some of my characters were dull. My math was wrong. So I went into the manuscript, combed through it and fixed those problems.

When my husband and I were attending language school in Costa Rica, one of our teachers told us, “You have to make a million mistakes before you become fluent in Spanish. So start making your million.” He said that to free us from the fear that we will sound stupid (we did) or make mistakes (I once offered a guy a beer when I meant to offer him cherries). Everyone makes mistakes. Expect it – don’t avoid it. It is as true for writing as it was for language learning.

So start writing! Leave the red and green squigglies there. You can come back to them later. Just keep writing, keep working. Get that first draft done. Sure, it’ll be a mess. They always are! But make that mess. You – and others – can clean it up later. But don’t let fear of failure keep you from writing. You may have a book that I need to read! So get to it! Start making your million.

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