Your First Draft Will Usually Suck

Adjusting to changes in life is always a challenge, but nowadays I try to enjoy it as much as I can. This hasn’t always been the case, as my close friends and family can attest. The reason I mention this is because I started a new LTO two weeks ago, and I’m still playing catch-up to get my ducks in a row. I would usually be at least caught up by now, but I’m teaching at an alternative school, which is a totally different demon than a regular school – especially because I have students working at various stages of every senior English course in the Ontario curriculum. That means a fair bit of organization and prep for me, which naturally translates into less writing time – at least for now.

I have managed to get some things done, though, including my initial editing process for the first draft of my novel. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Today’s lesson, fellow writers: in most cases, your first draft is going to suck. Don’t worry about it, because that’s what editing is for. Case and point the fourth chapter in my novel, which I was editing last weekend. Being purposefully vague, Chapter 4 introduces two of my novel’s major characters and escorts them to a meeting that launches their particular plot arc. When I initially wrote this first encounter, I thought the scene was good, but not great, and was satisfied with leaving it until the editing stage. Reading the chapter again last weekend, I realized that most of the chapter was absolute shit. Cliched in parts, hackneyed in others, and boring in the rest.

This has been my attitude toward about half of my novel so far – which is 100% fine. The first draft, especially a draft written quickly as part of NaNoWriMo, is simply to get your initial skeleton down on paper so that you have something to work with. It’s not meant to be gold; few people have minds that can churn out continual brilliance for two or three hundred pages consistently. The gold is supposed to emerge when you edit, after you’ve had time to consider your story and come up with some different ideas. Editing lets you play around until your story becomes exactly what it’s supposed to be, which is what has been happening with my novel.

Granted, I’m only on my second draft, so odds are when I come back and edit again I’ll make a bunch of other changes and find other aspects of my story that suck. That, too, is part of the process that we writers need to accept.

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