Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The First Draft of Anything is Shit - What????

"The first draft of anything is shit."
~Ernest Hemingway



Okay, Ernest and I are going to have words.


Okay, I can sort of see where the guy was coming from and after all, writer Ernest was pretty intense and if rumor has it a bit of a drunk (well, maybe a lot of a drunk). Perhaps his intensity and drinking  (and sadly his eventual suicidal inclinations) colored his opinion. Perhaps it truly was that way for him.


Here’s the thing. That statement can well be true many times. And, first written drafts usually DO need a lot of work, but then again there are times when perhaps the spelling, punctuation and technical stuff might be off and need some polish, but the underlying writing is pure gold or just darn good fun.

Yep, I said it. Sacrilege. We all keep hearing the first draft has to be awful, or bluntly put, shit. That it has to be worked and reworked and polished and polished some more.

But I’m here to tell you there are a couple of books along my illustrious trail that were written, checked over for that technical stuff and submitted to the publisher just that way. (I won’t tell you which ones, I’ll just let you guess – and you’ll probably be wrong.)

And, yes, they were bought by a major house.

And yes, they were published.

Did I have to do some additional tweaking of my writing once it reached the publisher’s editor and the galleys came back to me?

Yes, but it was pretty minimal.

Does that make me a genius? No. They were fun, fast fiction. Fast to write and fast to read.

Perhaps all ‘great literature’ has to be shit first, I can’t comment on that as so far I've written the fun stuff, not the 'great literature' stuff, but the point is, not every first draft written of a book or a script or a short story or whatever, is shit.


Not even close. Unless of course you’re among those who believe most of what’s being published is shit – then we have a whole new problem such as why if it began as shit it remained so throughout the editing process… but I won’t go there just now.

What I will say to writers is this. You can’t always be running around trying to figure out what you should do. You have to know some of that stuff inside you. (And, my apologies, but not everyone has a 'book inside'.) Oh, you can get some great advice, but not all ‘truisms’ about writing and writers are ‘true’. Not all rules are to be followed. Not all pearls of wisdom are truly wise.

And not all first writing drafts are shit. Might be total word shit. Might not be.

So you have to get in there, use your spell check, re-read for errors and punctuation glitches; get it right so a book editor will actually look at it or a reader won’t be turned off by the script’s many errors  and put yourself out there. Truth is, it all comes back to you, the writer.

And stop thinking of your first written draft as shit. It’s a beginning.


  1. I have heard so many spouted rules and then seen them broken by the "professionals." I agree with you. The writer should edited or not until he or she is satisfied with the way it sounds. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Spot on Peggy. Many writers can create a work that just needs polish on spelling and punctuation. It depends whether you'd prefer to spend your day writing or drinking. If Stephen King or my own favourites Dick Francis and Harlan Coben started making statements like that about their own first drafts it would be easier to believe. Some stories need a little polish here and there but these days the storyboard helps so many non-pansters get it right first time. Pantsters of course have the opportunity to change the flow as they're going becauset they're not working to a strict pattern. I'd say today's writers are every bit as good as yesterday's and perhaps more confident because of the help they have via spellchecks so can deliver a good product at the end.
    xxx Hugs xxx

  3. Excellent comments guys & thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi, Peggy. It's been a while since I've visited. Sorry about that. Thanks for the pep talk. You also cracked me up a bit with the language. :)
    I hope life is treating you well. *waves*



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