Continuing with Writer’s Digest ‘s 10 writing rules, as you can see at the top of this blog, I changed Rule 4 from “Write Shitty First Drafts” in order to make our blog title a little less, well, shitty.
Author and Pulitzer Prize nominee John Smolens recommends following this rule as long as you never let anyone else read your first draft. Writing is a lonely occupation, Smolens observes. You’re on your own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Writing a first draft, he says, lets you “see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do before you discover what you can do. And with revision and a little patience, no one will ever know that your first draft existed.”
Providing the opposing view, fiction writer and teacher Nancy Kress rebels in much the same way I did—against the word “shitty.” She does more or less agree with the rule’s intent of advising writers to power through a first draft without regard to how much may need to be fixed as you get farther into your story. “Relax and let it flow,” she says. “Trust that your voice, imagination and sense of character will be present from the first paragraph on. Then, in the second draft, sure, you can a) rewrite everything that doesn’t fit your final concept, b) change any word choices that need refining and c) research details you neglected while you were so caught up in writing this exciting tale. A mess can be fixed. Shit is just waste. And a first draft is never wasted.”
On this rule, really the two panel members agree; Kress just quibbles with the terminology. And I agree as well. Getting yourself to sit down and write is hard enough. Expecting the first draft to be usable will serve only to make you procrastinate writing your memoir—perhaps forever. Have no fear with that first draft, because you’ll change it and polish it. Once you have something in writing, the tweaking comes more easily.