Positive Writer

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Why Your First Draft Is NOT Crap

This is a short excerpt from Writer’s Doubt, adapted for use as a stand-alone blog post.

Your first draft sucks! It’s utter and complete crap.

I am willing to bet every writer on God’s green earth has been told this at some point and somehow we come to believe and even tell ourselves this, too, as if it is okay without ever considering the true mental and emotional impact.

I refuse to join the chorus. I do not agree.

Allow me to share something very important with you and it took me too long to realize it myself.

Your first draft is not crap no matter how far from perfect is.

(Click to Tweet)

I regret the many first drafts I’ve thrown away because I’ll never be able to get them back. An idea is wonderful, but an idea written down is heaven. As a draft, it becomes a physical, tangible manifestation you can refer to and build on.

However, throwing away an idea, even metaphorically, is painful and wasteful.

Your dream draft.

I think all of us have woken from dreams and wished we had written them down, even if just half-hazardly, and even if only to remember them later.

How many dreams have you forgotten, but somehow the feeling that they were wonderful still stays with you?

What if you had written about a dream while it was fresh in your mind and what if that became your first draft?

What would you refer to it as? I somehow doubt it would be, crap!

Think about it a moment, consider how that word makes you feel. What emotional value does it provide? Even with the best of intentions we cannot override our true feelings, no matter how much we think we can.

Your first draft matters the most.

Every book, every article and every blog post for that matter starts off with a first draft. A first draft is when you first pen an idea in some coherent form, it’s when you’ve assembled ideas from notes collected on napkins and scraps of paper or from your voice recorder. And you all know how painstaking that process is.

A first draft is perhaps the most important step to completing your project. It’s special. A first draft is what matters more than any other draft, even more important than your final draft!

No one’s ever gotten to the last without the first. Well, at least I haven’t.

The last thing in the world that your first draft is – is crap!

I’m writing this because too many have come to believe that when they sit down and write their first draft that they are doing something that isn’t as important as it is. I mean, how important can crap be?

Why does this matter? Because, it’s a state of mind. 

Don’t throw away another seed before it has the opportunity to grow into something beautiful. Don’t throw away the memory of another glorious dream before it can be realized. No. You don’t want to do that!

A secret to becoming productive.

Here’s a secret that I’ve figured out the hard way:

If you do not think constructively about what you are doing, you will not make the necessary mental and emotional investment it takes to see it through to fruition.

Once I figured that out I started becoming prolific and lowered my risk of falling into writer’s block, and thankfully, I am rarely ever blocked now.

Your state of mind has a huge influence on your confidence and your productivity.

I’ve learned how special the first draft is.

Today, when I sit down and write my first draft I have the greatest respect for it. It won’t be perfect and it certainly will not be polished, but without the first draft there’s nothing!

The first draft is your start.

And if you’re a writer you know how difficult it is to simply get started, to put words on the blank page! So if you’ve actually taken the time to sit down and start writing, why in the world would you call it something deprecating, even if metaphorically?

Here’s an idea, call it what it really is!

Your first draft is the most important. Without it, you won’t have one to shape, build on and finally, publish!(Click Here to tweet that, if you like.)

That’s not what I would call crap. Would you? Think about it.

From a psychological standpoint, the term’s overall implication is of rejection and writers often use it to lessen the impact of said rejection, but what it doesn’t do is inspire, encourage and motivate you about the work still to be done.

It’s not the reverse psychology you might hope it is.

Does anyone really sit down and say to themselves they are going to create crap? How energized would that make you feel? (Okay, this was kind of funny when I read it back, but I am leaving it.)

A polished turd is still a…

If you want to feel better about your imperfect draft, then acknowledge that it is incomplete and know you will shape and polish it. That will take work and time, and it won’t always be fun, but who wants to put that kind of effort into crap? Hardly.

So what if you stop calling it that and instead call it something which represents it’s true value? Would that change your perspective and increase the emotional value you place in your work?

Let’s be honest here, just for a moment, between you and me, in the real world what do you do with crap?

I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with slush.

You’re too good for that and your first draft is, too! No matter how imperfect it might be and no matter how much work must still be done.

With the sincerest respect and admiration for Ernest Hemingway and Anne Lamott, I prefer this quote:

The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist.

– Michael Lee (Tweet This Quote)

Go, write your first draft. It’s important.

This post is an adapted excerpt from Writer’s Doubt, and if you’d like to read the rest in its entirety, get yourself a copy, available here.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

  • I agree with you Bryan. Without those first drafts, we can never have polished work. In my first writing class the instructor told us to never throw away a piece of work. It can always be reworked and revised. I’ve had several “drafts” that I put away for months and even years which I later reworked and published.

    • Brilliant, Joan! I am glad you kept them. I used to throw away drafts because I thought they were “crap”, at first it was helpful and released me, but after a while when you start to believe something is “crap”, well, then you start flushing! 🙂  reverse psychology can eventually backfire. Oops.

  • annepeterson

    I had a different take on why she said it was “crap.” I thought her analogy was simply to help writers realize the first one is something they need to work through to get to the better stuff. Too often writers will stop even before they start. Her statement gave me freedom to just get it out there, then go to work.

    • Hi Anne, 

      I love her and I love her book, it is very helpful.

      I agree we do need to work through our drafts to improve them and to get to better stuff. Reverse psychology is usually intended to be used as a trigger, but when used too much to feel better about something not being good enough yet, it can backfire. For me the Michael Lee quote works better 🙂

  • StephanieGlidden

    Oh man, this is hilarious and thought provoking all at once! Do you know how many drafts I have sitting there, ideas that came but then just sit there in the draft abyss. You inspire to polish up a few of those turds and make them diamonds! 

    • The great news Stephanie, is that you still have those drafts!! I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Sharon Hoff

    Perhaps terminology that lies somewhere between that which is flushable and that which is final.  How about your first draft is a “brain dump?”  This supports the intrinsic value of the worth of the first try and yet will give the perfectionists permission to not bring forth a complete and polished opus on the first try (my ADHD daughter spent two and a half hours on a simple 15 minute business letter writing assignment – she developed a full backstory for herself with family details, experience, motivation, etc. in her head before she wrote those few grueling sentences that barely covered half a page). The word “brain” gives the sense of something that you wouldn’t want to throw away.  The word “dump” connotes letting it all go, expecting an acceptable degree of mess and disorganization.

    (Speaking of brain dumps, I wrote this comment as a draft in a wordprocessing program to make sure I got it “right” because I dislike the pressure I feel when trying to make a thoughtful comment in a textbox that I could accidentally send before it’s ready)

    • That’s very interesting, Sharon! Thank you for sharing with us. 2 hours for someone with ADHD actually is more like 15 minutes for them. Your daughter is very lucky to have you as her Mother who understands her writing needs.

  • Valerie

    I teach that it is raw material.

  • Christasterken

    This is the most encouraging piece I’ve read about writing in a long time Bryan. Thank you so very much

  • Sometimes I write down ideas or a few sentences of something that I’m thinking about writing and then leave it until I am inspired or have a better idea of what I want to say.  Then I will go back to those first drafts when I’m ready to finish/improve them.  Although, sometimes when I go back and look at them I think “what was I thinking?”  No matter how hard you polish it…

    • I get you, Heather. Sometimes it is the idea that matters and at the time we write something we are making sure we don’t forget it. Then when the time is right we’ll know what to do with it, but not until then. Frustrating though, I know.

  • Anastacia Maness

    I like it, Bryan! This is definitely a perfect post for Positive Writer. I really like your positive outlook on writing first drafts.

  • Sally

    I am in the process of moving and I came across a notebook that I had written a few words in about ten years ago and I couldn’t believe it!  I am an artist not a writer and I read what I had written and truly thought someone else had written it.  It was brilliant and I still can’t believe the words came out of my head and on to paper.  I threw  it away and now wish I hadn’t!  I hate to do practice sketches of a subject before the original because I always think they are crap and a waste of time but I am now going to do more sketches and save them with a new perspective of  seeing how much I have improved my skill over the years.  Thank you Bryan!

    • I am glad you found the notebook, Sally!

      You know, I’m also happy you took this post about writing and are relating it to your sketches, because I agree, you should keep them and give them the credit they deserve as well. Good for you!

  • beacuzz

    thank you. I am write a group paper in statistics and you hepled convince me to continue. thank you again

  • admin

    A little late to the party here, perhaps, but that’s how MY ADHD works…day late and a nickel short all the time! 
    Loved the post, Bryan – I couldn’t agree more. Whatever comes out of our mind and imagination first is precious – it’s that “raw material” as has been said here. Sometimes it does need to be polished and shined, but sometimes there are those gems that come out exactly the way we meant (even if just a phrase) and that impulse, that raw emotion, is exactly what needed to be said. Tossing a “draft” would be to toss something wonderful because we somehow feel like a “draft” has to be “not good yet.” I disagree with that thinking.

  • admin

    A little late to the party here, perhaps, but that’s how MY ADHD works…day late and a nickel short all the time!

    Loved the post, Bryan – I couldn’t agree more. Whatever comes out of our mind and imagination first is precious – it’s that “raw material” as has been said here. Sometimes it does need to be polished and shined, but sometimes there are those gems that come out exactly the way we meant (even if just a phrase) and that impulse, that raw emotion, is exactly what needed to be said. Tossing a “draft” would be to toss something wonderful because we somehow feel like a “draft” has to be “not good yet.” I disagree with that thinking.

    • Hi TMOM, sorry, tried to edit the ‘admin’ name from your comment, but ended up deleting a sentence, but you can always show up anytime you like! I agree with you.

  • Jilly Prather-Nehls

    Thank you Bryan! I downloaded the ebook and read it in one shot. Now it’s on my desktop so I can go back to it anytime I’m reeling with needing to be perfect. That need is so counter-productive, impossible, and causes problems that are painful.

    Balance Books Ghostrwiting Services

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  • I needed this!

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  • I was in a writer’s group where the first draft was referred to as a “barf.” We were to “throw up” on paper, then dig through for the chunks we wanted to keep. Eew!

    I’m not a curator of barf, so those were always thrown out. Consequently, I deleted what was probably the best chapter in a novel I was working on…they called it a “barf,” and I believed them. Never again!

    Now I think of my first draft as a palette of ideas from which I will paint the word picture that’s waiting to be created. I may change the “colors” of the ideas from which I will work, but no artist throws away his or her palette!

    Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

    Praising Jesus – the Master Creator!

  • Ashley

    This is another good Article. First drafts or even thoughts are so important, however I think we are so used to being “humble” and negative towards our work.

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  • Love this! Writing a first draft is so powerful because it really reflects the courage of the writer and the creative force that brought the writing into the world.

  • Srivilasica

    Well… If you write ‘You’re’ first draft sucks, it needs editing. 😀

    first draft sucks! It’s utter and complete crap. – See more at:

  • Ann Marie Thomas

    I always say that writing is art and craft. Your first draft is art – your creative outpouring, the product of your inspiration. Then comes the craft when you work on it to hone it to the best you can make it.

  • Marianne Kesler

    What about calling them baby steps? Think of a baby’s first toddling efforts and how we feel about them … we applaud them, record them, make videos of them, and bronze their shoes! The effect is so stunning to the child ~ that they just keep taking more and more!! http://www.mariannekesler.com

  • Kashish Kaur

    I totally agree with the post. Months ago, I wrote my first draft which was just a kidnapping scene, kept on thinking about the girl who was kidnapped and who kidnapped her and now I have a whole plot on which I am working.
    So, I can proudly say, “First draft became my first step towards a long-dreamed-achievement.”

    • Awesome, Kashish!

      • Kashish Kaur

        Inspirations keep on doing there work. Speaking of inspirations your posts are too good. Thanks and yeah, congrats for your book’s success.

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Hello Bryan

    I left a comment on your Facebook page, but your masterpiece deserves several rounds of applause.

    “The first draft is your start.

    And if you’re a writer you know how difficult it is to simply get started, to put words on the blank page! So if you’ve actually taken the time to sit down and start writing, why in the world would you call it something deprecating, even if metaphorically?”

    I actually had tears in my eyes after reading this. It goes unsaid that I have subscribed to your blog AND bought your book. #Muaah


    • You’re so kind, Krithika, thank you! Please let me know how you enjoyed the book when you’re done reading it. I look forward to hearing from you.

      Keep writing and keep making a difference! 🙂

  • Mudpie411

    My first drafts are my babies…revisions are teenagers, and hopefully the finished product graduates college.

  • Thank you very much for this posting! I feel so much better about my first drafts. I hated the idea of calling them sh*tty and barf and whatever else. The imagery of those words are so revolting. I do understand the idea behind the terms… just get the words out already.

    For all the false starts and blathering going on to get started, there are so many nuggets in a first draft… it’s more like panning for the gold.

    I’m already signed up for your newsletters and emails. Enjoy each of them. But this posting is truly a keeper!

    Thanks again…

  • Yeah, many writers think that their first draft is crap and I think it’s because we are unable to accept the idea of us being ‘imperfect’ even if it’s our first draft. By calling it sh*tty or whatever, we are trying to reassure ourself that we are imperfect and our first draft is not something to be cherished.

    Just like you said, Bryan, the first draft is the most important. Crap or not – it doesn’t matter because we gave birth to it.

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  • Douglas R Kiba

    Thank God someone finally said this!
    And Gosh how could I be 2 years late to read this post??

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  • Maxwell

    Actually my first draft was pretty much crap, though I kept it and it formed the skeleton of the revamp version of the book. So it does still have value in that regards and after reading your article, and though I knew it already deep down, I might have to give it more love then I do. Instead of mocking it, it is after all the first draft.

    In this first finished book and other books I am working on, I have had so many characters developed so much that looking back at how flat or different their paths are from the original does amuse me.

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  • G.M. Bostart

    The first draft is indeed most important. That doesn’t make it not crap in a stylistic manner. I guess that’s what all writers who believe this are actually talking about. You want to get the idea out in the first draft. That means you will not pay that much attention to style and word use. You can deal with those in the editing phase.

    Even more, I feel motivated with the concept of a crappy first draft. I know that all writers, newbies or veterans, don’t just pop-out a book from the first try. I feel encouraged to get the idea out and polish it afterwards with this in mind.

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  • Chris da only one.

    Never be afraid of making a mistake on the first draft. It’s ok because you will fix it and make it better then before when time to.

  • Eleanor mulder

    I don’t anyone really thinks their first draft is a complete pile of poo, or we wouldn’t have written it. I do think that distance is so important tho. What can seem awesome after a month, is just plain silly after a year 🙂

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