Friday, June 25, 2010

The Crappy First Draft

There is a great deal of truth to the old adage of allowing yourself to write a crappy first draft. Anne Lamont has touted this method for years. Other, similar advice urges you to just get it down and go back and fix it later. Steven Pressfield has an amazing blog post called "Cover the Canvas" where he espouses this very thing.

Here's an excerpt from that post:

"Here’s my mantra for first drafts. Cover the canvas.

What that means is get something done from A to Z, no matter how imperfect. A first draft doesn’t have to be great; it doesn’t have to be pretty. It can have gaping holes; it can leave every “t” uncrossed and every “i” undotted. Momentum is everything in a first draft. Get it done. Cover the canvas."

Yesterday I struggled to get through a chapter of my novel. I didn't have all the specifics worked out yet, and it kept me from getting any writing done. In essence, I was strangling my momentum. But I realized that if I just wrote the words, "Figure this out later", I could keep writing. And write I did. I finished the chapter, one I'd been working on for too long, and was finally able to move the story forward.

It's something I've had to learn the hard way. There have been too many times when I've let myself stagnate on a particular scene because I don't have it all figured out yet. That just creates a snowball effect. When I get stuck on a scene, I stray from the manuscript, which leads to procrastination, which leads to not writing.

I have a feeling I will have to remind myself of this very advice in the future. Maybe I need to put a sticky note on my laptop, one that simply says, "Cover the canvas." or maybe, "Keep moving." Either one should do the trick.


  1. "In essence, I was strangling my momentum." That describes it perfectly. I'm guilty, too, probably even more so.

    Sticky note is good. I'm thinking tattooing a reminder on the back of my hands would be even better.

  2. I have to fight the notion to get every word perfect every time I sit down to write. I need to try harder.

  3. Rebecca - I like the tattoo idea, though I'd never be brave enough to do it! ;-)

    Billy - Maybe the key is NOT to try harder, but to simply sit back and let the words flow as much as possible. I firmly advocate the use of taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, visualizing my story, then opening my eyes and putting my fingers on the keyboard. It seems to "center" me and helps me get off to a good start.

  4. Excellent advice. The hardest thing for me to do is write without knowing where it's all going. I like the "Figure this out later." I'm going to use it - thanks!

  5. Hope it helps, Laurie! Now I just need to remember it myself! :-)

  6. Gosh completely agree! Cover the canvas is exactly where I'm at right now, trying to get my first draft out. Great advice. ;)

  7. Maybe by pushing past an idled scene too, with anything, as a writer we get to look at that scene later from the other side of it. At that point, we can then work better with it to take it where we need to. So getting anything down, covering the canvas, gives a full perspective regardless? Good thoughts to consider.

  8. Hi Talei - Thanks for stopping by! Good luck on "covering the canvas!"

    Joanne - Excellent point. Looking at the scene later from a different perspective might produce something even better.

  9. You know, I've had to learn how to do that too. On this book I even typed in a general idea and a bunch of XXXXs and went back later and wrote the real plot--it worked!

  10. I really like the idea of covering the canvas. I have to say that even though I don't write, whenever I start any project, just getting the momentum going is the biggest hurdle.

  11. I do that too, although I usually write 'stick something here' or I'll do a quick blurb of what I think needs to happen to remind me later if I just am not sure how to work it out. I heard Nora Roberts calls her first drafts PoC (Piece of Crap).

  12. This post perfectly describes where I'm at right now...struggling with a chapter I haven't figured out yet, where I just need to move the characters from point A to point B (and fill the reader in on some things they need to know.) Sounds simple, and it should be, but for some reason it's giving me fits. Maybe it's time to say "Figure it out later!" and get on to the meat of the story! Thanks for this, Melissa--

  13. Debbie - I agree. Just getting started on something can be so hard sometimes. That momentum is pretty darn impotant!

    Kelly - I'll do that, too - just write the quick blurb. I just did that with an action scene where I knew something needed to happen, but I wasn't exactly sure WHAT. In the past, I've avoided writing until I've figured out a particular scene, which is just another form of procrastination.

    Christine - I'm glad this helped! It's rather freeing to write "figure it out later!" and then just get on with the story.


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