NaNoWriMo 2017: Shitty First Drafts

Shitty first drafts: we owe this technical term(!) shitty first drafts to Anne Lamott. It was mentioned in her book called Bird by Bird. By the way, it is still one of the most recommended books on writing to date.

What are shitty first drafts? How shitty can they get? Do they have to be shitty?

Shitty first drafts are the ultimate raw material. It’s your dumping ground and yes, it is messy. It has to be. It’s the nature of this type of mess in writing. Every writer in the history has written them. No exceptions! That is your starting point. It’s your unpolished turd. When it’s time to polish it, your end product will read differently.

Here, I put together the best advice out there when it comes to writing shitty first drafts…

When you’re writing a first draft, don’t worry if what comes out is any good or not
Like Natalie Goldberg said: “You are free to write the worst junk in the universe.” Give yourself permission to write atrocious first draft.

shitty first drafts

Quality is not concern, quantity is
Because you’re writing a shitty first draft (please refer to the section above for it if you need to: the part that says turd), quality of it is not your concern here but quantity of it is what you need during NaNoWriMo. Learn to pile up that turd.

Don’t judge, don’t analyse, just write
Like Bob Dylan said: “The first thought is the strongest.” The first thoughts are the ones you will need to capture.

When writing, don’t listen to your inner critic
You need to learn to get out of your own way, so that creativity can work through you. Julia Cameron has something to say about that: “Make this a rule: always that remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth.”

Get through your shitty first draft as quickly as you can
Dump, dump, dump. You don’t have time for anything else.

Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or what you’re wearing when you sit down to write
The rules for morning pages or sex apply to first drafts, too. They are (probably not in that order, specifically):
• Don’t think
• Keep your hand moving
• Lose control
• Be specific

Your shitty first draft will be rewritten anyway
Did you know that Tolstoy made several attempts to write and rewrite War and Peace? Eight times!

Embrace the uncertainty of a shitty first draft
Listen to this:
“Writing a first draft is like groping one’s way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punch line you’ve forgotten. As someone said, one writes mainly to rewrite, for rewriting and revising are how one’s mind comes to inhabit the material fully.”
Ted Solotaroff

Most of all, enjoy the process. Good luck everyone!

P. S.: While I was writing this piece, I was wearing my NaNoWriMo winner 2015 t-shirt. I thought you might like to know. And, if you’d like to be my buddy on NaNoWriMo website, my user name is agulden.