We are our own worst critics.
One of the most daunting tasks facing writers is the task of finishing the rough draft. For many writers, the rough draft is the hardest part because they don’t know how to shut off the critical part of their brain and just finish it.
Instead, they nitpick. They rewrite the intro a hundred times. They thumb through a thesaurus looking for that one perfect word.
And six hours later they haven’t even dented their quota.
I propose we cut it out. For many reasons: it’s a waste of time, it’s counter-productive, it’s frustrating beyond belief.
If you still don’t believe me, here are five specific reasons not to criticize your first draft until it’s finished.
1. It’s called drafting for a reason. Nothing you write is set in stone. It’s not uncommon for authors to go back and revise their books for second and third editions, tweaking and changing phrasing and wording they weren’t satisfied with. And those books were already printed!
Your second draft will be better than your first and your third draft will be better than your second.
2. The delete button exists. Yes, it does. And it is a great—delete delete— And it is a magical thing.
3. You can’t see the whole picture until the first draft is done, even if your first draft sounds like it was written by a precocious middle school student with an obsession with the word ‘awesome’.
But once the outline is there and you can read your intentions between the lines of scribble, you can go back and redo the piece until it’s comprehensible and you’ve found synonyms for ‘awesome’ that make you sound all grown up (even if you aren’t, really).
4. Heat is hot. The moment only lasts so long, and you’re on a schedule. It’s vital to get the words out before the heat of the moment cools or turns stale. Write when you are inspired, and don’t stop until it’s all out, every last drop.
You can go back later and tweak, edit, revise, and perfect the work. See #1.
5. Sometimes the beauty is in the mistake. Your first draft will be entirely flawed. Terrible, messy, contradictory, inconsistent. But sometimes, when you’re really lucky, you’ll find a gem hidden in all that garbage.
And who knows? You could have been writing about the mating habits of grasshoppers and in the jumble of your first draft a beautiful gem shines out above all the rest. Maybe it’s the beginning of another story or article or poem. Maybe it’s just the place you should have started the piece to begin with. Maybe it’s a unique insight into human psychology that not even the likes of Freud or Nietszche could have dreamed up.
You just never know what’s gonna happen.
This advice is true with every kind of writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a poem, a short story, a novel, an article, website copy, marketing slogans, pamphlets, brochures, press releases, daily newspapers, or the best goddamned literary porn of all time.
Write the first draft and be considerate enough not to give yourself any grief.
At least not until the first draft is done. Then you can tear it to pieces.