The magic of a Shitty First Draft
Have you heard of a Shitty First Draft (or SFD for those not prone to swearing like an R-rated cop movie set in NYC)?
Apparently, the phrase itself was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, everyone’s favorite Key West-living, booze-pounding author, and made even more popular by Anne Lamott in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.
Now that we’ve got that very brief history lesson out of the way…
It’s the idea that your first draft of ANYTHING is going to be shit, so you might as well just sit down and let all the horrible ideas, incoherent thoughts, mixed metaphors, changing tenses, and whatever other English language abominations spring forth from your fingers just happen.
No editing. No second guessing. No worrying about making it perfect from the get go.
But why is this so magical?
Picture this: You’re chilling in front of your computer, getting ready to bust out an epic blog post that puts an earth-shattering spin on a topic so many people think is utterly common.
You’ve got this idea in your head. But – as soon as you lock eyes with that damn bright, white page – you freeze.
You’ve been mulling over this idea in your noggin for a couple of days, and you know exactly what you want to say.
And now…you can’t remember exactly how it started. Or how you worded that one sentence. Or how that idea connected to this other idea.
You sat down to write with the intention of writing the idea perfectly, of taking what you’d been formulating in your head and translating it verbatim onto the page.
Bad news: It usually doesn’t work that way.
(Yes, there will be times when you’re so freakin’ inspired and struck with an idea at 2:08 a.m. that won’t let you sleep until you furiously type it into your phone, under cover of sheets and comforter, lest that blinding light wake anyone else. But not all the time.)
A shitty first draft lets you take an unceremonious brain dump. It gives you permission to just curate the ideas from your brain to the page.
WITHOUT worrying about how it sounds, if it’s right, if it works.
WITHOUT getting so attached to getting the thing done perfectly and getting mad when it doesn’t come together like *that.* (I just snapped my fingers. You probably didn’t hear it.)
The magic is that it’s so much easier to edit what you’ve already written than to start from scratch. Especially if you’re expecting perfection the first time around.
Oh, your inner critic will come out swinging.
It’ll have all kinds of fun with your shitty first draft:
That’s not even a sentence, you amateur.
No one wants to read this gobbledygook.
You’re a hack. Quit while you’re ahead!
Hey, dumbass, that makes zero sense whatsoever.
Why did you think this was a good idea? Lunatic.
But…be honest. That nasty gremlin comes out *whenever* you’re writing something. If you recognize it’s not exclusive to your shitty first draft, you can dismiss it that much easier.
And you’ll actually make some progress.
The shitty first draft will keep you moving. (If you don’t get sidetracked by that insult-slinging whammy.)
If you accept that what you’re writing isn’t a finished product, that you don’t have to hit publish right away when you’re finished, you’ll actually be able to crank out a draft.
WITHOUT wasting time going back and editing, rethinking that one line, analyzing the flow, or any other tactics you normally employ to delay the inevitable.
When you’re aiming for a shitty first draft and removing any expectations, you’ll almost be able to write without thinking (alas, it is a process that uses your brain so there is *some* thinking involved…). And certainly without judging what you’ve got on the page.
If you’ve been planning for perfection, it might be time to consider a new strategy. Here’s a few quick tips for embracing the hell outta the shitty first draft:
Just write. (Kinda like Lady Gaga says just dance.) Don’t think about it. Let the words come out however they come out. Don’t get stuck on word choice or wondering how you’re going to transition from that paragraph to the next section.
Don’t even think of your shitty first draft as a draft. If even the word “draft” raises your hackles, try thinking of this stage as stream of consciousness, brainstorming, or even that brain dump I mentioned earlier. Give yourself permission to let the ideas come out – without labeling them as a draft or a blog post or a newsletter or a sales page.
Don’t go back and edit until you’re done. It’s so tempting to scroll back up and edit something you’ve already written rather than keep writing. But if you continuously go backward instead of forward, well, you’re not going to make it to the end, now will ya?
Don’t take it so seriously. No, those words landing on the page probably aren’t gonna win you any awards or big dreamy clients just yet. Just have fun with it – whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s setting a timer. Maybe it’s seeing how fast you can type. Or how many spelling errors you can cram in. The number of words that don’t have a space between them. Maybe you give yourself imaginary (or real!) awards for the worst sentence, the worst metaphor, the sloppiest typing…
Always remember that a shitty first draft is just that: a shitty first draft. It’s not final. Once you’re done with it, you can go back and tweak and revise and polish and get out your thesaurus and fix all those typos.
If you’re the type who loses confidence in yourself and your writing (and all of mankind probably) when what you’ve written isn’t immediately 100% ready to publish the moment it lands on the page…it’s time to rethink your writing process.
It’s time to give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.
Your motivation? Actually having something completed – no matter how shitty – is waaay more motivating than staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for perfection from the outset.
Now, here’s your next step: Write a shitty first draft. Don’t overthink it. Just do it. And let me know how it goes!