These tips for writing the shitty first draft of your magazine article, life story, or novel are from six writers and editors. I also wove in a few comments from readers, to bring life to the tips.
In Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness Judy Reeves says, “If you want to find a story, write about a scar. Every mark on our bodies, every injury, wound, and disfigurement, every bit of damage contains a story. Writing these stories can pave a path to healing; writing about an injury or illness can relieve some of their attendant pain and stress. We can make peace with our wounded bodies through writing our stories.”
What do you need to make peace with? Include it when you’re writing your shitty first draft.
This post was originally called How to Write an Excellent First Draft, but I had to update it by including the readers’ comments in this actual post. Have you noticed how the comments sections of many blog posts contain more interesting and valuable information than the post itself? That was the case here, so I had to republish these tips for writing a shitty first draft…
6 Tips for Writing a Shitty First Draft
You don’t need to be literally writing before you plan how to write your first draft…but you eventually need to face that blank page! Don’t shrug off the importance of daydreaming and thinking about your first draft…but don’t let your daydreams and thoughts turn into procrastination or just plain laziness.
Instead, use these tips to start writing…
1. Write for yourself first
“The best writing tip that I ever received was from my high school creative writing teacher, (the late) Ms. Daisy Aldan. She told us to write for ourselves first and worry about the corrections later. If you get so tangled up in spelling and grammatical etiquette, then you will interrupt the flow of thought. Your writing will be disjointed.” – Chelle Cordero, author.
If you have nothing to write, read How to Write When You Have No Ideas.
2. Let your ideas and thoughts flow
“When you first put pen to paper, try not to edit yourself and let all your ideas loose, even if you believe they are stupid, cliched, or poorly written. Learn to embrace the process of revising and editing your writing. If you work hard on subsequent drafts, remain persistent, and learn how to be both gentle and honest with yourself, you will make great leaps.” – Laryssa Wirstiuk, founder and editor-in-chief of Too Shy to Stop. In other words, you will leap from from shitty first draft to shitty first draft.
3. Keep your writing plain and simple
“Write the first draft without adjectives and adverbs. You can always add text, but once you’ve added a word, it’s much harder to bring yourself to edit the flowery prose.” – Kate Lee.
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If you wrestle with perfectionism, you may be paralyzed by the thought of writing your shitty first draft. Give yourself permission to write poorly.
4. Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft
“This writing tip doesn’t suggest abandoning your standards -just (temporarily) your internal editor. For writers who have a strong superego calling the shots, getting anything onto paper can be a real challenge. Giving yourself the room for imperfection, at least while you’re writing the “shitty first draft”, is an encouraging and necessary condition for creativity.” – Claire Bardos, screenplay writer.
Here’s Anne Lamott’s advice:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
5. Use words you know…and that readers know
“The best tip for writing a first draft that I received came from a journalism professor who was a former editor at National Geographic. She taught students to write in simple language. Don’t use uncommon or “big” word to show off the fact that you know what a particular word means. Write so your readers understand. Your goal as a writer is to enlighten or educate the reader.” – Andrea Aker.
6. Let your writing sit for a few days, or even months
“First: Start with a legal pad, outline it. Second: Write a shitty first draft, close it and walk away till morning – you’ll have great ideas after you’ve left it alone for a while. Third: Pretend to tell the story, description, topic to a friend – then write it the way it came out of your mouth.” – Angela Moore.
If you struggle with self-discipline, read Practical Tips and Writing Inspiration for When You Can’t Write.
If you have any thoughts or questions on how to write the first draft, please comment below…